You know when it happens…that flash of insight, moment of inspiration, the proverbial aha moment, or the solution that pops into your head when you’re not expecting it. It feels like magic and hopefully comes at just the right moment. But can you encourage that moment to happen when you need it? Discoveries in neuroscience indicate that insight may be more of a process than you think. Here are four steps you can use to create the environment your brain needs for an aha moment.
1. Be receptive to the little voice. Your brain stores memories and events from your life. Think of them as files in file folders and there are cabinets and cabinets of file folders. But typically you only use the few folders that are sitting on the edge of your mind in working memory – the facts and issues you are actively mulling over. But, there is so much more stored in the other file cabinets. Imagine that those file cabinets are managed by a small, quiet, wise librarian. Your librarian will put together information from those file cabinets. Your part is to accept the subtle information and not shove it aside. When the librarian softly nudges you (it’s that sense that there’s something more and other options are available), pay attention. It’s part of your experience trying to get through.
2. Be in positive mood. Experiments show that people who are in a positive mood solve more problems with insight than those in a negative mood. Indeed, watching a funny movie helps and anxiety doesn’t. Next time you want to encourage an aha moment, find your favorite happy, funny movie and enjoy!
3. Reduce visual distractions. For an aha moment to happen, your brain (the anterior cingulate cortex) must detect and switch its attention to subtle signals. It’s as though the librarian is saying, “Pssst. Pssst. I put together some great stuff.” However, your brain easily focuses on the stimulations that are readily available…in front of its eyes. Visual inputs are like Wall Street traders clamoring for attention. The librarian can’t compete. Reduce distractions so your brain can switch signals.
4. Take a break. Let your mind wander. Do something you enjoy (good mood) that comes easily. This allows your brain to hear other signals. A nap and a good night’s sleep are also great enablers. When you sleep, the Wall Street traders quiet and the librarian can be heard.
Put these steps to use and give yourself an edge to embrace that aha moment.