Last month, Tuesday, 22nd February 2022, was a special date; both a palindrome and an ambigram, meaning that it reads the same front to back, back to front and upside down. That date was 22022022.
Some people believe that dates like this contain power and should be set aside for creating intentions and manifesting, 20 years ago I was one of those people and you can read the story of my memorable ‘aha’ moment here.
For now, let’s talk about the importance and power of Insights, ‘Aha’s and Eureka moments, both for yourself and others.
What Exactly is a Eureka Moment?
About 2200 years ago, Greek mathematician Archimedes was tasked with detecting fraud in the manufacture of a golden crown. The answer to the problem came to Archimedes when he was sitting in the bath and, as the fable goes, he jumped out of the bath and ran down the street naked crying “Eureka!” meaning “I have it!”. Fast forward to today and neuroscience is providing us with the answer as to why sitting in the bath may have helped Archimedes solve his problem.
Insights, ‘Aha’s and Eureka moments are the source of creativity, innovation, problem solving and learning. When we have a Eureka moment, we feel good, great even, and the reward centres of our brain activate the release of dopamine, a feelgood neurotransmitter.
If insight feels so good, how do we create more ‘aha’ moments? Before we go into an explanation, I’d like to give you an experience of gaining insight. To do that we need to solve some CRAP, Compound Remote Associate Problems!
Below you will see three words and you need to find the one word that correlates with each of the three words. The first example in red includes the answer, now it’s your turn to find the solution to the rest. If it’s stumping you please get in touch for the answers.
While you may have been able to work out some of the answers logically, others may have come to you in the form of a mini insight. If you enjoyed this word game and you’re not playing already (most of the world appears to be, including me!), try Wordle from the New York Times – you get an ‘aha’ moment a day!
If CRAP just isn’t your thing – take a look at this image that isn’t really a parrot – it’s a painted person!
How Insight Happens in The Brain
To make the complex as simple as possible, milliseconds before our Eureka moment, the brain goes into an alpha wave state, a state of relaxation and idle, then, with the insight, we experience a burst of gamma (the fastest wave) giving us a sense of heightened perception or peak mental state, which is why Archimedes got his Eureka moment in the bath when he was chilling, and many of us get our most brilliant ideas in the shower, on the treadmill or swimming – our brains are at a low level of neural activity, creating the perfect breeding ground for genius!
When we learn something through insight, there’s a good chance that we will remember it for 2 reasons – 1. the dopamine produced acts like a sticky note for memory and 2. insight causes activation in the amygdala, a part of the brain connected with emotion so combined, these 2 essential brain activities facilitate consolidation into our long term memory and memories created by insight are easier to retrieve.
When we solve a problem through insight, there’s also a greater chance that we will act on it because, not only was such a pleasurable experience, it was ours and ours alone and so we fully own it.
Insights can change the course of a career, create new products and services and save significant amounts of money and time.
If insight is so important, how do we create it for ourselves and others? Here are some strategies that could make the greatest of differences.
Facilitating Insight for Others
The Power of Questions
If you are a people leader, the greatest gift you could give to your people is to use the power of questions to facilitate insight on their part, rather than giving them the answer.
When we’re so busy and time poor, it can be all too easy to offer the solution to a problem or provide a quick answer when someone comes to us when they’re stuck. But this isn’t how we learn, it isn’t how we make mistakes and grow, and it isn’t how we develop the next generation of leaders.
So, the next time one of your team members comes to you with a question, consider asking a question back, for example, “what action would you take if I weren’t here?” or “what is your gut telling you?” or simply “what options have you already considered”? You may be surprised by their answers.
Delegation is Worth the Effort
From experience, I am painfully aware of how time-consuming training and delegation can be, but it’s short-term pain for long term gain, because it frees us up to work on what’s most important and we’re offering our people a sense of autonomy, status and mastery – all core social needs. I remain grateful to all bosses past for their investment in me so that I could grow.
Creating the Conditions for Insight
In their book ‘The Eureka factor : AHA Moments, Creative Insight, and the Brain’, authors John Kounios and Mark Beeman share what happens in our brains when we experience ‘aha’ moments and the steps leading up to them. With this knowledge we can learn to create the ideal conditions for facilitating insight in ourselves and others.
The following conditions can take us closer to creating more memorable moments of insight.
1. A positive mood – when we’re feeling positive, we expand our scope of thought and attention and we become more open and receptive to new ideas. Contrastingly, when we’re in a negative mood or stressed, our focus narrows and we become more rigid and less tolerant of new possibilities.
2. Get out into the open – spending time outdoors or in large spacious areas broadens our attention (which is why scheduling brainstorming sessions in a small, windowless room will result in little more than frustration!). If you want to task your people with coming up with a great idea or solution to a problem, send them out into nature!
3. Go quiet and ditch the distractions – if you can’t get out into the open, another strategy is to deprive yourself of sensory stimulus (e.g. noise or visual stimuli) and distraction, as this helps to create the ‘pre-insight’ alpha brain state. This also explains why you sometimes want to close your eyes to ponder a difficult problem or answer a challenging question.
- Quality Sleep – we’ve covered sleep a lot in previous editions of BrainBuzz (found in our blog) and it’s no surprise that there’s a correlation between good sleep and insight. How many times have you either been woken from a dream to find the solution to your problem (a key purpose of dreams) or stirred in the early hours with a genius idea?
Quality sleep brings together the conditions of sensory deprivation (noise and light) and, while our brains are consolidating memories from the day, they are connecting disparate ideas and hey presto – an ‘aha’ moment bursts forth.
Did you know that the songs ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Let it Be’ both came to Paul McCartney in his dreams and ‘#9 Dream’ from John Lennon? Without the brain going through all the stages of sleep, waking up to or dreaming of the next million dollar idea is less likely to happen.
We also know that sleeping on a major decision can be really helpful as our brains continue to sort for solutions in our sleep and dreams. Just tell your brain that you’re putting it in ‘draft’.
Other very worthy mentions include mindfulness and meditation, daydreaming (yes, daydreaming IS important!), becoming curious about your thoughts (also known as meta cognition) and the all-powerful quiet reflection time.
Insights, ‘Aha’s and Eureka moments don’t just feel good; they can be the greatest sources of solutions to complex problems, finding clarity in the ambiguous, creating, innovating and saving huge amounts and of time, energy and money in the process.
What have been some of your experiences with insight?