A Simple Strategy to Engage the Brain and Ignite New Ideas!

Have you ever felt stuck?  Have you ever felt out of ideas?  Have you ever been in that place where you absolutely had to come up with a solution… but your idea engine was out of gas?

Well… me too.

And I’ve found a solution for times like this.  It’s a simple strategy for engaging the brain in a different way.  It’s something that you can master in minutes but it’s something you can employ to move mountains.

It’s something you can use all by yourself… but you can also use it with your teams too.

Are you interested?  Is your curiosity piqued?  Good.

First, let me tell you a story.

A few Saturdays ago, I was cleaning up after some remodeling work we had been doing in our basement family room.  We had had to move our 10′ by 6′ bookshelf out in order to complete a project.  But now it was my job to move it back.

Sure, it would have made sense to call in some reinforcements.  A friend.  A neighbor.  That relative who owes me money.  But I didn’t.  For some reason (probably because I’m a guy) I just wanted to get it done on my own.

Plus, I had only given myself a short timeframe.  I wanted to get the whole project done quickly so I could wow my wife and check something big off of my to-do list.

But there it sat.  10 feet of oak… 6 feet high.  Sure I’d taken off most of the books but I didn’t want to remove them all.  (Again… I was really trying to save time here!)  Plus, the dang thing was heavy empty, so I thought removing the last of the books wouldn’t make much of a difference.

It was positioned at an angle to make room for a project behind it.  Now I needed to move one whole side about 3 feet, so it was flush against the wall again.

My first attempt of just lifting it didn’t work out.  I huffed and I puffed but the shelves just mocked me.  My second idea was to cuss at it and whack the side of the shelf with my open hand.  Thankfully our boys only heard the slap and not the words that went along with it.  That strategy didn’t work so well either.

I was stuck.  I lifted again… but differently… nothing.  I leaned… but there was no movement.  It stayed put as if the old oak had grown roots again.

I was tempted to get frustrated.  (Okay, I got frustrated but not too frustrated…)  I felt like I was out of ideas.  I was drawing a blank.  I knew I needed to call in the big guns, but still wasn’t open to asking for help. I wanted a solution and wanted it right away!

That’s when I remembered THE STRATEGY. The one I mentioned earlier.  The one that has been called everything from a “JEDI MINDTRICK” to “MOUNTAIN DEW FOR THE CRANIUM.”

Here it is:  I asked myself a question… in the third person.

Told you it was simple.  That’s it.  That’s the strategy.

Now… I want to clarify.  I didn’t start walking around waving at people and talking like the Royal Family!  “Hello.  How are we today?”

No… that’s not what I’m talking about.  I simply engaged my brain in a different way and I used a 3rd person question to get there.

You see… up to this point… I had been asking myself questions like:

  • How can I move this shelf?
  • How can I lift this thing?
  • How can I get this flush up against the wall again… without having to ask for help?!?

Those questions were ok.  They engaged my brain in a certain way.  These questions produced a few ideas but they didn’t prove to be fruitful and they all fizzled.

So… I went with a 3rd Person Question.

In this case, I first thought: “The Romans had to move big stuff without the help of machines.”

So the 3rd person question I asked myself was, “What would the Romans have done in a situation like this?”

It’s true.  This is the thought I had.  This is the resulting question I asked myself.  (Again… did you notice the question was asked in the 3rd person?)

I wasn’t asking, “What should I do?”  Or… “What could I do?”  I asked, “What would they do?”

And you know what happened?  Within seconds I thought, “They’d roll it!”  My mind was filled with drawings I had seen of workers moving huge marble blocks by rolling them on rounded smooth logs.  I needed to tackle this in the same way!

So I went to our workshop area and I found some small pieces from a rounded wooden dowel.  They were each about 3 inches long.  Then, I ran back to my bookshelves.  I’ll admit that I did finally ask for some help.  But in this case, all I had to do was ask our 10-year-old son to place the dowels under one side of the bookshelf as I lifted it for a few seconds.  Then… we simply rolled it back into position.

Problem solved within minutes of having the idea.

How did that happen?  How did I go from being stuck and out of ideas to being unstuck and finished with my job in less than 8 minutes?

Well… it’s the Strategy.  It’s the Asking the Question in the 3rd Person!

Now, how can you apply this simple but powerful concept?  Well… just take the two-step approach that I did.

When you feel stuck or out of ideas…

  • Think of someone who has faced something similar and overcome it
  • Then ask yourself, “How would they do it?”

Will you always know exactly how they would do it?  Nope.  But sometimes by allowing your brain to look at something from a different perspective, it frees it up to see new possibilities.

Beyond my basement, I’ve recently seen this work with a national-level marketing firm.   I was helping them to think bigger.  In this case, these guys were the best of the best in their niche.  But they were starting to feel like their client presentations were getting stale.  They were out of ideas on ways to make them fresh.

So I asked them about some of their heroes in their industry.  I asked, “Who’s knocking it out of the park?”  “Who do you really respect?”  “Who’s known for bringing the freshness?”

Once they got a couple of firms in mind, I asked them, “What would they do to take their sales presentations to the next level?”

The ideas poured out.  These people who had been stuck were now coming up with all sorts of innovative ideas.  In fact, the turn around happened so fast, some of them actually looked surprised as the ideas started to flow!

Some told me later that it was the fact that when they thought about those other firms, they didn’t worry about their own budgets or restrictions.  Some said it was that they gave themselves permission to rise above the “Oh, we’ve tried that before.”

Now, could we use all the ideas that they came up with?  Nope.  (Although we were really tempted to have them parachute into their next big pitch!)  But we still generated some incredible new ideas and infused their presentations with some fresh new concepts.

So… how about you?  Are you are going after some of your big dreams and your big goals? When you get stuck, why not try this simple but powerful strategy?

Ask your brain a question in the third person and just see where it takes you…

I’d love to hear your ideas on where you could apply this to get unstuck.  What are some 3rd person questions that you could start asking yourself, your team, your friends or your family?  What mountains (or bookshelves) could you move in the process?  Let me know below.

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Leave A Reply (14 comments So Far)

  • This is beautiful! I’ve heard of asking yourself beforehand as if it were past tense: ie “Wow, Mitch, how did you think of such an ingenious way to move the bookshelf?” 
    But I hadn’t thought about third person (unless referring to the bracelet that had us ask What Would Jesus Do?” )
    I’m logging off now to go practice this. Hmmmmm “What would Mitch do….?”
    Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Classic 3rd person Q, Gina…WWJD?

      Or as I often asked myself through the writing of my book about my mentor or when I look at his photo on my desk…What Would Judge Do? 😉

      I’ve never thought of how this shifts my brain to another perspective that kicks in fresh problem solving skills. Thanks for this tool, Mitch. Going to play around with it!

      • Hey there Dr. MM.  Wow!  I can’t wait to read that book! Love that this jives with that project!!

    • Thanks Gina! I know you’re currently logged off so you can think of all sorts of freakishly cool solutions… but when you log back on… know that you bless my socks off!

  • Brilliant Mitch! I really love this concept for getting unstuck. You have me thinking this morning. We can apply this at personal and emotional level too, right? Who is the most hopeful, confident, inspired person I know? What would they do in this situation? What would they focus on? What would they imagine? What would they try?


    • Dondi – You’re right.  We can use this on so many different levels!  I love these questions that you came up with!  Heck, I’m going to use them today.  Ironically, the first person that came to mind for me was… Dondi Scumaci! So I’m going with that!

      • Adventure_abound

        Hi Mitch i am already asking questions, and sharing my dream projects.one person told me there is no such thing as experience person who knows it all.
        so I printed these three words on my car dash board. ( Like Know and trust)
        I am sticking with it.  

  • Mitch, I love the way your strategy kicks in and gets things rolling! And through such a simple shift of voice and perspective. Wow!

    • Thanks Tom! Yeah… I believe in keeping things simple when you can.  Actually, there is a bunch of science and brain research behind this strategy… but in the end… I’m just about moving bookshelves! Thanks brother!

  • Mitch- This is such a fun strategy! I use something similar when I’m looking for something. Instead of asking myself, “Where did I put that thing?” I ask instead, “If I was a (fill in the blank) where would I be?”  It’s amazing how just a small shift in perspective can make things turn out better!

    • Thanks cool FS!  I’m going to have to try that. I can only imagine how it engages the brain in a different way.  Now… where would I be if I was my cup of coffee….?

  • Love this!  It’s always powerful to ask ourselves a different question – opens up new connections and possibilities — and your vivid example and specific strategy of asking “what would they do…?” is a powerful gift – thanks for sharing!

    • Thanks Ben! I appreciate the encouragement buddy! Glad it clicked with you!

  • Bestlifeverlifecoach

    Thanks for that it is really helpful