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Entries from August 2010

Aha Moments Can Lead to Powerful Changes

August 10th, 2010 · 1 Comment

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Don’t you just love them?  Those “aha” moments when everything falls into place as if by magic.  It can happen when you solve a problem, when you figure out the perpetrator in a whodunit movie, or, best of all, when you get a powerful insight into how to change your life for the better.

There’s a good reason “ahas” feel so good.  At the moment of insight, our brains release a surge of energizing chemicals and give off strong gamma-band waves, signals that the brain is literally dancing as it makes new brain-wide connections.

This is learning at its very finest, and we are called to action from the deepest parts of our hearts and minds.  In the dramatic clip from the film, The Miracle Worker, posted above, Helen Keller figures out that the random hand movements her teacher has been making were a symbol for  water.  She instantly got it, and understood that there was a way to communicate beyond the isolation of her dark, silent world.

In The Story of My Life, she described it this way:  “Suddenly … somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me.  I knew then that “w-a-t-e-r” meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand.  That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free!”

But what do you think would have happened to Helen Keller if, after that momentous day, she didn’t do anything more?  No doubt about it—without repetition and reinforcement, her insight would have soon faded.  Instead, as Helen tells it, “I did nothing but explore with my hands and learn the name of every object that I touched; and the more I handled things and learned their names and uses, the more joyous and confident grew my sense of kinship with the rest of the world.”

Brain scientists put it this way: “what fires together, wires together.”  That’s another way of saying “practice makes perfect.”

The energy surge and resulting intense motivation we feel after an “aha” can pass very quickly, and we can soon forget about it, unless our learning “wires together.”  That’s why follow up and practice is crucial.  We must reinforce our insight with attention and repetition, to help our brains remember and apply our insights in future situations.

Here are some ways to help you use ahas to create lasting change:

1.    Write it down. The action of recording your insight will itself help strengthen the brain’s new connections and help you remember it.
2.   Return to your insight often. Post-it notes on the mirror and your computer screen really can strengthen your brain’s new connections.  Repeatedly bringing your attention to your “aha” will reinforce your learning by strengthening the new connections in your brain.
3.    Keep your attention on the solution, not the original problem. If you got an insight into how to stop procrastinating, for example, gently redirect your attention to the insight you got whenever you are tempted to procrastinate, rather than reminding yourself of your challenges with procrastination.  Again, this strengthens the brain’s new connections, rather than the old ones.
4.    Take easy action. As you move your insight into new, real-world behavior, it’s important to take action in small, easy steps.  This will minimize the brain’s stress signals, which will occur if you try to do too much too soon.
5.    Be generous with yourself. Remember that you didn’t learn to walk the first 500 times you tried.  Allow yourself to try and fail at your new behavior.  The very fact that you are trying is enough to re-focus your attention on the solution, and will strengthen your new insight.

With time and patience, you’ll see  your “ahas” gradually transform into “no-brainers”—automatic behaviors that hardly take any conscious attention.  So have fun, enjoy your ahas and happy learning!

Tags: change

Are You Savoring Your Life, or Rushing Through It?

August 1st, 2010 · 2 Comments


A few months ago, I visited my friend Anni at  her fabulous bed and breakfast in Barbados.  Her inn is renowned for her sumptuous three-course gourmet breakfasts.  During my visit, her right arm, the dominant one, was in a cast.  Most mornings, her helpers, steeped in true island spirit (or maybe a little  too much rum the night before), came late or didn’t show up at all.

I joined her in the kitchen at six every morning to help her prepare breakfast for her guests, but she wanted none of my help.  She sat me at an open window with a cup of fresh coffee and some crackers to feed the birds who perched on the sill.

Mesmerized, I watched her literally single-handedly prepare an elegant feast for six or eight people, with care, with grace, and without rushing.  While her cast iron pans warmed up, she set out her beautiful serving dishes, and chopped and sliced with precision.  She stood quietly before her giant gas stove, in constant but deliberate motion.  Soon, the counters overflowed with pancakes, eggs, fruits, breads, sauces, and puddings.  She carefully arranged everything, garnished the plates with sprigs of herbs and fresh tropical flowers, and only then allowed me to assist her by carrying the steaming dishes of edible art to the dining room.

It was an inspiration to watch.  I told her that watching her cook was like observing a moving mediation.

Since then, I’ve tried to savor food preparation and cooking.  The old me flew into the kitchen and tried to get things done as quickly as possible.   It wasn’t much fun.  As I practice what I learned from Anni, my kitchen is a quieter, happier place. I play music, stay in the moment as much as I can, and even take a look outside as I work, allowing myself to enjoy the vibrant tropical foliage just inches from my fingertips. I think my cooking has improved, too.  It tastes more like love.

And you?  Is there a place in your life that could use less rushing and more savoring?  Here are a few hints that might help:

1.  Set an intention. Before you start, remind yourself that you intend to slow down and that you want the process to be as enjoyable as the destination.

2.  Breathe. Some slow gentle breaths signal our nervous systems to re-regulate and to regain a natural pattern of speeding and slowing.  When our physiology matches our intentions, we have a much better opportunity to enjoy the experience.

3.  Align your thoughts with your actions. Let thoughts of other things go for now.  You can come back to them later.

4.  Feed your senses. Use your beautiful mixing bowls instead of the scratched up plastic ones.  Put on your favorite music and then listen to it. Smell your surroundings, and if there isn’t a smell, add one you love.

5.  Bring mindfulness into your task. Allow yourself to be aware of what you are doing, as you are doing it.  Feel your knives in your hands, your fingertips on the keyboard, your hands in the garden gloves.  Notice your feet in your shoes and how they contact the ground.  Observe what you are doing.  Watch the magic of the sharp knife as it shreds celery. Look at the water from your shower as it falls, and feel it touch your skin.

6.  Allow yourself to play. Approach your project like a small child who is learning to put clothespins into a bucket.  Don’t get hung up on judging your efforts or comparing yourself to others.  Simply notice what you are doing, stay curious, and remain open to let things happen.

So give these tips a try.  See which ones work best for you, and which tasks or projects you can try them with.

There’s a lot to be savored in our lives, wherever we are.  Let’s not miss it by hurrying to get to the end.


Tags: play