Searching for an ah ha moment? Try walking outside or washing your hands. Have you ever stopped to wonder where a particular thought came from? Can you recall a time when you experienced one of those beautiful ‘ah ha’ moments, a situation where answers seem to slide with synchronistic ease into an easily recognisable pattern? What were you doing at the time?
Many of my dazzling ‘ah ha’ moments arrive when I am in the bathroom surrounded by water. It doesn’t seem to matter if my whole body is submerged (in the shower) or if I am simply running water over my hands, either way, the physical experience of water upon skin seems to provide a ‘free time’ moment where my mind can play. These times of respite are extremely valuable because they enable creative endeavours. An example may help illustrate the point.
Recently a colleague and I were working on a project. She is a highly professional, organised and efficient teacher. I am a story teller who delights in creating something tangible from the intangible. Together, we were destined to form a productive team. However, our best collaborative work was achieved, separately. Rather than solving problems during meetings, our ah ha moments occurred afterwards. At the conclusion of each meeting we opened the door, went to our respective staff rooms and then to the bathroom before going to class (teachers tend to maintain rigorous schedules). Much to our amusement, we both experienced flashes of insight while in this ‘wash phase’ of our respective schedules. Afterwards, in some sort of serendipitous twist of fate, we ‘bumped’ into each other on the way to class. Whilst in transit, we eagerly swapped fresh strategies. This pattern repeated itself on three separate occassions and despite a slightly unconventional collaborative effort, our project was successful with minimal fuss and only an hour and a half of actual ‘meeting’ time.
Now, I realise it may not be practical to wash each time a problem deposits a sticky mass on your hands. Similarly, close proximity to water may not be everyone’s ‘ah ha’ catalyst. However, it is possible to utilise the underlying theory to inspire your own ah ha moment. Put simply, having a shower or washing your hands may cleanse the mind as much as the body. These physical experiences provide the space to be mindful since the action of washing offers a break from the endless chatter of your self-talk. This gap allows a place for new ideas to form because you are mindfully aware of your actions, rather than over deliberating the thoughts that preceded them. In other words, short ‘non-thought moments’ or ‘self chatter pauses’, offer time to experience a mental ‘refresh’.
These ‘mental refresh’ moments have been studied by many – you may like to view this clip where Dr Adam Fraser explains the concepts of The Third Space. Another intriguing example may be found in Dr Karl’s Great Moments in Science – Can walking through a doorway make you forget? During this episode, Dr Karl provides a reason for room to room forgetfulness. He refers to the event-horizon model to suggest our brain processes information in single units and that the aspect on which we we are concentrating, gains the most attention. However, walking through a doorway moves us from one environment into another, and this may cause a memory lapse. This memory lapse, according to Dr Karl, occurs because our brain recognises the need to be attentive to potential threats in the new environment.
So, next time you find yourself over-thinking a problem, perhaps you could try walking out of the room, leaving the old solutions behind. Remember the ‘magic moment’ is the space ‘in-between’. This is the moment you pause your self-talk and allow yourself to hear those intuitive whispers. Perhaps then you will receive your own fresh, ah ha moment.
Welcome to a World of Expression.