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Do you remember the story about Isaac Newton discovering gravity while sitting under an apple tree? How about Jimi Hendrix scribbling the lyrics to Purple Haze on a napkin? These are just a couple of examples of the Eureka! Moment in action. Don’t be fooled – creative inspiration often wears the guise of spontaneity. Sir Isaac Newton had actually been reasoning with the concept of gravity for a long time before his apple encounter. Jimi Hendrix had written around 1,000 words for the lyrics of Purple Haze, most of which stemmed from free writing.
Here’s What Really Happens
After mulling over a problem for a long time and exploring various connections between your gathered information and insights, the Eureka! moment will come to you. Usually this happens after taking a break from the problem. In the above examples, the Eureka! moment happened after they poured over their work and exhausted possibilities, but it wasn’t until taking a break that the brilliant ideas came.
When you take a break from a problem, your brain continues to work on it. At this point the brain is no longer hindered by conscious focus and staring at a problem from obvious angles, so it can establish unique and sometimes bizarre relationships between the gathered bits of information. It is not subject to self ridicule for outlandish thoughts, so it flaunts its exploration, often developing concepts that make us stop and admire our work in an almost incredulous stupor or with a proud smile. Both of these reactions point to great results.
So we have this great tool that is a powerhouse for relationship assembly. Is there a way to harness this power and use it on command?
The answer is, of course, no. Pack it up and go home. You can’t control it.
However, you can guide it.
Photo Credit: Doug Wertman
How to Guide the Subconscious Mind
Let me clarify. Guiding something suggests narrowing it’s choices to a specific path or more narrow area. That is the opposite of the creative solutions approach. The guiding I am speaking of is more of a tour guide showing your brain the world and opening up new places for it to explore. It shows you things you would otherwise miss. You see, there is only so much the subconscious can do without drawing from the conscious. That is what this guide does. He opens the floodgates of information from previously unattainable sources. Let’s explore these floodgates:
1. Gathering Information
Remember when I said that the brain is no longer hindered by conscious focus? It is actually not hindered by anything at all, other than its raw capacity. This means that when it makes connections, it makes them without biases towards irrelevant information. Your brain can pull information that you’ve stored away years ago and try establishing relationships with the new, relevant information for the problem at hand. The way your brain stores and remembers things affects its efficiency for pulling things up. The brain is constantly trying to connect things, no matter how obscure. This is why a constant gathering of general information is important because the more information you have, the more connections your brain will make. It is also why successful creatives are often curious about everything. Whether they know it or not, they are adding to their arsenal for the brain. The brain will use this information consciously and (especially) subconsciously.
Read anything you can get your hands on that interests you. It doesn’t matter if it’s fiction or not – the ideas are there, just in different forms. Take them, hoard them. Stash them away in your mind and in your notebooks, moleskins, grid paper, digitally, or however you prefer.
The great thing about reading is that it stimulates your mind. This is important. Exercise this wonderful muscle by devouring books.
3. Take Frequent Breaks
If your subconscious mind works when you are not actively thinking about the problem, then increase your chances of getting little Eureka! moments throughout your day by taking small breaks. The best time to do this is during the natural breaking points in a project. Don’t disrupt the flow of your productivity. Sometimes a break could be working on another project.
These little Eureka! moments from frequent breaks are nothing like the giant epiphanies that you get from a full realization, but more like jump starts on an idea. It helps to get you unstuck and keep pressing onward, attempting to exhaust all possibilities so the big Eureka! moment will strike.
Each person has a unique perspective on the world and everything in it. Talk to people and see where it takes you. They likely have made connections on things that you have never thought of. In addition, if you engage enthusiastically in conversation people will see you as an interesting person and will readily engage you in future conversations.
5. Dare to Explore
Do things that you have not done before. Go places you’ve never gone. Put yourself in situations that are unfamiliar to you and attempt to understand and handle the challenges they present. You must live your life to obtain experiences.
Now you stand at the brink of discovery. Share your Eureka! moments with the world so that we all might benefit. Create solutions to ease our burdens, make our lives easier, and help us to realize the joys that can be found in life. Create the next revolutionary set of hypotheses that will redefine the world as we know it, or better yet, write the next Purple Haze.
If you’d rather start a bit smaller, you can give me a Eureka! moment and tell me if I missed something. Leave a comment and let’s get this thing started.