Ever find yourself struggling to find solutions that seem out of reach? When suddenly the answer appears out of nowhere, while you’re in the shower or gazing out the window thinking about nothing at all.
This is because unexpected answers and solutions to complex problems tend to surface when you’re zoning out. While moments of insight have presumably been occurring since the dawn of mankind, scientists are now able to more accurately pinpoint these moments of clarity by examining brainwaves.
According to Michael Shadlen, M.D. Ph.D., the vast majority of thoughts circling in our brains happen below the radar of conscious awareness, meaning that even though our brain is processing them, we are not aware. EEG research reveals that immediately (1.5 seconds) prior to a spark of insight, there’s an increase in low-frequency alpha waves in the brain’s visual cortex. Dr. Mark Jung-Beeman observed that the presence of these alpha waves indicates a reduction in outside information and external stimuli, leading to a “zoned out” state. Professor Øyvind Ellingsen from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology explains this occurs because alpha waves rise in number “when the brain relaxes from intentional, goal-oriented tasks.”
Alpha is a relaxed state of mind associated with creativity and insight. In fact, when the alpha oscillations are stimulated, creative sparks of Gamma Waves often occur. Alpha waves are generally present when daydreaming, producing an ethereal calm. Alpha is most commonly achieved through meditation, while those who master the state can access this creative space time and time again. Since alpha waves occur in the visual area of the brain, by tuning out any outside distractions, you are essentially making room for your mind’s eye to visualize the appropriate solution or outcome.
When it comes to making a big decision or finding a solution to a confounding problem, allow yourself to daydream, tune out the world, and let those alpha waves do the work for you!