You know those moments of insight that zap you like a bolt out of the blue? Some people refer to them aha or light-bulb moments. I call them V-8 moments because when the pieces fall into place, it’s suddenly so obvious you can’t believe you didn’t see it before. It’s like those commercials where the people smack themselves on the forehead because, duh, they didn’t think about having a V-8 but grabbed a Twinkie or Ben & Jerry’s instead.

There are actually two types of V-8 moments, both of which can help you solve a problem or see something from a new perspective. The first type comes at you from inside the brain while you’re consciously trying to work out a solution or find an answer. When you understand how the brain sets the stage for these flashes of insight, you can consciously help the process along. It works something like this: imagine you’re watching Wheel of Fortune (for those of you pretending you’ve never seen the decades-old show, think “Hangman”). You see the puzzle with the missing letters and your mind is working feverishly to solve it. You’re struggling, you don’t know if you can figure it out without buying some vowels. Suddenly, eureka, there it is. Without adding a single letter, you can see the entire puzzle as clear as day. Others trying to solve the same puzzle may be in awe that something they couldn’t see at all is crystal clear to you.

There’s some solid brain science to back up this V-8 phenomenon. Research shows that you actually use a different part of your brain when you solve a problem intuitively than you do if you were solving the problem methodically. Psychologists Dr. John Kounios of Drexel University and Dr. Mark Jung-Beeman of Northwestern University and their teams monitored subjects with MRI’s and EEG’s as they were tasked with solving word puzzles. With both types of scans, the scientists were able to see a distinctive pattern when the subject solved the problem intuitively. Additionally, the part of the brain involved was completely different from the area used when the subject solved the problem methodically.

Their work suggests that by shifting your focus, turning your thoughts inward and shutting out distractions, you may be able to prepare your brain for those priceless V-8 moments. I’m sure you heard people say that their best ideas come when they’re in the shower. Now you know why, the water drowns out external distractions, your focus is limited and you generally turn your thoughts inward. But rather than risk turning into a wrinkled prune every time you have a dilemma to ponder, try recreating the V-e state in other ways like taking a walk or listening to music. When you get that precious flash of intuition, think about it, write it down and, most important, prepare to act on it.

The other type of V-8 moment comes from the outside, when someone or something introduces new and possibly unexpected information. Like that photo from your high school reunion when you realize you’re the one that looks older and heavier than all your former classmates. I’ll give you a pictorial example from my own life.

Back in my corporate days, when I was about to be promoted to a top-level media job, the studio had me take a headshot so it could be released to the industry trade papers along with an announcement about my new position. Quite unexpectedly, a proof of that un-retouched shot landed on my desk, straight from the photographer. It was all marked up in red grease pencil, noting all the flaws on my face and how they might be fixed.

Lighten the dark circles under the eyes, lose the gray roots in my part, brighten the dull teeth, fix the red eyes, wipe out the crows’ feet. Major ouch. I took one look at that frumpy, stressed out, overweight woman and burst into tears. But it helped me turn a corner because I could no longer deny that I was absolutely miserable and needed to get myself unstuck before I spent another twenty years in the wrong career.

You may have received a similar wake-up call in the form of feedback from a friend, a glimpse of yourself in a picture window, or a passing remark made by a total stranger. Don’t waste that gift. Don’t brush off that moment with the Immediate Negative Response. Let it sink in even if it hurts, remembering that comfort is your enemy. And, yes, painful as those moments of clarity may be, they’re truly blessings.

Author's Bio: 

An entertainment industry veteran, Libby Gill spent fifteen years heading public relations and corporate communications at Universal Studios, Sony Pictures Entertainment and Turner Broadcasting. She was also the branding brain behind the launch of the Dr. Phil Show.

Libby is now an internationally respected executive coach, speaker and bestselling author. She has shared her success strategies on the Today Show, The Big Idea with Donny Deutsch, CNN, NPR, Oprah & Friends Radio Network, Fox News, CBS Early Show, and in Time Magazine, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, O Magazine, Good Housekeeping, Self and many more.