Impasses (And Tactics For Overcoming Them)

Impasses (And Tactics For Overcoming Them)

Let’s talk more deeply about impasses (roadblocks) and tactics for overcoming them (in other words, getting to insight).

Scientists have found that what happens before an insight occurs is an impasse experience. 

When facing a new problem, we apply strategies that worked in prior experiences. This works when if a new problem is similar to an old problem. 

But in most reinvention situations, this is not the case, and the solution from the past gets in the way, stopping better solutions from arising. The incorrect strategy becomes the source of the impasse.

We get caught in one way of thinking. Research shows we have to stop ourselves from thinking along one path before we can find a new idea. The projection of prior experience has to be actively suppressed and inhibited. 

As long as your prior approach is most dominant, you will get more refined variations of the same approach—nothing genuinely new can come to the forefront.

KEY POINT: The ability to stop oneself from thinking something is central to creativity.

  • Take a break from the problem. When you take a break from the problem, your active ways of thinking diminish.
  • Talk to others. This quirk of the brain explains why other people can often see answers to your problems that you can’t—they’re not locked into your way of thinking. Focusing more intensely doesn’t increase insights—it inhibits them. 
  • Do something interesting and fun, to see if an insight pops up.

People who solved a problem with insight had more activation of a brain region called the right anterior temporal lobe (a region underneath the right ear). This area allows you to pull together distantly related information and is part of the right hemisphere, the hemisphere more related to holistic connections.

Research shows that when you focus on the details of a scene instead of the big picture, you disrupt the insight process by shifting the brain into the left hemisphere. Research also shows that people having insights experience a particular brain signal just before the insight occurs. The brain in some regions goes quiet, like a car going into idle. The brain is shutting down inputs (visual) to decrease noise & distractions and focus on subtle internal signals. (Like when you avert your eyes when you are talking to someone, to think). If you don’t do this, insight is unlikely to occur.

There is a strong correlation between emotional states and insight. Increasing happiness increases the likelihood of insight, while increasing anxiety decreases the likelihood of insight. This relates to the ability to perceive subtle signals. When we’re anxious, there is greater baseline activation and more overall electrical activity in the brain, which makes it harder to perceive subtle signals. 

There’s too much noise to hear well. Researchers also found that people who have more insights are those who have more awareness of their internal experience—they can observe their own thinking, and thus can change how they think. 

Having more cognitive control allows you to access a quieter mind on demand. Emotional Intelligence book (Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry & Jean Greaves) calls this “Personal Competence”.

Self Awareness & Self Management

Self-awareness is your ability to accurately perceive your own emotions in the moment and understand your tendencies across situations. It’s not about discovering deep secrets or unconscious motivations, but is about a straightforward and honest understanding of what makes you tick.

Self-management is when you act—what you do or don’t do. It’s your ability to use your awareness of your emotions to stay flexible and direct your behavior positively.