moments of insight

03/25/2012

by carolyn mathews

Allow me to go out on a limb and suggest that many of you do some of your best thinking in the shower. There you are, rinsing shampoo from your hair when suddenly you have that “ah-ha” moment about a challenge you face at work. There’s a reason for that experience…

At a conference I attended, the speaker was Jonah Lehrer, author of several books, including one of my favorites, How We Decide.  Lehrer addressed the crowd with steps we can take to foster innovation, including:

>Learn to relax

>Think grit

>Learn from mistakes

>Don’t eat the marshmallow (Read Lehrer’s classic article published in the New Yorker Magazine.)

The first suggestion, learn to relax, caught my attention. In a relaxed state, such as when we are in the shower, alpha waves put our minds at rest. This state of our brainwaves helps generate moments of insight.  Lehrer describes insight as that moment when an answer arrives to a problem and you just know it is right. You don’t even have to check it out (although you probably will). In part, relaxing allows us to look past unrelated ideas for what relates. Suddenly, the answer “clicks.”

In our society, particularly in the workplace, our busyness is valued, perhaps overly so. Lehrer argues that as a society, we are so busy being productive that we do not take the time to listen to our insight. How can we find our insight at work when most of us are not in a position to take to the shower for those moments of clarity? Moments of mindfulness provides the same reaction. I suggest that you find a quiet place to sit comfortably where you won’t be disturbed. There are many mindfulness exercises you can find online or in books, but one I have used with clients is the Circular Breath exercise. Breathe in slowly to the count of four and then exhale slowly to the count of four. You can focus your mind on a thought, like: I breathe in to relax, I breathe out to relax.

Lehrer also explained that when trying to solve a challenge, consider whether you have a feeling of knowing, or what many of us think of as a gut response. To decide if you need insight to solve a challenge, ask if you have a feeling of knowing. If you do, focus on the knowing to reach the answer. Think about all the components of what needs to be resolved, spin them around, and look at them again from a different perspective. If you still cannot find the answer among all of those thoughts and/or images, relax. Look for the alpha waves that will produce a moment of insight. It may require a shower.

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