Sunday Spark: Achieve Breakthrough Thinking

Is there a problem you’ve been challenged to solve? Are you looking for something new and creative to try in your department, building, or classroom? Finding the answer may be easier than you think.

Salvador Dali, a famous Spanish painter, found inspiration in his sleep. In fact, this awareness led him to sleep at a table using a spoon nestled between his palm and his chin. When the spoon dropped as he drifted off to sleep, he would wake up and draw what was on his mind. Edison napped in a chair with a handful of marbles. As the marbles fell and awakened him, he would log his thoughts. They understood how to harness their brain.

Have you experienced this breakthrough thinking? Without a doubt, I’ve experienced this phenomenon.

According to The Butterfly and the Net: The Art and Practice of Breakthrough Thinking authors, to have a eureka breakthrough, you need to be deeply immersed in a problem. However, it is when you stop focusing on the problem and allow your mind to drift that you achieve an “aha!” The authors walk you through the process of focus and lack of focus to achieve breakthrough thinking.

When we focus on work, we are activating our brain’s executive network. This network helps us achieve our goals, meet deadlines, and “check boxes.”  However, your brain never rests. When your executive network is less taxed, your default network fires up The default network activates while our brain wanders. It is this exchange between the executive and default networks where seemingly impossible problems find a solution. 

Breakthrough Strategies

Prime your brain BEFORE trying a strategy below. Think about the problem you are attempting to solve. Review relevant material related to this issue at hand and revisit the goal before you lighten the burden on your executive network. Keep a notebook or phone close to capture the aha moment.

  • Take a walk on a familiar path. Research shows taking a walk is one of the easiest ways to achieve breakthroughs. Your executive network is occupied ensuring you aren’t going to trip, get hit by a car, etc. but it isn’t otherwise taxed blazing the trail for your default network.
  • Take a shower. Showering is a routine task, and your executive network is focused on getting your clean requiring little thought.
  • Fold laundry. The task requires little from the executive network.
  • Take a nap. It is important to darken the room or use a sleep mask. As you fall asleep you enter a hypnagogic state where you may experience a eureka moment. The breakthrough might emerge during the hypnopompic state which is the period as you are waking up. MIT created a sleeping mask, Napwell, to help you achieve the perfect nap gradually waking you up. Breakthroughs may happen during a hypnagogic or hypnopompic state.
  • Get a full night’s sleep. Cutting the time short may shortchange breakthrough thinking.
  • Listen to music (without words). Put in some earbuds and let your brain drift.

Breakthrough thinking inspires innovation! The strategies above may result in a new invention, a creative way to deliver new content, solve a district problem, or overcome a personal struggle. 

How do you achieve breakthrough thinking?