What habits are you hardwiring each day? This blog series shares research-based ideas about habits worth your attention so you can be more effective, feel happier and live your best life.

Our Daily Noise

Are you trapped in a series of back-to-back meetings or working to meet constant deadlines? Many of us are. We have lost important daily opportunities to reflect and integrate new information: our walks between buildings, to and from coffee shops, commute time, and gym time, have gone from our calendar. In its place is a numb sense of overwhelm as our brain’s executive centre chokes on unsolved challenges and data. That’s a big problem. As research shows, our brain needs specific conditions to solve complex problems and come up with creative new ideas. Cognitive neuroscientist, Mark Beeman’s research suggests that complex problems are solved with greatest speed and accuracy when our brain is in a quiet and slower Alpha wave state.* Here are 3 simple ways to get your brain into that state, and have more insights:

  1. The importance of quiet

What is insight? The sudden flash of clarity about a solution, or a new and different perspective on a situation, that energizes us into inspired action. Research shows that just prior to insight, our brain is able to pick up faint connections and thought patterns, otherwise not detectable in an overstimulated brain.

Stepping away from a problem (often involving your laptop) and doing something relaxing, is more likely to lead to sudden insight and a faster and more accurate solution than spending hours analyzing the problem itself. This could simply be taking a rest, a walk or meditating. Even closing your eyes, to avoid the screen or people, as we often do when we are trying to think more clearly, can help us have an aha!

‘Focus is all about blocking stuff out.’**

Mark Beeman, Cognitive Neuroscientist

  1. Do something low effort

Another variable leading to insight is when we engage in a task that is low effort, routine or repetitive. When we lower the electrical activity in our brain in this way, alternative and more non-conscious thoughts and information can come to the surface. That’s why we often have ideas when we are taking a shower, sitting on a train, putting dishes away or driving. It’s like we have to let go of existing ways of thinking about something, in order to let new creative ideas come up.

  1. Make it pleasant

Tying yourself to a desk all day isn’t going to make you more productive. Research shows that the optimum brain state for insight and creative problem solving is one where we feel interested, curious, happy and engaged. This brain chemistry involves just enough serotonin and dopamine to lull our brain into an experience of pleasant safety as opposed to the more fixed and narrow perspective of an anxious or stressed brain state. So, if you are struggling to solve a problem, switch to something you enjoy doing for a while. This could be a favourite hobby, listening to music, playing with your kids or reading a novel.

In our next blog we will look at how listening in a certain way will help you, and others perform better.

* Beeman M. et.al, 2009

** Jonah Lehrer, New Yorker, July 28, 2008