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Entries from April 2009

Understanding the Power of an “Aha” Moment

April 24th, 2009 · No Comments

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Sarah was stuck.  She came to our coaching session this week hurt and confused, and was wholeheartedly committed to a painful interpretation of a situation with a co-worker.  Blinded by her thoughts, Sarah clung to her painful position.  I watched her face crinkle in confusion and doubt, as her pain grew worse and worse.

Towards the end of our session, her frustration grew so great that I began to contemplate how to conclude the session without her achieving much insight.  In the next instant, she broke through her pain and confusion.  “I get it,” she said, as tears of relief streamed down her face.  “I feel like Helen Keller.“ she told me.  As I recalled the powerful scene in the movie The Miracle Worker when Helen “got it,” tears welled up in my eyes, too.

For the remainder of our session, Sarah was able to discuss the relationship with her colleague with clarity and calm.  She had had what we call an “aha” moment. These moments of insight, arrived at by our own hard work, investigation, and effort are the most powerful learning experiences there are.  Sure, there is often a struggle and there may be plenty of discomfort, but when that “aha” arrives, it’s akin to what Helen Keller called “the most important moment” of her life.  She finally understood that Annie Sullivan’s incessant and incomprehensible hand gestures and sounds could unlock the doorway to connecting with and understanding the world around her.

This is why coaching and indeed any process that allows us to discover our own answers is so potent—we struggle through a problem ourselves and find our own answers.  When we do this, rather than being given advice or handed the “right answer,” we are actually forging new connections, new neural pathways in our brains.  In fact, our brains actually release a small spurt of energizing adrenaline, which we interpret as a pleasurable sensation.

We are all familiar with these “aha” moments and they feel very different from other types of learning, like, for instance, attending a lecture. So the next time you are frustrated, confused, and unable to solve a problem, hang in there.  Your “Helen Keller moment” may arrive in the next instant.

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What happens to our creativity?

April 16th, 2009 · No Comments

When my daughter was about seven years old, she asked me one day what I did at work. I told her I worked at the college – that my job was to teach people how to draw. She stared back at me, incredulous, and said, “You mean they forget?” ~~ Howard Ikemoto

b0001418-for-webWe do forget don’t we?  What happens to us, to our creativity?  How do we forget that we can draw and dance and paint and playfully express ourselves in thousands of creative, fun, meaningful ways?

I’ve been reading Ellen Langer’s excellent exploration of creativity, On Becoming an Artist. Here’s a rundown of some of the culprits she names as enemies of our creative expression:

–Judging your creative ideas or attempts.  (“Ugh.  My painting sucks.  I’m just no good at it.”)
–Comparing your creations to the work of others. (“My photography is just not as good as Ansel Adams’.”)
–Fear of making a mistake.  (“I can’t draw noses right, ever.”)
–Believing the myth that creativity requires special talent or gift and that we don’t have it.  (“I’d love to write a poem, but I don’t have any talent.”)

If you are telling yourself any of this, notice the effect it has on you.  Notice how you feel.  Are you inspired, do you want to sit at your piano when you are critical?  Do want to pick up a pen?

Where are you judging yourself, comparing yourself, fearing a mistake?  Let it go and just dive in.  Enjoy the process of painting, with no thought about the quality of your result.  Grab your camera, and point it at the light.  Forget about whether a masterpiece will emerge.

Remind yourself of the fun it is to put beautiful color on paper, that practice or a class will improve your skills, and that even accomplished artists spend time developing their gifts.  Find the thoughts that liberate and inspire you.

Take a lesson from Howard’s daughter—remember that you know how to draw.  You know how to paint and sing and dance, too.  You’ve just forgotten how for the moment.  When you put down the thoughts that get in your way, and instead, pick up the pencil, you’ll remember exactly how to do it.

Tags: creativity · thinking