It was the 25th of January, I was up on stage with my business partner, giving a talk at a TEDx conference in a hall filled with a hundred or so people about some of the work I do in a bid to fire up some neurons in them and hopefully inspire the audience, then almost as if to gods of trolling had conspired against a brother, a vacuum presented itself! I couldn’t remember anything! We had spent days writing that damn speech! Where did it go !? It was meant to be epic! A mastery of rhetoric for the world to see and yet it had eluded me! I had enough presence of mind to somehow freestyle the rest of the part that went missing, but even through the whole speech, I felt like Samer (my co-founder) and I weren’t as insightful as we usually were. On a usual day conversations with clients, be it on mail or in person, with colleagues would always draw the comment “how insightful!” from them but on this day that “it” factor wasn’t there. Yet again I might be accused of being hard on myself but that was until I found this research paper.
Insight in essence is both knowledge and understanding derived from an “inward sight” or more simply looking inside your own mind and observing it. It can be a natural process, intentional, or sometimes you may just need to see things differently to see them clearly. The “ aha!” moment is something that people in various fields have tried to solve but new research shedding new light on how to increase the likelihood of these moments of brilliance and why those who do have them. So what are some of these qualities?
1. Be Slightly happy
The research suggests that people who are happier actually solve problems better than those who are anxious. What’s even more interesting is that that specific aha! moment takes things to another level as the fusing of neurons stimulates the release of dopamine which is the reward hormone in the brain and makes you even more likely sound smarter and more insightful work as your brain actively looks for more neurons to fire up. Ever heard of “being on a roll”? This could be an explanation for that. Research shows that when people are happy they are more likely to to notice a wider range of information, than when they are anxious and will be more ‘tunnel visioned’. You find yourself in a meeting with a poker faced executive? Don’t despair! simply smile and stay calm! Then perhaps you’ll remember that one time when you crossed the pacific with a raft, saved a drowning platypus, rid the world of Bieber and still made it home in time for dinner!… at the right moment.
Neuroscientist Mark Beeman (who wrote the research paper) says “…variables that improve the ability to detect weak associations may improve insight solving.” in other words an insight is often a long forgotten memory or combination of memories. These memories may not have a lot of neurons holding them together. Whereas the decision of what you’re gonna eat for lunch or drink at the bar may involve millions of neurons communicating to each other, an insight may involve only a few tens of thousands of neurons connecting with each other. This happens when our brain activity is low and we’re not taking too much mental effort, doing something repetitive or simply when more relaxed like when we wake up. Insights sometimes require a quiet mind. So ask yourself, how does the environment you’re in influence the kind of ideas and experiences you have?
3. Stop Trying too hard
The ladies reading this will probably be familiar with this phrase. And yes, this applies across the board in a myriad of issues. Remember that exam you worked so hard on only to see that “E” on your transcript? Guess what!? you deserve it! And I’v got science on my side to prove it! The reason for this is that usually insights happen because we become stuck at an impasse. The impasse tends to involve a small set of solutions that we have become fixed on. The more we work on this same wrong solution, the more we prime the brain for that solution and the harder it is to think of new ideas. It’s like changing traffic on the highway— we have to stop the traffic going one way before it can go another. In the brain, wrong solutions push out the right ones. Chances are that guy who freestyled the exam probably beat you simply because he let things come to him more naturally. What about that joker in your class who always gets the pretty girls? The point is, you have to let go of the problem for the solution to come to you sometimes. It really goes to show how strong our sub-conscious processing resources can be. The idea of something being at the back of your mind surfaces itself here. Personally I can attest to this as every single time I over prepared for a pitch, I’v ended up choking and walking out thinking that the guy I was meeting is trying to put a brother down or had an impossible case of not feeling my vibe.
You cannot of course be tied down to this school of thought alone as there are a bajillion ways to carve out your own niche when it comes to finding out what makes you tick, people like Stephen Johnson believe that the mess that is bars, coffee shops and restaurants actually spurred a whole generation of innovators. We’re only beginning scratching the surface of such studies.
If you think what’s been written here is a load of crap let me know in the comments, feel free to put your baloney detection kit on and let me have it!