Countless stories tell of the famous inventors who made their greatest discovery not by trial and error, but when playing with their children, eating a meal, or by taking a nap and dreaming.
How do these moments occur ? What goes on in the brain to create the AHA experience?
Rarely does an “AHA” moment come when we are determined to find the answer. In fact, if you are using the logical left side of your cognitive brain to solve an on-going problem, you are more than likely to get stuck and frustrated. You would be better off taking a shower.
The sudden, amazing solution to a problem can only come when you give up looking at the problem. In truth, it is the new perspective that provides the new possibility. And creating a new perspective is a creative, not a logical process.
Many people also experience this magic when working with a coach, when the coach asks the question that disarms the logical brain so that a new view “pops” into their client’s brain. Not only is the client amazed with the discovery, but the “Aha” always triggers a strong emotion, one that helps the person to remember the breakthrough forever.
When we try to figure things out on our own, we approach a problem by creating a mental representation (an inner model) of it in our short term memory ( cognitive brain). Then we draw in past experiences and stored knowledge from our long-term memory (middle brain) to help lo create solutions.
Unfortunately, the sorting and arranging processes in the left brain often prevent us from seeing the problem in a new light. We try to shift and rearrange what we know, but our past experiences become frames that block us from seeing anything else. Our thoughts go around in circles. The experience can be very frustrating and sometimes, we even give up.
So how do we create the “Aha” moment to get a fresh insight?
Brain Tip 1. Do something else. Have you ever tried to remember a name but couldn’t, and then it popped into your head while you were thinking of something else? Give your brain a chance to restructure itself, letting your right hemisphere access your long term memory to bring a new solution into view. In other words, go play tennis, call a friend, clean out a filing cabinet…anything to get your “thinking” left brain out of the way.
Brain Tip 2. Give it a rest. If you can, take a nap or put the problem away for a day to let your brain sleep on it. While you sleep, the hippo campus goes to work connecting data with knowledge in new ways. You might wake up with a brilliant idea. Keep a pad of paper next to your bed just in case this idea comes in the middle of the night.
Brain Tip 3. Have fun. In previous brain tips, I have cited many studies that show that positive attitudes such as appreciation, laughter, pride and enjoyment cause neurochemical reactions that help your brain operate more efficiently and creatively. While you are eating that ice cream cone or watching a funny movie, your middle brain is unconsciously looking at your problem from different angles. Aren’t we lucky?
Brain Tip 4. Work with your coach. An experienced coach is well trained to ask you the question or provide the metaphor that breaks through your frame of thinking. You literally look at the problem from a new angle. In the moment that you “see the truth” of your experience, new solutions naturally follow. You can never go back to being stuck in your old way of thinking. Your way of seeing the situation, and even the world, will be changed forever.
You now have a good excuse to go take a nap.