How Can We Trigger Insights?

In my previous post, I looked at the science of how insights happen in the brain. So if we know how insight proceeds in the brain, can we also trigger those Aha! moments?

I believe we can.

The process starts when a person is holding a problem in their minds. They haven’t been able to solve it through their usual methods. So, they put it aside. This is important. Your brain will still hold the issue or challenge, but sometimes working on it directly gets you nowhere.

Why? The part of your brain that you use to solve everyday problems is the pre-frontal cortex. It’s really good at executive function. It’s really good at providing tried-and-true solutions. But – it cannot make new connections, connections that are not already established in the brain.

It can move the furniture around in your mind, but it can’t create new furniture. It can’t even imagine what a love seat would look like by the window, because there’s never been a love seat by the window. What’s a love seat, anyway?

But there are non-conscious parts of the brain that are moving love seats by windows all the time.*

So, in order to start the breakthrough process, we need to allow the pre-frontal cortex to relax and quiet down.

First, try redirecting your thinking to something other than the challenge. Think about something else. Even better, if possible, take a break. Take a walk. Try some meditation or mindfulness. This has been shown to increase the alpha waves in your brain, a needed pre-cursor to moments of insight.

While you are focusing on other things, or meditating, or going for a walk, the non-conscious parts of your brain are working on the problem. It is very possible that at some point, you will suddenly stare off into the distance as your brain goes quiet with the alpha waves… and then BAM! The gamma waves will burst forth, and your new insight will be born.

Sometimes, of course, further supports will be needed to make your breakthroughs. That’s where talking about it, or getting some coaching on it, can help. But always know that your you are fully capable of moments of transformative insights. You just need to practice triggering those other states in your brain.

*The science used to be simplified as right brain/left brain, but of course, brain functioning is more complicated than that. But if it helps, the left brain was thought to control logic and math. It’s not creative. Meanwhile, the right brain was thought to be creative.

So whether we think of the as “prefrontal cortex” and “non-conscious parts of the brain” or “left brain” and “right brain”, the point is the same: the part of the brain that we use when we are awake, that has executive function, that organizes the kids for school and our teams on a new project – is not the part of the brain that can make a breakthrough.