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Insight learning: The ‘aha’ moment

Aldina Braganza


You may have experienced a moment when you go ‘aha!’ or maybe even ‘hmm!’, and of course it makes sense to you. In fact, in that given moment the way you perceive your whole world could change. Technically we call this experience an insight.

Insights are a form of learning that is very interesting. They allow for creativity and new inventions. Insights can help you connect the dots to all those things that don’t seem to add up for you. More importantly they give you lucidity to a complicated situation and in many cases set you free from your dilemmas. Any learning that will enhance your life is good.

So here are some learnings about learning.

Often we mistake learning with education. Although related, these are two different processes. Education is about passing on information from someone who already has studied what is being taught. Whereas in learning there is a relative permanent change in your behaviour brought about because you have had the experience yourself or have the knowledge to apply it.

Another assumption we tend to make is that we assume both the educator and the student have learned after instructions have been imparted. Learning might not truly happen unless you have experienced the ‘aha!’ moment. That is why there is a distinction made between the educated and the learned.

So opportunities to learn are plentiful. They are happening all the time around us. From the time we are born till the time we have to depart from this planet, learning is inevitable. There is no restriction on learning.

I find that sometimes our elders have a wisdom that is far greater than the educated. I have a friend who shares with me that the greatest lessons of life on gender equality, mind, body soul connection and work-life balance, he has learned from his grandmother at a time when education was patriarchal.

The more we commit ourselves to understanding, the less challenging the world we live in becomes, and of course the quality of life increases.

There is a form of insight learning that allows one to paradigm shift. It is a process where we shed all our conditioning to shift our perception and see things often from a completely different perspective. Such learning is more profound and allows for the greatest change in lifestyle.

Gestalt psychologists were the first to point out the tendency of humans to seek order amid disorder. So even though our eyes are seeing something totally different, our mind is perceiving it entirely differently. Thus we make sense of the world around us based on certain rules of convenience. We encounter these forms of perceptual illusions on a daily basis. There are five basic principles we use all the time: proximity, similarity, continuity, closure and connectedness.

The classic example we take for granted are the blanks we fill in to make sense of the world. So when we write spoken words, we always keep spaces between words that do not exist. Or we group similar looking objects as one while perceiving it. Perceptions are tricky. Artists use these principles to paint. Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Starry night’ is a classic example of how the lines and strokes of paint go on to form a beautiful painting.

Most of the time we pay attention only to objects that are important to us, making it the main figure in our life and the rest becomes the background. But at no given time would it mean that the background does not exist. It’s just that it is not our focus. In doing so we also maybe leaving out what could be important and make a true difference to our lives. Like a toothache takes precedent over our life till the pain subsides, so also we often allow negative experiences to over consume us.

I am a scientific person. But life has humbled me enough to realise that there is a lot that science has to still cognise. One of the greatest virtues about learning is ensuring that you are open to learning. Unless you apply it to yourself, learning is not complete.

Insight learning is a step further. It allows your reality to open up to deeper truths of your world and make your life even more meaningful. You may shed your own preconceived prejudices, drop your guard and begin to experience life with fewer boundaries and with greater freedom.

Insights allow you to become aware of your whole connectedness rather than the splits we so closely hold on to. We define our existence with categories like gender, religion, race, geography, economics, and other complicated identities, little realising that these are meager illusions created by us for our own feeling of specialness.

A paradigm shift would mean to realise that we are really not all that different. We all are connected and the same. From the beggar to the queen, nobody is different. We are all humans. It’s not rocket science. We all are born and we all die. We can also decide what we choose to learn and what we rather not know. But it would be foolish to grout what we perceive in grit and be rigid enough to be broken.


(The writer is a clinical psychologist, psychotherapist and the HOD of psychology at Carmel College for Women)


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