We’ve all been there: You’ve been sitting at your desk, not being able to solve a problem for hours. Then you go for a walk and on your return the solution seems to leap out at you! That’s your brain at work. It needs distraction, to get away from the problem, so it can deal with it in the background. Even better, we can use this knowledge to trigger these lightbulb moments. How, you ask? Well, read on to find out how to get inspired by distracting yourself!
The science behind lightbulb moments
During solution-focused sessions, clients often come up with their own ‘a-ha’ or ‘Eureka’ moments. These are the moments when there is a shift in a person’s thinking, when real change begins to occur. I’m always excited for these moments and can literally see them light up someone’s face. More importantly, these lightbulb moments can be detected in the brain, and by understanding how and why we can harness that knowledge and use it to our advantage.
The neuroscience behind this phenomenon is fascinating. And you probably do this all the time without even realising. In therapy sessions, we just use this process in a focused way.
We often refer to a study by neuroscientist David Cresswell who wanted to find out what happens when people try to deal with problems that are too big for their conscious mind to solve or work through. He asked 3 groups of people to think about buying an imaginary car, with all the options and necessary requirements needed.
The first group had to choose immediately – you can imagine that they didn’t really do well at making the best decision. The second group were allowed some time to consciously sit with the problem and solve it, but their choices weren’t really that much better.
The third group, however, were given a task to completely distract them from that problem, a task that held their attention but also allowed their mind to relax. Unsurprisingly, this third group made much more informed decisions and made significantly better choices when returning to the problem of what car to choose.
So, if you can distract yourself a little, get away from the problem and let go, then you’re more likely to come up with the right answer. It’s an important and often overlooked ability of our brain, to deal with problems even when we’re not even thinking about them!
Next time you need to tackle a problem, remember these characteristics of the brain and try these 3 techniques to get inspired by distracting yourself:
1. Get inspired by reframing
Many studies have shown the brain’s natural propensity to learn and be curious about new things – the brain is soft-wired and it can be rewired through new experiences. Even in adulthood, neuroplasticity is a constant. We also know that strong negative emotions can often reduce our processing power.
So, a way to get inspired is by using your imagination to reframe the situation or problem. Ask yourself, if it was to go well, if the problem was solved:
- How would that look?
- How would you feel?
- What positive emotions would you have?
- What would be good about that?
Tip: Keep the language simple and use that imagery as the force that drives you.
2. Get inspired by taking a quiet moment or two
Allowing the mind to stop and take stock means that some weak connections of thoughts and processing can ‘rise to the surface’, so to speak. We can overwhelm our minds with lots of thoughts, but allowing it to be still, even for a few moments, means that the brain has a chance to filter through them without adding more into the mix.
This is why, sometimes, you remember all your important tasks just as you’re about to fall asleep. And why I finish off each therapy session with some relaxation, some time to quieten the mind. This way you can absorb and even embed some of the things we have been working on in our session.
So, try it out for yourself next time you’re tackling a problem: Relax, maybe do a breathing exercise and simply give your mind some space to calm down for a few minutes. This is how to get inspired by distracting yourself!
3. Get inspired by taking a break
As we’ve learned above, your subconscious mind works best when it is relaxed, and this doesn’t mean do nothing at all!
So, to get inspired, do something that puts you into that ‘autopilot’ mode. Swimming and cycling are great for this, running too. Or how about doing a jigsaw or something else crafty and creative?
Let your mind wander – it’s not switching off, it’s switching over to a state where your brain can sift through the options and sort things out!
The main takeaway from this is that, as a therapist, I strongly believe that you are the best expert of yourself and that the solution comes from you. You only need to access your deep self so that those a-ha moments have a chance to rise to the surface. Now go and get distracted! 🙂