Have you ever had a moment when things seemed to click for you, when a seemingly unsolvable problem or issue became solvable? Did the hair stand up on your arm? Did you jump up and shout Eureka! or did an imaginary light bulb suddenly appear over your head?
Yes, I’m referring to what are often called Aha Moments. Scientifically, they are known as the eureka effect, “the common human experience of suddenly understanding a previously incomprehensible problem or concept.” Some researchers also describe this effect as an insight or an epiphany. In 2012, the Merriam-Webster dictionary added “aha moment” to their dictionary, based on Oprah Winfrey’s definition—a moment of sudden realization, inspiration, insight, recognition, or comprehension. Oprah, in her magazine and television show, hosted various guests who shared their aha moments. She said:
“I always love those moments when I sit down to talk to somebody and they say something that makes me look at life or a situation in a completely different way. And I say, ‘Aha! I get it!’ Light bulb . . . and the little hairs on your arm stand up. That is an aha moment.”
Oprah isn’t the only one to note that aha moments come in all shapes and sizes. Throughout history, there have been many. And they are all unique:
Bill Gates, found of Microsoft, realized that he would never be able to make the computer operating system he wanted unless he sold it first. No one was doing this at the time. So basically, he sold and idea. Aha!
Brian Chesky, Air BnB founder, rented out his air mattress and make money. Aha!
Jan Koum, founder of Whatsapp, could not afford to call his father in the Ukraine. Aha!
Melitta Bentz, in Germany, was tired of bitter, bad-tasting coffee that was brewed in a bag. Coffee filtration was born. Aha!
Caresse Crosby, In NYC, was tired of corsets. So she designed a bra. Aha!
And Doc Brown, the somewhat-mad scientist of the Back to the Future movies, had his aha moment in the bathroom.
He slipped while hanging a clock and hit his head on the sink. This accident led to his idea for the flux capacitor, the thing that would eventually power the DeLorean time machine that would lead Marty McFly to many adventures.
Can you think of any aha moments in history, or even your own? Where did they happen? What were you doing? What did it lead you to?
January 6th, for Christians around the world, marks the beginning of the Epiphany season—a season that is supposed to stretch all the way until Lent. It is an Aha season for sure, as the word Epiphany, from Greek, means ‘manifestation’ or ‘appearance.’ For Christians, the obvious connection is to Jesus of Nazareth being a manifestation of God. In the Gospel story of Matthew, magi/astrologers from the East seek out Jesus as a small child and bring him gifts. They follow a star to discover Jesus. They consider the light of the star and the light of Jesus to be divine appearances, aha moments. That story of the magi is based on the prophet Isaiah’s writings so long ago—a prophecy about light coming into the world, and of “woke” people honoring that light and bringing gifts.
So in this season of epiphany, how can you and I be more open to aha moments?
There is science behind it. For example, most people would say that they make their best decisions when they are not actively trying to make a choice or solve a problem, right? Usually, it happens when they are taking a shower, driving in a car or riding a train, working out, walking. Aha moments tend to come when we quiet our minds and our consciousness gets a break. Complex problems that are way too big are often only solved by aha moments within a quieted mind and experience. Many, many religious traditions agree with science on this one. Meditation, prayer, fasting, service to others—these are all behavioral practices that can quiet the mind and perhaps lead to aha moments.
But here are some practical ways you can create environments for your own epiphanies and aha moments and manifestations, as per Harvard Business Review:
- Quiet yourself [see above]. Step away, find a space, unplug.
- Focus on inner thoughts. What are you thinking right now? What’s going on inside you?
- Positively approach the problem [mood]. If you feel stuck, do something fun. Laugh. Revisit.
- Use less effort/path of least resistance. Animals are great at this.
And now, one fun example, which I’m sure many of you have seen. The problem of nine dots. I’ll use ladybugs, courtesy of the good people at Archimedes-lab.org because ladybugs are more fun.
Your challenge is to draw four straight lines which go through the middle of all of the ladybugs without taking your writing utensil or finger off the screen/paper. Go!
How’s it going? Right. It’s hard. So now, try this. Don’t draw straight lines; use curvy lines. Now can you do it?
Now, applying that same idea, try to think outside the box. For real. Outside the box. There is no box here. Your lines aren’t limited to a box. Does that help? Did you arrive at this solution?
You see, sometimes we do get stuck in patterns or reoccurring themes that keep us in a box. We feel limited; we can’t find clarity. Obstacles appear all around. Oftentimes we need an epiphany to wake us up to new opportunities and possibilities.
So friends, may it be so. Find quiet within. Take a step back. Be open to epiphanies.
Who knows what you might discover!
 Auble, P.; Franks, J.; Soraci, S. (1979). “Effort toward comprehension: Elaboration or aha!?”. Memory & Cognition. 7: 426–434.
 4 Steps to Having More “Aha” Moments, David Rock, Josh Davis, Harvard Business Review, October 12, 2016.