By Dorota Florczyk and Patrick Kozakiewicz
Aha! moments are those moments of sudden insight or discovery. Yet, how do we reach these Aha! moments? How and when do they happen?
We know today that we can reach the Aha! moments as often as we want, wherever we want, and as quickly as we want. It is rather easy and simply requires a bit of practice, a very special kind – a ‘MINDFUL PRACTICE’. Mindful practice is not about how to think, it is rather about how not to think or plan or ‘solutionize’. Mindful practice is about allowing yourself to be HERE and NOW, to be fully AWARE while staying open to answers that come to you.
A couple of years ago, I noted that when thinking about a problem or writing a document that needed to be thoughtfully crafted, I would typically start the first sentence and would then have an urge to leave my desk and do something different, like walking along the corridor, making tea or coffee or washing my hands. It was only after I took a ‘break’ that I could find answers to my obstacle, or express a new idea in an impactful way. So, I asked myself: ‘What makes me do this? Why can’t I sit and work on it, then pause and rest only after I’m finished?’ I tried to change my behaviour but found that it was totally counterproductive.
Recently, when I was reading a Harvard Business Review (HBR) article written by David Rock and Josh Davis, I got my EUREKA MOMENT. Rock and Davis described a 4-step approach to AHA! moments that unlocks our creativity. Let me share with you how I am experiencing these 4 steps and how I apply meditation and mindfulness to exercise my ‘eureka muscle’.
Step 1: Notice Silence
The key word for me here is ‘NOTICE’. Notice does not mean to rush, scramble or grab. Notice means effortless and it is linked to calmness. It is when my mind is peaceful and aware of the present that I can feel the quiet signals with ‘minimal electrical activity’. In neuroscience, they call it direct experience network (experiencing here and now) as opposed to narrative circuity (planning, strategizing, preparing for the future). And research shows that people who practice meditation are better equipped to notice those quiet signals of the brain. They notice their emotions, reactions and thoughts easier as they develop the neurologic connections in their brain, those specific ‘paths’ and patterns that are much more ‘visible’ to them.
Step 2: Be Introspect
This is a natural continuation of Step 1. Once I calm down and open myself to noticing silence, I naturally shift my attention inside and zone out. My brain identifies the ‘quiet signals’ and starts to trace them back. A bit like how I would follow a thin thread that got entangled in my brain and I would walk and discover new paths and patterns. This feels exactly like a meditation session when I look inside for feelings, emotions, explanations, and answers. My brain uncovers new connections, and leads me to places that were once created and experienced, but have been forgotten. And suddenly it opens for me a new web of opportunities, possible answers and amazing ideas.
Step 3: Harness Positivity
As I move further, I start to feel that the impossible is possible, the answer is within me, and that I am on my way to discover it. This realization creates an uplifting, positive emotion. I suddenly feel the outburst of enjoyment and excitement (like right now when I am in the ‘groove’ of writing this blog!). Such a boost feeds idea creation. The recent neuroscientific research confirms this. People who are stressed or in a negative mood tend to ‘close’ themselves to opportunities and new ideas. When the brain focuses on defending, it cannot afford the energy to look for new possibilities.
Step 4: Keep it Easy
The Aha! moment does not require effort. In fact, the more effortless I think about the problem, the more I involve the unconscious power of my brain to find new ideas. Clarity comes not out of banging my head against the wall, it comes when I look at the wall with an open, curious mind; when I smile and I intrinsically know that the answer will come. It will land itself, and just unfold from the web of neurological connections. This reminds me of the mediation practice of letting go of thoughts as they come to me. I do not push them away, I just effortlessly let them pass – like a passing butterfly. And in my Aha! moment I will catch one of these butterflies. The butterfly which will carry me away towards the answer to the question I asked.
These 4 steps to Aha! moments require patience and practice. For me it started with my curiosity surrounding mindfulness and what it is all about. It led me to daily morning meditations. I started small, 5-10 minutes, just focusing on the breath. And today I know that it impacted my way of working and my creativity tremendously. It diminished my stress and has allowed me to fully emerge in what is on my desk NOW AND HERE. This and other practices have allowed for my Aha! moments to happen more frequently, when I want, wherever I want, and as quickly as I want.
For more on working and living more mindfully, visit our mindfulness series.
We hope you find the suggested mindfulness approaches useful for creating greater awareness in your life and work. Please feel free to add a comment below to let us know how you have got on.
Dorota Florczyk is the Technical Leadership Development Global Leader. She is also a Professional Certified Coach and has a keen interest in neuroscience in the context of leadership, learning and change management. You’ll find her on LinkedIn.
Patrick Kozakiewicz is a Mindfulness@IBM Global Leader and a Mindfulness Coach@IBM Poland. Other than his role as IT Security Health Check Process Owner, he is a curious and passionate being who loves Agile, Design Thinking, life and nature. You’ll find him on LinkedIn.
Discover what you could do at IBM. www.ibm.com/jobs