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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

Roller Coaster

August 20th, 2008 · No Comments

When you’re disappointed, does your mood plunge downward like it’s on a roller coaster?  Yesterday, my new client, let’s call her Susan, had plummeted like she was on the Coney Island Cyclone. She’d sought coaching after a string of business failures.  She suspected she might be doing something to attract this pattern into her life.

In a voice awash with misery and despair, she told me how she’d been incredibly happy this morning at the prospect of landing a fat new contract for her business, but a half-hour before our appointment, she received an email that the deal had fallen through. She was crushed and depressed.

“So what changed the way you feel?” I asked.

“The company changed its mind,” she stated dully.

“How would you feel right this minute if the email had gotten lost in the internet’s parallel universe, and you didn’t know about it?” I asked her.

“I’d feel great,” she said glumly, “at least until I found out.”

“So what really changed?” I asked.

With some coaching, Susan realized that her thoughts about herself had changed. When she believed she had the contract, she thought she was smart and competent and valued and felt energetic and excited about life. When she got the email, she told herself the company had rejected her and she was incompetent and useless. She became listless and empty.

As Susan discovered first-hand this morning, if we attach our happiness and self-worth to external circumstances, like a big contract, a promotion, or our children’s grades, we climb aboard life’s roller coaster. When circumstances are favorable, we are high, excited, exhilarated; when things change, we nose-dive to the bottom.

We hop on a roller coaster to take this ride when we lose touch with our true nature, what Martha Beck calls our essential self. Our essential self knows that we are always sparkling jewels, treasures of infinite value and worth. This has nothing to do with success in any external form–contracts or promotions or our kids’ grades or any other person or circumstance outside of us.

When we lose touch with that part of us, that all-knowing, peaceful, secure place deep in our hearts, we are at the mercy of life’s roller coaster. Our essential self gets buried by an avalanche of neediness and insatiable hunger for positive attention and rewards from others.

People change their minds, contracts fall through, kids fail courses, and others get selected for promotions and awards. That is the nature of life—change and unexpected circumstances are the only constants we can count on.

When we are in deep touch with our value, our worth, and the joy that lives deep inside us, we survive setbacks and challenges with peace and security. A contract can fall through, and we can put it into perspective. We remain positive and hopeful, and don’t slide into abusive or self-defeating thought patterns.

Sure, it feels good to land a big contract. But when we are in deep contact with our essential self, we never lose touch with our worth and our value, and we remain energized and hopeful. We understand that the loss of the contract could, in some as yet unfathomable way, be in our best interests. We save the roller coaster ride for fun and games at an amusement park. And, we realize that the next gift from life may be just an email away.

Questions to Ask Yourself When You’re on the Roller Coaster

1. Are you having any negative thoughts about yourself?

2. Is this an honest, factual assessment of this situation?

3. What happens to you when you hold on to these negative thoughts?

4. Imagine being in the present situation without the negative thoughts and judgments. Does anything shift for you?

5. Is there a stress-free reason to keep the negative thoughts about yourself?

6. What is an honest assessment of the situation that doesn’t include any negative or abusive thoughts about yourself or others?

7. Does this change the way you feel?

Tags: self-love