Sun shinging down through water onto brain coral in the ocean



Aha! Moments

One of my daily exercises is to complete the USA Today crossword puzzle. I enjoy trying to beat my previous time for completing a crossword. Sometimes though, despite the underlying hints given to solve a puzzle, I find the clues obtuse. When I do, I set the crossword aside. On most occasions, when I pick up the crossword puzzle later in the day, voila, the fog clears, and I get the clue – a moment of insight. 

A sudden comprehension that solves a problem reinterprets a situation, explains a joke, or resolves an ambiguous percept is called insight (i.e., the Aha! moment). Psychologists have studied insight using behavioral methods for nearly a century. Recently, researchers from Northwestern and Drexel Universities the tools of cognitive neuroscience to this phenomenon. Their report revealed a unique neural signature of such insight solutions. Mark Jung-Beeman and colleagues mapped both the location and electrical signature of neural activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and the electroencephalogram (EEG). They have identified a distinction between traditional problem solving (which can get in the way of Aha! moments) and instances of insight.

My experience, both personal and with my clients, is that change happens when one has a moment of insight. The moment allows us to change our attitudes and expectations. The brain undergoes a complex set of new neural connections that can help the brain enhance mental resources and overcome resistance to improve.

Think about times that you have read a book or attended a workshop and for some reason, an idea, one that you have heard before, clicks. When we see connections that have previously alluded us, we need to act. Why?

Typically, we approach change by being overly pre-occupied with finding a logical solution, of forcing decisions and actions, we disrupt the brain’s relaxation necessary for insight to occur, according to Jung-Beeman’s research. We have a clenched state of mind.

Change requires us to create new solutions, to be creative, to move forward. Moreover, neuroscience teaches that when the brain relaxes when we slow down, we increase our opportunities for Aha! moments.

When we are quietly reading a book or attending a workshop free(r) from the demands of work, we are relaxed. In this relaxed state, we open ourselves up to potential moments of insight. Because we typically fail to take time out to relax and reflect, these moments are infrequent. So, please take advantage of them.

Alternatively, we can create opportunities for insight. Slow down. Schedule time for yourself and create space for reflection. Unclench your mind. So, when that Aha! moment occurs, recognize the opportunity for positive change.

“If you really want to see something,

look at something else.

If you want to say what something is,

inspect something that it isn’t.”

Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Howard Nemerov

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