As legend has it, the first “Aha Moment” in recorded history took place in ancient Greece, when Archimedes, the leading mathematician of his day, was soaking in communal baths. He’d been struggling to find answers to a puzzle that plagued him: how could he determine whether a crown presented to King Hiero II was pure gold, or a counterfeit? Brooding, he sank lower in the baths, noticing as he did so that the water level rose. He realized that submerging the crown in liquid would displace an amount of water equal to its volume, and could determine its density and composition. Inspiration from the Gods! He bolted out of the baths and ran down the city streets naked, screaming “Eureka!” (Translation from Greek: “I got it!”)
Centuries later, we all still crave those seemingly heaven-sent moments of crystalline clarity and insight to solve the most vexing challenges in our lives (preferably without the public nudity part). But what do you do if the golden shaft of light doesn’t shine on you? The walls don’t rattle. The lightning never strikes. But you’re still itchy, knowing that you need something more.
The good news: You don't have to wait for the sky to fall in a splendiferous epiphany before taking action. Whether it's buckling down to lose those 30 pounds, writing the novel you’ve been dreaming of for a decade or trading in your corner office for an online antiques business, you can summon up the motivation for transformation without a classic forced call to action—a layoff, a red-alert from your doctor, or running across an old photo when you used to be thin. Yes, you can create your own aha moment.The no-epiphany route begins by looking inward and gaining perceptions into yourself and what you want, says Andrea Davis, who does therapeutic work on the art of insight and counts Hollywood powerbrokers and psychologists among her clientele. "Your aha moment is what you would you do if you weren't afraid.” When we're blocked due to fear and a lack of trust in the future, we remain in old jobs or relationships that may not feel right for us, she believes.
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But Davis, who is certified in Family Constellation Work—a therapeutic model developed by German psychotherapist Bert Hellinger based on the idea that present day difficulties may be influenced by traumas suffered by previous generations—believes there are ways to break through. “Both moving ahead and staying where we are can be fraught with fear, depression and anxiety," she says. So why not plow forward? Here's an action plan for creating your own epiphany:
Breathe. How do you get yourself ready to receive and recognize a thunderclap of insight? It helps to be in the right mindset: unpressured, open and relaxed. Breathing exercises are a great first step. What Buddhist meditation teachers have practiced and prescribed for thousands of years has now been scientifically confirmed: the physiological impact of deep breathing on the nervous system can help clarify your thoughts and feelings. In working with clients, Davis always begins a session with a few deep breaths. "It gets people out of their heads so they inhabit their body."
Daydream. Sometimes the best place to find sudden insight is in the twilight area between established facts and memories and fresh creative ideas. “A healthy interplay between the two must be active and ongoing,” write Charles Kiefer and Malcolm Constable in The Art of Insight: How to have more aha moments. “As your memory bank grows and expands, you accumulate more raw material for insights.” They tell of scientist Linus Pauling, who, while killing time on a train from London to Oxford, came across an article in a science journal describing proteins as shapeless blobs whose structure could never be determined. This struck him as wrong due to a single stray fact from his memory banks—that a key chemical bond in proteins had been proven to resist rotation. He began doodling absently. By the time the train pulled into the Oxford station, he had discovered and sketched out the alpha helix—the basic, coiled structure for most proteins, for which he later won the Nobel prize in chemistry.
Ask. Once you've taken time to clear your head, dig deep and ask yourself the critical questions: What is my heart's desire? What would I most regret on my deathbed if I didn’t achieve now? Whether you've been miserable at your job or feel lonely in a relationship, answering this for yourself—as truthfully as possible—is the place to begin. Face the truth, and don’t feel the need to share it with anyone else. Many of Davis’ clients are moved to tears because oftentimes the answer has been hidden until now.
Consider. Do you feel burdened by something that’s holding you back? Sometimes an unresolved issue from childhood can make it difficult to move ahead. Or perhaps a conflict with a friend years earlier has created an emotional paralysis that makes it hard to take action today. For example, if your father wanted to be a jazz musician but became a pharmacist, you may have seen or sensed his unhappiness and dissatisfaction. “Perhaps you didn’t take the artistic route in your own life because it feels like you’re being disloyal and disrespectful to your father,” says Davis. “It's non-verbal, and oftentimes a parent would be horrified to learn that this has held his child back from doing what he or she wants and is meant to do."