I never made one of my discoveries through the process of rational thinking.
It’s a New Year: we’ve made our resolutions and put our butts in the chair. This will be the year we write that novel, pen the self-help book or blog our way to fame and fortune. Or not. We’ve already heard predictions from people who don’t even know us that we’re likely to fail at keeping our resolutions. We’ve never lost the voices in our head telling us we’re not good enough. And now, as we type away, we wonder what happened to all of our good ideas. We need an epiphany—and quick!
Don’t worry. I’ve got five tools to help you court the aha moment and rescue your writing:
1. Write, doodle, repeat. The cartoonist Charles Barsotti takes a big stack of paper and doodles until the aha moment occurs. Madeleine L’Engle famously said, “Inspiration usually comes during work rather than before it.” (The Summer of the Great Grandmother, p. 144). So that butt in the chair thing? Best idea yet!
2. Clean the house! Do the dishes, sweep the floor, and fold the laundry! Repetitive, mindless activities lead to aha moments. (The Breakout Principle by Herbert Benson and William Proctor). If you’re not the cleaning type, think about taking up knitting, tennis or doodling.
3. Get out! Enact the metaphor “think outside the box” and work somewhere other than your cubicle (or your version of it). Researchers found that people who worked outside a box, no matter how comfortable it was, were more creative than boxed-in workers.
4. Work tired. Feeling fatigued? It’s the perfect time to dream up new stuff. When we’re tired, we’re more open to innovative ideas. According to a 2011 study led by Mareike Wieth at Albion College in Michigan, students performed better on problems that required novel thinking when they were tired (Thinking & Reasoning, 2011).
5. Still Stuck? Take a shower, walk in nature, listen to music or nap! When Michael Gelb, author of How to Think Like Leonardo DaVinci asked creatives where they got their best ideas, those were the most popular answers. Greek polymath Archimedes got the very first Eureka moment while in the public bath.
Your turn: How do you encourage those aha moments? Make a list of the last 5-10 times you had an aha moment and pay attention to what was going on around you. Could that practice be the key to your next aha moment? Leave your comments below.
Resource: For more on cartoonists and their aha moments, check out this article by Robert Mankoff.