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Helen. Anne, and the Power of "Aha" Moments

by Phil Tenaglia,

August 15, 2022, 3 min. read.

Helen Keller was a world-famous author, educator, and political activist. As an infant, she lost her sight and hearing to an unknown illness. Helen spent her early years in darkness and confusion, but her family had the means to hire a young, determined woman named Anne Sullivan (herself visually impaired) to teach her how to read and write.

It was slow going, and Helen kicked up quite a fuss. There was no quit in Anne as she was equally fiery and committed. The two of them were very important to each other. Anne had an "aha moment" when she astutely noticed that the accepted methods for teaching Helen to read were not working. Her aha led to finger spelling the people, objects, and experiences that interested Helen into Helen's hand. Within this accepting, validating, and determined setting, Anne had set the stage for the appearance of more aha's. 

Helen's aha moment happened when Anne used her fingers to spell "water" into Helen's hand as she ran water into Helen's outstretched empty hand (yet another aha). Seconds later, Helen discovered the transformation of Anne's fingers into meaning as the cool, flowing liquid flowed across her palm. Other connections occurred inside Helen, and previously inaccessible learning became available. This moment opened up a new world for Helen and changed their lives. There was no turning back for either of them. Helen went on to a lifetime of learning, service, connection, and advocacy. With Anne's help, she was a voice for those who were silent and unseen. 

Aha moments vary according to setting and circumstances. You are tinkering in the kitchen, and a new way to bake your bread comes to you. While anticipating a difficult conversation with a co-worker, a thought bubbles up, leading you toward a solution. Such moments are unpredictable, but when they show up, they are immediately recognized. Something new is revealed. A way out of the fog appears, motivating you to take a different path. Aha moments are cool!

These seemingly "out of the blue" discoveries happen frequently, but we cannot will these moments into existence. They show up on their own, or they may not show up at all. However, some actions we can take increase the possibilities of aha moments in our lives and others. Here is what I have discovered:

It seems that aha moments are likely to show up without trying to get anywhere. I notice myself feeling stuck. I see what I want to pursue. I am curious about what will show up. Humans are pretty good at figuring things out, provided we can get out of our heads and keep our channels open for something different. We can't know in advance what that something different is. Aha moments reveal themselves without our help. To do that, we must let go of what we know, our cherished beliefs and polished opinions, and be open to possibility. Once we start judging and evaluating our actions, the doors of potential and aha moments swing shut.

This is why we use the ACT Matrix and teach it to others. The process leads to aha moments. Dr. Polk created the process to increase creativity and the frequency of aha moments with those who use it. You can use it on your own or show it to someone else. You may even come up with shared aha moments if you are lucky!

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