Do you know the feeling when you have been struggling with a problem for a while and then suddenly all the pieces of the puzzle come together and you have the answer you have been looking for? Do you remember what you did right before that ‘Aha’ moment? I’ve recently read an article titled “The Eureka Moment” by Guenther Knoblich and Michael Oellinger in Scientific American Mind (need subscription). They report on a number of experiments conducted by cognitive neuroscientists that suggest the right brain takes the leading role in generating the insights. While we don’t know yet how to create those eureka moments on demand, there are some practical steps we can take to increase the likelihood of their occurrence.
- First, you need to know your stuff. You need sufficient knowledge and understanding of the issues to solve the problem.
- Second, much like athletes train before a competition, you need to condition your brain by giving the problem your full effort and attention. You are likely to get stuck at some point, and that’s OK. There is a trick to overcome this phase.
- The trick it to get away from the problem for a while. The downside of the knowledge and expertise is that we become too rigid in our approaches. The brain needs some quiet time to restructure the problem and allow us to look at it from a different angle. That’s when the insight is more likely to occur. Scientists believe that sleep helps to absorb and reorganize information, so naps often lead to the ‘Aha’ moments. Here is an interesting account of the breakthrough moments experienced by famous musicians, artists and scientists. It turns out that many of those moments happened in a somnambulistic state. A positive attitude helps too, so take a break from the problem and do something fun. The solution may come to you when you least expect it.
Too often we associate gain with pain, and while some pain is inevitable, your brain does not want you to suffer continuously. Treat your brain well, reward its hard work with sleep and pleasure, and it will do wonders for you.