Category Archives: the brain

The Power of an “Aha” Moment


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.  She was referring to the powerful scene in the movie The Miracle Worker when Helen “got it,” when she figured out what her lessons were all about.

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.

“Aha moments” actually forge new connections, new neural pathways in our brains.  In fact, our brains actually release a small spurt of energizing adrenaline, which we feel as a burst of pleasurable excitement.

“Aha” moments feel very different from other types of learning, for example, listening to lectures. So the next time you are frustrated, confused, and unable to solve a problem, hang in there.  Keep going.

Your “Helen Keller moment” may arrive in the next instant.