How does it feel to experience a Eureka moment?

How does it feel to experience a Eureka moment?

Genius Journey
Innovation Method
Published On:
May 22, 2023

There is one thing about me that is really special: I am the only person I know who experienced a Eureka moment of breakthrough creativity twice in life. It is probably one of the most elating experiences an individual can have, as it brings you in contact with a higher creative source — a form of super-creativity. So, allow me to share with you how I felt while experiencing the moment of magic inspiration and in the days and weeks after that.

What do we know about Eureka?

Many scientific breakthroughs, magical musical compositions, and other extraordinary creations resulted from a Eureka moment. Eureka (“I found it”) was a cry of joy said to have been uttered by the Greek mathematician and philosopher Archimedes when he uncovered a workable solution to a tough challenge posed by the king of Syracuse (How to determine the purity of gold of a laurel crown?).  

Interestingly, such breakthrough moments of super-creativity tend to follow a pattern first described by the German physicist Herrmann von Helmholtz and later conceptualized as a four-stage creative process model by the English educationalist Graham Wallas introduced in his classic book from 1926, The Art of Thought. The four stages are preparation, incubation, illumination, and verification. (I discussed them in an earlier article titled Incubation: A walk on the mysterious side of creativity).

Suppose you wanted to activate the process for a personally important challenge. First, you need to work for a prolonged time (i.e., several weeks, months, or even years) on the issue with substantial mental energy and emotional involvement (preparation). After some time, you’ll have some okay solutions but intuitively feel they’re not the right solution. Now you move to the second step of the process (incubation): You let go of your challenge and commit its resolution to the subconscious realm. You begin focusing on something else and doing other things. Then, probably when you least expect it, the breakthrough idea comes to you suddenly in a Eureka moment (illumination). In the final stage, verification, you then work on all the details of your breakthrough idea to be able to share it with others so that they understand what it’s all about and what solution you propose.

What’s the background story leading to my two Eurekas?

My two personal moments of breakthrough creativity came at critical crossroads in my life when I worked at a challenge that was important to me:

  • My first Eureka happened when I was given a one week deadline to better resolve a tough operationalization challenge related to my conceptual model in my Ph.D. thesis on which I had already worked for two years.
  • The second breakthrough moment related to a year-long exploration of who I really am and what else I should do with my life when I felt a deep longing to change my career to something better aligned to my true self than banking.

In both cases, I went through a long initial preparation phase (of 1 and 2 years, respectively) and then surrendered and released my challenge (incubation) before I got illuminated by an awe-inspiring Eureka moment. Now, let’s go in medias res: What did I feel during the illumination-experience and then subsequently while working on verifying my breakthrough idea?

What happens when you experience the moment of illumination?

Both of my illumination moments happened in the late afternoon while being outside in a calming natural setting around the time of sunset. In the first instant, I was more than an hour into a long run in the middle of a forest on a cold, rainy autumn day. The second time around, I was splashing, relaxing, and reading all sunny afternoon at a pool in Bangkok. In the following, I describe the commonalities of the two Eureka moments as they happened to give you better insights into the experience of what it feels like being illuminated (and in the next section, how this subsequently extends into the verification phase):

I am in a state of deep relaxation that I characterize as “no-mind.” I don’t think anything, I am simply one part of existence, and everything feels like being in natural harmony.

All of a sudden, the breakthrough idea hits me like a flash! I see a bright light and feel like I am awash with energy. Instantly, I realize that “This is it!” — the breakthrough solution to the vital challenge I have been working on hard and full of emotional commitment for many months. With this realization comes a feeling of intense joy welling up from deep inside me, together with intuitive certainty that this solution is the winning one.

While being showered in bright energy, like a madman, I jump up and down with my hand raised into the air, all the while shouting out exclamations like “Wow!”, “Unbelievable!”, “Yes!” and “Incredible!” On a scale from 0 to 100, my level of excitement hits 100, and so does my intuitive sensing that this solution represents a higher truth.

With this knowing arises the desire to start working on the details of the breakthrough idea immediately, meaning I have to race back home and rush back to my desk as fast as possible. (This realization starts the transition to the verification phase in Wallas’ model.)

By the way, almost all creators who received a breakthrough idea for a tough, significant challenge they’ve worked on for some time asserted that the idea came from a higher source of creative intelligence outside their minds. So do I.

Different Eureka-ideators describe this source of higher creative consciousness in various words: God, the universe, the collective unconscious, the spiritual mind, and the source of all creation, among others. Whatever name we give to this phenomenon, all anecdotal evidence points out that this super-creativity flows from a reservoir of creative consciousness far vaster and wiser than our conscious and subconscious minds.

What happens afterwards in the final verification phase?

Once I arrive at my desk, I immediately jot down the essence of my Eureka idea. Then, I excitedly begin working out all its details and how to best operationalize and actualize it. These verification work activities help ground the concept in reality, backing up certain aspects with evidence and paving the way to bring it to life. Accordingly, my initial emotional elation gradually transforms into intellectual excitement.

Because the excitement of the Eureka experience glows on for days, I work with high energy, intense concentration, and a sharp focus on honing and fine-tuning my breakthrough idea for the challenge I’ve been working on for so long. I also don’t tire quickly and need less sleep the following nights.

Intriguingly, I am not only fully charged mentally but also physically. I feel like possessing more bodily power, pace, and energy. For example, when hitting the gym, I easily do three rounds of bench press reps with 40% more weight than usual over the next four weeks. I also speed up my usual runs without feeling the extra effort.

I feel a strong desire to express and explain the Eureka idea to confidants and key stakeholders involved in the challenge. And as my ongoing verification work on my breakthrough idea supplements my initial “intuitive certainty” that “this is it” with an “intelligence-based certainty,” I do so with increasingly high confidence.

All the way while doing my verification work, I feel a deep sense of gratitude for having been blessed with the good fortune of gaining the solution to my challenge in a profoundly spiritual moment of super creativity. After my second Eureka moment, this heartfelt gratefulness merges with a genuine feeling of curiosity. I ask myself: “Why has it happened to me again? What have I done and thought differently than usual in the time leading up to the Eureka moment that might have contributed to my lucky creative breakthrough? How does this work? How to increase the likelihood of experiencing a Eureka?”

My curiosity to understand the underlying mechanics of Eureka moments inspired me to explore the underlying principles of ingenuity by studying the literature on individual creativity and the psychology of genius. I also read many biographies of genius creators and top achievers in science, the arts, sports, and business. Naturally, I also introspected what I thought and did differently before my two Eureka moments. Then, I mapped my observations and insights with the literature findings. Over time, this extensive exploration of the secrets of subconscious and superconscious creativity led me to develop Genius Journey, Thinkergy’s creative leadership development method.

Conclusion: Eurekas are magical creative moments sparking brilliant ideas and long-resonating energy waves

So far, I have met only one other person where I convincingly felt she had an authentic Eureka experience: Natalie Turner, a fellow creativity expert from England who authored the book “Yes, you can innovate.” We noticed that we both were blessed with a true Eureka while conversing over a drink at the ISPIM Connects Conference in Bangkok in March 2020.

How do I know that Natalie had experienced it, too? And how can I tell if someone pretends to have experienced it? When someone genuinely shares an actual Eureka moment with another person who also had the real experience, both can sense a kind of electrifying, magical energy. They feel a sense of deep connection — a bonding grounded in knowing that both were lucky enough to share the rare experience of a moment in the outer world of super-creativity.  

  • Genius Journey, Thinkergy’s creative leadership development method, derived from my literature studies into ingenuity and my investigation of what mindsets and actions helped trigger my two Eureka experiences. Check out this video to understand how the Genius Journey works.
  • Thinkergy offers experiential Genius Journey training courses (of one to three days) for companies. Also, we can compose a tailored, more extensive Genius Journey development program for a group of executives who are eager to rediscover their inner genius.
  • Contact us if we can support you in your aims to develop creative confidence and creative competence of your talents and to creatively empower your team, business unit, or company to succeed in this disruptive decade.

© Dr. Detlef Reis 2022. This article is earmarked to be copublished in a shorter version in the Bangkok Post in the coming weeks.