The scientific world has long been familiar with these ‘aha’ insights, but researchers now see them as pivotal catalysts for weight-loss. "It has to do with realising a behaviour change fits with your life goals," says Dr Elliot Berkman, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Oregon. That, he adds, jolts people into action.
So, are the odds of having one of these inspo bursts akin to winning the Powerball? Happily, nope. By understanding what happens in your brain during a moment when everything clicks, you can actually set the stage to spur one on.
How does it work? First, take a peek inside your mind. While it may seem as if they pop up from nowhere, your brain has been letting these realisations simmer in your unconscious until "it has decided that it has enough information to bring one to your awareness," says Dr Michael Shadlen, a professor of neuroscience. About a second before you have the insight, your brain essentially "blinks" to reduce visual distractions and "you start focusing inwardly," explains Dr John Kounios, a professor of psychology and coauthor of The Eureka Factor.
Then, when the epiphany hits, a flurry of activity in the temporal lobes helps you see a connection between previously unrelated (consciously, anyway) ideas, which then bubbles up into your awareness. For example, you might see a pram, which makes you think of having children, which connects to thoughts about how much easier getting pregnant would be if you lost weight, which makes you want to start getting fitter ASAP so you can achieve your larger goal.
The eureka formula
There are two types of breakthrough moments you might experience regarding your weight, Kounios says. The first involves recognising your health issues are more serious than you thought (say, you're rushing to catch a train and are surprised by how out of breath you are). The second is when a solution to a problem you've been struggling with is revealed (you might finally "get" why you're raiding the pantry every night.) Many of these scenarios involve avoiding uncomfortable emotions, but when your ‘aha’ moment happens, you’ll realise you have to let yourself feel some pain in order to achieve better health in the long run.
Ready to BYOB? (That's Bring Your Own Breakthrough, obvs.) With the help of our experts, we've devised this simple formula. ‘Your “why” + Good mood + Enough sleep – Distractions = Eureka!’
It's one thing for your doc to tell you to consider trimming down. But, unless you have an internal desire to do so, you're not going to see success on the scale. So, ask yourself why weight loss really matters to you. Is it about getting healthy so you can play with your kids? Reconnecting to your inner athlete? The more reasons you have and the more specific they are, the more successful you'll be at keeping motivated. Once you've identified your reasons (for example, "I want to feel in control of my body"), write them on sticky notes and leave them around the house. This will help reaffirm your goals.
Low spirits don't just put a damper on your day; they can also quash your chances of having a eureka moment, Kounios says. When we’re feeling down, especially if anxiety is involved, we tend to think in a more analytical way, which can dull creativity. But a positive outlook expands your scope of thought so you're open to remote possibilities and long-shot ideas. Boost your overall mood by planning events to look forward to. Or, just dance around to Bruno Mars. Whatever works.
Adequate shut-eye - seven to nine hours a night - is crucial for weight loss because it helps control hunger hormones. And proper Zs can also trigger ‘aha’ moments by encouraging a process called memory consolidation. "The knowledge you take in during the day is organised and restructured, which brings out hidden details and relationships among pieces of information," Kounios explains. Those new insights springing to the surface of your brain could wake you up or be waiting for you in the AM, so sleep with a pad and pen by your bed so you don't forget ‘em.
You know when people say they come up with their brightest ideas in the shower? They're on to something. "The running water provides white noise so you can't hear and see much, which creates a state of sensory restriction," Kounios says. "This quiet moment helps nudge realisations into your conscious mind." If a shower doesn't do it for you, any activity where you're removing stimulation - think people, bright lights, loud noises, or your phone - may do it.
Once you have your insight, get ready for a heavy shot of motivation. "’Aha’ moments give you a certain thrill and a charge to act on the realisation you've just had,” says Kounios. A healthier you, coming right up.