Skip to main content

How to Generate Aha! Moments of Insight – Sage Advice: Episode 38

By September 5, 2018July 21st, 2020No Comments

Mary Slaughter from the NeuroLeadership Institute joins us at the ATD ICE conference out in sunny San Diego to outline 4 steps that will help you consistently generate insightful discoveries when you need them.

There are four conditions to prime your brain for insights and radical discoveries:

Get into a quiet state and space.

The trick is to get the prefrontal cortex into a calm and serene state. Avoid distractions and noisy environments. Anytime we need to ideate creative solutions, the Sage Media team sets their phones to Do Not Disturb mode. If people need to call, they know they can call twice and it will go through. This eliminates unnecessary distractions and “pings” each time an email comes in.

Focus inwardly.

During a creative problem-solving session, all sorts of unrelated issues pop up and try to compete for your attention. Keep the mindset that, “These things are not immediately important, and so they can wait until this task is done.” It takes a little practice, but before you know it, you can quickly deflect these nuisance tasks that scream at you and instead focus on the important problem at hand.

Stay in a positive mood.

Keeping your mood elevated and cheerful not only allows the brain to remain open and receptive, but it also keeps those negative voices at bay. When we are in a brainstorming session or coming up with new script ideas, maintaining a positive, excited energy gets us to our solutions faster. The creative process inherently brings up the occasional “This is stupid” fear, but we’ve done this long enough to recognise that it’s part of the process and it no longer impacts our flow. You can too. If things start to get a little heavy or spirits begin to sink, break up the activities and physically change position: take a walk, stretch, or move about the room. Small actions like this can result in big, positive outcomes.

Don’t think directly about the problem at hand.

The brain is fantastic at connecting the dots; it does so whether you want it to or not. Allowing for subconscious influence and letting your mind wander is an excellent way to make new connections. It also helps you defer judgment, so that you may generate a large quantity of ideas – similar to the Divergent Thinking exercise found in frameworks like FourSight.

For more information on the NeuroLeadership Institute, and how they’re helping companies change behavior, visit them at



Mary Slaughter:              Think back to a time when you had a sudden insight about something, an aha moment. It might’ve been when you just awakened from a nap, or you were walking your pet, exercising, in the shower, wherever it might be. Something that you weren’t purposefully thinking about the topic, but then an idea came to mind. That insight is extremely important and extremely powerful because it’s personal to you and frankly, you’ll remember it for a long, long time. So what would it take for you to recreate that for yourself in a purposeful way, to be able to generate insights when you needed them? There’s four conditions you want to apply that we know about how the brain works.

The first is to put yourself in a quiet state. Don’t find yourself busy working on other things, multitasking. Get yourself into a quiet place where the prefrontal cortex actually itself quiets down.

Second, you want to be as inwardly focused as you can be. Instead of paying attention to everything that’s surrounding you, set those things aside and focus on the things that are most important inwardly.

Third, it’s best if you’re in a slightly positive mood. You can try to generate insight in other circumstances, but the brain works best in the situation when you are slightly positive and in toured state where the brain is open and receptive to new ideas.

And last, it’s important not to think directly about the problem at hand. You actually want to put yourself in a position where you’re allowing your thoughts to come to you and not trying to purposefully solve a problem, but let the non-conscious part of your brain speak to you in a way that when all those other distractions are taken away, you can have new insights.

Announcer:                          Make sure to subscribe for more videos with L&D thought leaders. And check out our website to see how our innovative approach to storytelling drives real behavior change.