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The “Aha” Moment & Other Honest Lies We Tell Ourselves

A few weeks ago I wrote about my experiences with reading Brene Brown’s new book, “Rising Strong.”

…or at least those experiences that related to reading the first 30 pages or so.

I have now read another 40 pages and have again had to hit “pause” to process.

Speaking of processing….did you know our brain gives us a hit of dopamine (a neurotransmitter and pretty much the best drug ever created) every time we successfully complete a puzzle?

The puzzle could be a Sudoku page, a crossword puzzle, a game of Hangman…or even a story we tell ourselves.

It could be an “Aha moment” – when all the pieces fit or the dots connect and what didn’t make any sense at all is now suddenly, wonderfully clear…..

And did you know that, in these moments and flooded as they are with feel-good dopamine, our brains don’t care if we solved the puzzle/rescued the stick figure/interpreted the signs correctly.

They just care that another puzzle is complete so they can get their drug-of-choice reward.

What this means, according to Brown, is that we can and probably do tell ourselves incorrect stories and have inaccurate “Aha moments” all the time.

Brown refers to a neurologist named Robert Burton as the source of this newfound knowledge, sharing this from his work in “Rising Strong:”

Stories are patterns. The brain recognizes the familiar beginning-middle-end structure of a story and rewards us for clearing up the ambiguity. Unfortunately, we don’t need to be accurate, just certain. 

In other words, it is much faster and easier to get the dopamine reward if we simply make up a story (with an ending) that fits the circumstances we are experiencing. Stopping to fact-check means our reward is at best delayed….and at worst withheld.

Here is an example of how that might work – and how much we don’t want it to.

In another book called “The Storytelling Animal” by Jonathan Gottschall, which Brown also references, a group of shoppers is presented with seven pairs of socks and asked to choose a personal pair.

Then each shopper is interviewed to find out why they chose the pair they chose.

Each shopper tells a unique story about why they chose their particular pair.

What Gottschall et al doesn’t tell the shoppers is that all seven pairs of socks are identical in every way.

In his own words:

The stories were confabulations – lies, honestly told.

Each shopper wanted to have a unique reason to present to the researchers….so they made sure they had one. The stories they told felt appropriate to the situation and gave their brains a dopamine reward. But they weren’t true.

This is important because as I was reading this chapter of “Rising Strong,” I was also telling myself that no way would I ever have tell a story or have an “Aha moment” that wasn’t trustworthy or true.

I’ve lived practically my entire life by hopscotching from one “Aha moment” to the next – in fact, I can look back and see an outline of “Aha moments” that led me from here to there, and then to here, and then to there, and then to here…..

So finding out some of them may have been “lies, honestly told” has been unsettling indeed.

Yet as I’ve reviewed many of those past “Aha moments” for signs of falsehood, what I’ve found instead (in the kind-hearted clarity of hindsight) is they were as true as they possibly could have been given where I was and what I knew at that time.

In other words, I couldn’t have been more honest with myself at the time than I was.

Perhaps this is why my own confabulations haven’t damaged me more than they have, and at times have even helped me get through particularly tough moments to wake up and fight another day.

The work of Don Miguel Ruiz, Sr., as also been a great aid in vetting my own stories before I present them to myself or others as “truth.”

In “The Four Agreements,” Ruiz, Sr., offers four life-changing assignments:

Be impeccable with your word.

Always do your best.

Don’t make assumptions.

Don’t take anything personally.

These four assignments – what Ruiz, Sr., calls “agreements,” have a very protective influence on me when it comes to the stories I tell myself.

Today, when I catch myself telling a story that involves making assumptions about others, taking things others say or do personally, excusing myself for doing less than my best or weaseling out of keeping my word, these four agreements are always there to help me course correct (and if need be, to do it for me).

They are so powerful that, once learned, they have proven extremely difficult to forget!

What this has meant for me is that my brain gets less frequent dopamine rewards these days.

But when the rewards do come, they are really, really worth the work…and the wait!

Today’s Takeaway: Can you think of a time when you were telling yourself a really plausible story or having a really powerful “Aha moment” and you didn’t even stop for a moment to doubt whether it might not be totally true? Have you ever had a time when you did stop yourself mid-story to fact-check? What were these experiences like for you? What helps you to really feel like you can trust the stories you tell yourself and the “Aha moments” you have?

Aha moment photo available from Shutterstock

The “Aha” Moment & Other Honest Lies We Tell Ourselves


Shannon Cutts

Parrot, tortoise & box turtle mama. Writer. Author. Mentor. Champion of all people (and things) recovered and recovering. http://www.loveandfeathersandshells.com http://www.shannoncutts.com


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APA Reference
Cutts, S. (2015). The “Aha” Moment & Other Honest Lies We Tell Ourselves. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 17, 2019, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/mentoring-recovery/2015/12/the-aha-moment-other-honest-lies-we-tell-ourselves/

 

Last updated: 3 Dec 2015
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