It's 6.30pm. You’re completely exhausted. You barely notice the other people on the bus as you drift off into your own world. If you close your eyes for a moment, you’ll probably fall asleep. The headlights of the passing cars refract through the raindrops that are trickling down the window next to you. And that’s when it happens. Pure genius - only in hindsight it’s actually obvious. That solution to the problem you’ve been trying to solve since 2pm when you got back from a late lunch break. You feel a sudden burst of energy mixed with more than a little bit of relief. You write down this amazing idea in your diary, smile, and settle in for the trip home.
Has this ever happened to you? That moment when you get a fantastic solution to a problem that’s been bugging you all day. Or when you finally remember the words to that song that’s been just out of your mind’s reach? We call these Eureka Moments, or A-Ha Moments. Why does this happen, and wouldn’t you like it to happen more often?
Understanding the Mechanism
The physiology is simple. We get ‘stuck’ in a thinking rut when the ‘logic’ part of our brain, our Pre-Frontal Cortex, is extremely active and our brain activity is high. You keep thinking along the same track and are unable to get that train of thought out of your head…….you keep thinking of the same (wrong) lyrics or the same (wrong) solution. Sometimes it feels as though your brain actually hurts!
Performance Science tells us, every now and then, after a while of this high brain activity, we get a moment of complete quiet. Our brain activity goes almost to zero for a short time, and allows us to ‘hear’ the activity that is going on in the other regions of our brain.
Following this period of quiet, we get an enormous spike in brain activity (even bigger than before) asweconnect a number of brain regions - and these connections are what lead to Eureka Moments. When you remember the words to that pesky song, you no doubt start to visualise where you were (using the visual cortex) and maybe what you were doing (using the motor cortex), and - BAM! - you remember the lyrics. Or solve the problem.
The Key is Quiet
The key message here, is that every Eureka moment is preceded by a moment of quiet. Unfortunately, the constant stress of our work daymeans that we rarely get these moments of quiet. In fact, the more stress that we are exposed to, the narrower our focus and our thoughts become. In study after study, when you offer money as a reward for solving problems that require even a small amount of abstract thinking, people perform worse than if there was no incentive at all.
How To Get More
Build moments of quiet into your day. Three or four, 5-10 minute ‘recovery’ breaks is all you need to realise the benefits of these moments of quiet. The key is to slow down, switch off that logic brain and just day dream for a while. Don’t get engaged in other attention-hungry activities. Just be.
If you can do this on a regular basis, and especially when you are trying to solve a problem, or do anything that requires creativity like setting up a presentation or writing strategy, you’ll find those brilliant Eureka Moments will become more frequent.
** A key component of our High Performance and Productivity Program deals specifically with how we take the time to recover, recharge and get more of these Eureka Moments.
Click here to see more about the program: