On the Verge of an A-Ha Moment

How is it that one moment you can just be sitting there, chewing your fingernail and then, a split second later, things just click?

An idea or thought springs forth with such clarity it’s astonishing. How did I not see that before? Things go from foggy to clear, from flat to three dimensional, from black and white to full-blown Technicolor. What follows is usually a burst of energy, like a geyser popping right out of the front lawn of your brain.

That is an a-ha moment.

It may change your day, or your life. Or it may just be incredibly satisfying: You unscramble a word puzzle, figure out how to use the voice to text feature on your iPhone.

Remember those “magic eye” pictures? Called an autostereogram, these images allow you to perceive a 2D image as 3D. (Go ahead, do it—I just went down the rabbit hole myself for a bit there.) When you train your eyes to look not “at” the image, but “through” it, an entirely new image appears. That’s the best physical metaphor for an a-ha moment that I can think of.

Other a-ha moments don’t spring off a page like that, but I believe bubble up from the back room of your brain where they’ve been hammering away at a problem for some time, maybe without you consciously realizing it.

Sometimes it’s just the right situation or person or even a single word or comment that serves as a trigger, and BOOM the door flies open and there it is, your a-ha moment, standing there with a big smile and a corncob pipe, or however your a-ha moment looks to you.

Do you remember the last time you had an a-ha moment?

What did you do about it? How did it change how you see a thing?

I have them all the time in my work with clients, and it almost always sneaks up on us, when we aren’t looking. We have to court it, yes—we stay open, we peek around corners, we turn things over, roll words around in our mouths. And then! There it is. The idea. The tagline. The opening line. The whole shebang. It shocks me every time, how it just walks through the door and announces itself. Cocky thing, that a-ha moment.

One of my favorite books about creativity is Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit. Tharp is brilliant, yes, but she credits the fact that she has made creativity a HABIT.

“Everything that happens in my day is a transaction between the external world and my internal world,” she writes. “Everything is raw material. Everything is relevant. Everything is usable. Everything feeds into my creativity. But without proper preparation, I cannot see it, retain it, and use it. Without the time and effort invested in getting ready to create, you can be hit by the thunderbolt and it’ll just leave you stunned.”

If you make it a point to challenge yesterday’s assumptions, question the things everyone takes for granted, you open yourself up to more discoveries—which almost always come about as a result of connections you make between two different things.

What have you done today to leave the door open to discovery?

That’s the only way an a-ha moment can come in. It may scare you to death in the kitchen as you pass through and find it sitting there, drinking coffee. It may shock you for a moment, but you’ll be so glad it showed up.

On October 4, I’ll be hosting the first annual A-ha Women’s Speaker Series at the Stifel Theater in St. Louis. Formerly TEDxStLouisWomen (and where I gave this TEDx talk on being single two years ago), every talk revolves around that moment—when everything changes.

I not only have the honor of emceeing the event, but I’m also the speaker coach, so I’ve had the added privilege of working with each speaker on their talk.

Talk about a-ha moments! It’s really fun to help a speaker identify the moment that their whole talk hinges on, and surprise!—it’s not always what they thought it was. But in the midst of talking about it, the light flips on and bam! There it is.

My hope is that these speakers’ a-ha moments will trigger thousands more. Because the moment that light goes on, everything does.

I’ll of course share the event when the talks go online (which of course they will). In the meantime, I’d love to hear about some of your a-ha moments. Tell me!