The List of 100 is a powerful technique you can use to generate ideas, clarify your thoughts, uncover hidden problems or get solutions to any specific questions you’re interested in.
The technique is very simple in principle: state your issue or question in the top of a blank sheet of paper and come up with a list of one hundred answers or solutions about it. “100 Ways to Generate Income”, “100 Ways to be More Creative” or “100 Ways to Improve my Relationships” are some examples.
“One hundred entries? Isn’t that way too many?”
Bear with me: it’s exactly this exaggeration that makes the technique powerful.
When starting your list you may believe that there’s no way to get it done. But then, at some point during the exercise, you will naturally have your subconscious mind naturally engaged in the process. That’s when you will uncover many new and surprising answers, and ideas will start flowing again. Making a List of 100 is a beautifully articulated cooperation between the conscious and subconscious minds tackling one single problem.
Unlike the related Idea Quota tool — whose primary goal is to acquire the habit of coming up with ideas — the goal of a List of 100 is to take your mind by surprise. While both techniques are based on the concept of getting good ideas from lots of ideas, the ideas generated by each method are usually different in kind. With the Idea Quota you tend to have more elaborate ideas, because you have time to incubate them throughout the day (often without being aware of it). With a List of 100 you tend to get more unexpected ideas, because you catch your subconscious off guard, not giving it any time for its behind-the-scenes editing.
There are only two simple principles to keep in mind when making Lists of 100:
1. Do it at one sitting
This is the one crucial element for the technique to work. If you end up doing your hundred entries, though over many sessions, you’ll defeat the point of the technique. Before starting your list, make yourself comfortable and try to block all potential interruptions.
2. Eliminate distractions
Just like most brainstorming techniques, you should strive to eliminate all activities unrelated to idea generation during the brainstorming session. Just focus on getting the ideas out of your head as quickly as possible following these rules:
- Don’t judge or evaluate ideas; you’ll review them later.
- Don’t write complete words or sentences if that slows you down.
- Don’t stop to wonder how far in the list you are; number the lines from 1 to 100 in advance or use numbered lists if you’re using a word processor.
- Don’t worry too much about repeating entries; duplicates can shed light on your patterns of thought.
The Dynamics of Making Lists of 100
To understand why creating a List of 100 works, consider what happens during the process of making one. There are three distinct phases you will usually go through when making your list:
1. First 30 entries or so: where you escape circular thinking
The first items are the easiest to come up with. In this first phase, your conscious mind is still in charge and you’ll most probably just dump ideas you’re already familiar with.
2. Next 40 entries: where patterns emerge
In this phase you’ll start noticing recurring themes and patterns of thought. Phase two is usually the hardest one, as you may find it difficult to let go of the ideas you had in the first phase in order to come up with new, distinct ones.
Bear in mind that it’s exactly this struggle that enables you to get to the third and most fruitful phase, hence the importance of not giving up at this point.
3. Last 30 entries: where the gems are
At this point you will already have exhausted most “logical” answers, allowing your subconscious mind to express itself more freely. Don’t be surprised if you get at least one or two really nonsensical or seemingly illogical entries. You may feel tempted to not write them down (“How on earth did I think that?”). Write them down anyway: these wacky entries may sound far from profound, but it’s exactly those items you’re after.
Also, after coming up with so many entries, it’s not rare to experience a shift in perspective: items that you first felt as being awkward will seem to better fit now than when you started the list. Moreover, your whole attitude towards the problem can change as you develop your entries: you may even come to the conclusion that you should be dealing with a different list topic altogether.
Applications of Lists of 100
Although I have known a variation of the List of 100 technique for several years (thanks to Michael Gelb’s How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci), it was only recently that I realized the technique’s full potential by reading Kathleen Adams’s Journal to the Self: 22 Paths to Personal Growth. This is an excellent book that has many great journaling techniques — and the List of 100 has its own chapter.
The List of 100 technique can be used for a lot more than solving specific problems; it is a general-purpose personal development tool that can help increase your self-knowledge, motivate yourself, and much more. To illustrate its myriad of uses, find below a List of 100 Lists of 100. The list was mostly taken from Journal to the Self, and slightly adapted with some of my own ideas.
100 Things to Write a List of 100 About
- 100 Things I’m Grateful For
- 100 Ways I Could Nurture Myself
- 100 Ways I Sabotage Myself
- 100 Things I’m Good At
- 100 Things I Like About Myself
- 100 Questions I Want Answers
- 100 Ways To Improve My Life
- 100 Things I’ve Accomplished In My Life
- 100 Things I’m Feeling Stressed About
- 100 Things I’d Do If I Had Time
- 100 Things I Need Or Want To Do
- 100 Things I Want To Accomplish In The Next X Months
- 100 Things To Do Before I Die
- 100 Things That Are Going Right
- 100 Things That Are Going Wrong
- 100 Reasons I Want To Stay Married/Committed
- 100 Reasons I Don’t Want To Stay Married/Committed
- 100 Things I Want In A Partner/Relationship
- 100 Things I Have To Offer To A Partner/Relationship
- 100 Fears I Am Having Right Now
- 100 Things That Once Scared Me But Don’t Anymore
- 100 Reasons To Save Money
- 100 Things I Miss
- 100 Sacrifices I Have Made
- 100 Marketing Ideas For My Business
- 100 Ways I Can Make Money
- 100 Ways To Make A Difference
- 100 Jobs/Careers I’d Like To Have
- 100 Fears About Being A Multimillionaire
- 100 Things I Believe In
- 100 Achievements (Qualities) I Am Proud Of
- 100 Things I Value In Life
- 100 Ways I Help Others
- 100 Things That Turn Me On
- 100 Things That Turn Me Off
- 100 Judgments I Make
- 100 Things I Find Hard To Share
- 100 Things I’m Disappointed About
- 100 Things I’m Angry About
- 100 Things I’m Sad About
- 100 Things [Peoples, Places] I Love
- 100 Things To Do When I’m Depressed
- 100 Things To Do When I’m Alone
- 100 Rules I Have Broken
- 100 Skills I Have
- 100 Feelings I Am Having Right Now
- 100 Childhood Memories
- 100 Things My Parents Used To Say To Me
- 100 Ways In Which I’m Generous
- 100 Ways To Be More Productive
- 100 Things I Hate
- 100 Things I Want
- 100 Places I’d Like To Visit
- 100 Things I’d Like Someone To Tell Me
- 100 Things I’d Like To Hear
- 100 Things I’d Like To Tell My Child
- 100 Things I Want My Child To Know About Me
- 100 Reasons To Have A Baby
- 100 Reasons Not To Have A Baby
- 100 Adjectives Describing Myself
- 100 Decisions Other Have Made For Me
- 100 Decisions I Made That Turned Out Well
- 100 Things I’d Do If I Had Six Months To Live
- 100 Expectations Other Have Of Me
- 100 Expectations I Have Of Myself
- 100 Judgments I Haven’t Released
- 100 Ways To Be More Creative
- 100 Things I Could Carry In My Pocket
- 100 Things I’d Save If My House Were On Fire
- 100 Things I Want To Tell My Mother [Father]
- 100 Things I’d Never Tell My Mother [Father]
- 100 Financial Fears
- 100 Excuses I Make For Myself
- 100 Things I Need/Want To Control
- 100 Fears I Have About Giving Up Control
- 100 Answered Prayers
- 100 People I’d Like To Meet
- 100 Reasons Why I Get Jealous
- 100 People I Admire
- 100 Tasks I’ve Been Procrastinating
- 100 Memories From My Past
- 100 Things That Nourish Me
- 100 Things I Haven’t Finished
- 100 Things I’m Glad I’ve Done
- 100 Things I’ll Never Do Again
- 100 Ways To Generate Income
- 100 Principles To Live By
- 100 People I Want To Forgive
- 100 People I Want To Forgive Me
- 100 Things To Forgive Myself For
- 100 Mistakes I Have Made
- 100 Lessons I Have Learned
- 100 Ways To Be Healthier
- 100 Things That Make Me Cry
- 100 Things That Make Me Laugh
- 100 Things I’d Delegate
- 100 Thing I Want For My Birthday
- 100 Possessions I’m Tired Of Owning
- 100 Responsibilities That I’d Like To Avoid
- 100 Things To Write A List Of 100 About