Light Your Creative Spark

June 1, 2009 by  
Filed under Life Mastery

morningglorySudden ah ha insights are an ultimate source of creativity. Imagine if YOU could learn to summon them at will.

What happens in your mind when you get a sudden ah ha creative insight? When a light bulb seems to go off in your mind, and you suddenly just know the answer to a question or problem?

Such creative insight almost always comes suddenly, according to psychologist Jonathan Schooler of the University of Pittsburgh.

When you solve a problem in a methodical way, you usually know whether or not you’re coming close to a solution.

But with insight-type problems, most people have no clue when they are about to get a solution, Schooler explains. The solution almost seems to be delivered to you.

 Ah Ha Insights Unveiled
Science is yielding new insight into this ultimate form of creative thinking. And these insights can help YOU increase your creativity. Psych professor John Kounios of Drexel University and Mark Jung-Beeman of Northwestern University are studying ah ha insights using high tech equipment.

The researchers are asking people whether their answers to a complex word puzzle just popped into their heads  or if they used a more systematic approach to coming up with their solution. While all this is going on, the people are hooked up to EEG and fMRI machines to monitor their brains.

The EEG measures the when, Kounios explained, it records patterns of brainwave activity over time.

The fMRI, a brain imaging device, on the other hand, measures the where. It takes a picture showing which spots in the brain get the most blood flow  indicating they are more active during a given task.

The researchers discovered some surprising brain activity patterns occur at the moment the right answers just pop into one’s mind as a sudden insight.

The EEG showed a burst of brain activity in the right hemisphere about a third of a second BEFORE the research subjects hit a button indicating they had the answer.

The fMRI revealed that a tiny spot in the right temporal lobe just above your right ear lights up when people get an answer through insight. Have you ever noticed you might put your fingertips to your right temple when you’re searching for an answer to a question?

Insightful Precognition

 Chance favours the prepared mind.~~ Louis Pasteur

But then … the researchers discovered something even more remarkable:

Those who would later get the answer with insight had increased brain activity before they even saw the question. This brain state before the problem is presented actually predicts whether the subjects will solve it with insight or not. Kounios said. 

What happens is those who use insight to solve problems actually put their brains into a state in which they were more likely to have a flash of insight, he explained. It seems these people pulled a chain to turn on their mental light bulbs  just like they show in comic strips.

Here’s Two Clues
Krounos’s results suggest there’s something truly unique about ah ha insights. There’s been this long debate over whether insight is anything special, he said. In his experience, it’s definitely something special.

Clue 1: Psychologist Jonathan Schooler, who has also done insight experiments, found that people have more trouble getting ah ha solutions when they try to talk themselves through the steps. Sometimes it’s better to just shut up, Schooler concluded.


Clue 2: Kounios also reported that insight comes more easily when people don’t try so hard. They let go a little bit, he said. They relax and turn their focus to other things.

The Ah Ha State and Creativity
Like insightful problem solutions, creative ideas in the arts also often seem to come from out of the blue.

In a radio interview ex-Beetle Paul Simon once said he was just fooling around with some chords one day, when suddenly he began to play Bridge Over Troubled Water for the first time. He said it was as if the song just created itself in his brain.

Work like that in Kounios’ lab helps to demystify creativity by connecting it to a very real brain process, Christoff Koch, a neuroscientist at the California Institute of Technology tells us.

I agree.

We’re only conscious of a small fraction of our true brainpower

Insight, creativity, and our other most treasured mental abilities seem to flow out of the subconscious mind and just suddenly burst into consciousness. What a marvel our human minds are.

Entering the Ah Ha Zone
Anyway, it now seems there IS something to the sensation of a light bulb going off in our brain when we get a sudden creative insightful.

Stop and think about the moments you’ve had such experiences. You will likely recall being very relaxed. Einstein claimed to get his greatest creative insights in the shower.

Ask yourself what activities tend to best help you empty your mind? Then get these activities into your life when you’re trying to solve a problem, or get a creative insight.

Here’s a brain smart key: Logical analytical thinking is just the opposite of creative ah ha thinking. Your mind can only do one or the other at a given time.

If you have a particular problem you’re trying to solve, try this approach. First do your logical analysis. Then just let go. Do something totally different and relaxing. Just forget the problem

Allow your subconscious mind to play with the question or problem. Just go about your life, and allow the insight to flash into your conscious mind.

You CAN do this. It’s actually built into your mental hardware.

You’ll recognize it when it comes. That light bulb will flash.