Accessing an ‘aha!’ moment may not be hard work after all

Ever wondered why "Aha!" moments happen while you're in the shower, or brushing your teeth, even though you've spent all day at your desk trying to figure the problem out?

According to research by UTS neuroscientist Dr Trisha Stratford, it comes down to your state of mind. 

Problems are more easily solved and inspiration arrives when we can avoid the fragmented thoughts and knee-jerk reactions association with stress.

Great ideas arrive when we move into the "super mind" stage – when we're in a more focused state.

So how can we access the "super mind"? And are men and women able to access it equally?

A new Human Synergistics study launched of Australian CEOs and entrepreneurs hopes to find that out. From tomorrow, the group of leaders – half female and half male – will be given the tools and techniques to try and better access such a frame of mind through a four-step process Human Synergistics says can enable "extreme thinking".

The study, to be followed up with a group of middle managers and entry-level employees later on, hopes to determine how we can teach our brain to unlock brilliant ideas and solutions when we need them. It will also analyse how men and women differ in their ability to exploit such thinking.

"We want to find out what we need to do to prime the brain to increase the number of 'aha' moments," project leader Corinne Canter told Women's Agenda. "Instead of it happening by luck, chance or magic, what we're saying is that when you come up with a great idea it's not an accident. You've been thinking about this, you've gone offline, but your brain's still working on it.

"When people are struggling with a problem they enter the 'try harder' cycle," Canter explains. "You throw brain power at it, have more coffee, schedule more meetings, work longer hours and it drives you crazy because you still have nothing."

Canter says that while the brain might be getting the information it needs during the "try harder" cycle, it's too stressed to access an innovative solution.

She says there are four steps to "extreme thinking", with the below to be used as a base to teach study participants to "reprogram their brains":

  1. Stop trying and slow your thinking. Stop focusing on the problem and change your breathing
  2. Let it go/ take a break. Take a break from working on the problem, focus your attention on something else
  3. Let it form. Be specific about the problem/question or issue and let it go to the back of your mind
  4. Let it spark. The idea arrives because the brain has connected the dots and produced the best solution
  5. Unfortunately, we'll need to wait for the results of the research to find out if "extreme thinking" actually works – and what practical tools are needed to make it happen.
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