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Chill, You’ll Have More Aha! Moments


Chill, You’ll Have More Aha! Moments

Photograph by Getty Images

We’ve all been there—a problem that won’t yield; a sense that we are missing something important. And then, seemingly out of the blue (and often when we’re not thinking about it), an insight hits, and the problem instantly dissolves.

If you’re not having as many insights as you want, here’s maybe why: When faced with a problem, we occupy ourselves by interrogating our memory for solutions—thinking that the answer lies there if we could only access it. We plow and replow what we already know. In the process, our thinking becomes more pressured; we get frustrated and bear down ever harder. In this pressured state, insights become more elusive.

The path to insight lies in another direction. An insight is a thought we’ve never had before. It’s a fresh thought. The great thing about an insight is if you are a bit mindful, it’s really clear when one occurs. Insights not only have that fresh feeling, they also have this feeling of resolution, of settling, how everything is naturally right. There is an energy boost and a moment of elation, in some cases. This is a very personal, yet universal feeling. Think about planting that desire for insight in your unconscious mind and let it go to work for you.

While the circumstances in which people have their insights are as varied as the individuals, everyone we have talked with has reported a common state of mind in which they are apt to find them. It’s an easy-going, no-pressure state. The more you reside in an easy-going state of mind, the more you will have insights. So the next time you feel stuck, stop pressing through. Instead, ask yourself for a fresh thought and think of a time when you were in that state of mind. Then find your way to it in whatever way works for you. It might be taking a walk or a shower. Or listening to some soothing music. Or chatting with a colleague or friend. Let your intuition guide you to finding that natural state. And please don’t work at being serene. What you are looking for is actually our default state, and we inadvertently think ourselves out of it.

Insights are available all the time, but mostly we just aren’t hearing them. Form a habit of listening in such a way that you hear new things in yourself and others. Don’t worry about whether they are on your topic. In many cases an insight will come during a conversation on an entirely different subject. One manager tells the story of having an insight when two colleagues were talking about a problem he’d asked for advice on. In his view, they clearly didn’t understand his problem, and as he was listening, he kept arguing with them in his head, “that’s not my problem.” Then he had the thought. “It’s not my problem.” He had unknowingly made another person’s problem his own. In the space of a thought, the problem vanished from his ToDo list.

Kiefer is President of Innovation Associates. He and Malcolm Constable have recently published The Art of Insight: How to Have More Aha Moments.

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