Have you ever struggled with a problem you just could not move past?

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At work, trying to get a customer to purchase your solution that you know will make their work easier and more profitable. Or trying to figure out why a once bestselling product has lost market share steadily over the last year.

At home, getting your children to finish their homework and chores before getting on social media.

You have been thinking and researching and asking colleagues and friends, but you just cannot find a solution that meets all of the important needs of the problem.

What do you do now? Give up the sale? Discontinue the product? Fight with your kids every night?

Is there a way to prime your brain for what seems to be the ever elusive EUREKA! moment?

According to an April article for Psychology Today, there is.

The Brain at Rest

Brain research has shown that most creative solutions and stories are created in the unconscious or resting parts of our brains and later fed to the conscious brain for editing and action. These moments can seem spontaneous or as breakthroughs, because we were not fully aware that our brain was solving problems in the background.

In fact, often thinking about a problem too hard can limit the potential to find solutions. Conversely, your subconscious can never solve a problem if some of the key pieces of information are missing.

How do you balance the need for the right information being there, in your brain, so that you can not think about it?

Catch-22 anyone?

Psychology Today recommends eight techniques to help you prepare your mind for a breakthrough moment and even recognize a potential breakthrough. They are great suggestions and I highly recommend them. But what about the other side of the EUREKA? Having the right information?

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Information Overload

Knowing which information is accurate and relevant is a huge task today with our access to the bottomless knowledge pit of the internet. Keeping track of good information is just as difficult. There are three keys to overcoming the overload:

  1. Be able to discern fact versus opinion – The internet is full of knowledge, but it is also full of pundits, critics, and those that want to seem important and powerful. Make sure the sites you get your information from are trustworthy. Are people experts in their field? Is there research backing their claims? Is the research legitimate? Sometimes it can be hard to tell. If you are not sure, note it as second tier information.
  1. Challenge assumptions – Take the time to treat what you think are known quantities about the problem as if you read them on a website you were not so sure about. Why do you (or other’s) assume the things you do? If anyone says “Because that’s how it is, or how it’s always been done” stop immediately (and maybe slap them on the back of the head) and rethink that entire aspect of the problem. Assumptions are not facts until they are proven.
  1. Organize information on the intake – As you find facts online or talk with people surrounding the issue, make notes and files as you go. Do not wait until later to try and organize things or find that one article that gave you such clarity but you forgot to bookmark or save it. There are tools such as Evernote and One Note that can help, but even a word document and a well-organized folder structure will do. Organizing electronically in this way and filing and recording as data comes in, will help with your brain’s internal organization as well.

Back to the Breakthrough

Now that you have the right information you can get to the business of priming the breakthrough pump.

The eight great techniques recommending by Psychology Today (and seconded by me):

  1. Take a technology break
  2. Exercise
  3. Travel
  4. Learn about and appreciate other subjects
  5. Contemplate a Koan (In Zen Buddhism, a problem or riddle that admits no logical solution)
  6. Learn to recognize the sense that something is there, just beyond the surface
  7. Write down everything you know about the problem
  8. Practice – follow through on other hunches, whether big or small

Take time away from the issue at hand and focus on other things. This gives your unconscious brain time to work through all the information you gathered and put the pieces together. Once the resting brain has done its work and the solutions are passed on to your conscious brain: EUREKA!

What do you do to work through issues? Do you have tips or techniques you would recommend to others? Share them in the comments below.