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The moment of change.

The neurochemical flash of clarity, certainty and purpose that gifts new solutions to old problems and pathways forward through impasse and inertia.

Insight occurs in your brain when novel connections are made.

In your brain is the critical touchpoint here because insight is a deeply personal process. You can share your insights, but there’s no guarantee others will perceive them as such because our individual neural circuitry is as unique as our fingerprints.

That’s why there’s little point trying to convince people of your facts and your insights expecting these will change hearts, minds and actions.

Instead, the core work of the Changemaker, is in creating the conditions for insight in others.

Allowing people to do their own work, in their own brains, generates the powerful and transformative catalyst of self-persuasion.

Creating the conditions for insight requires attention to how people perceive, evaluate and reason. Facts and data are important, but values, frames, metaphors and imagery are the key filters through which we understand our worlds.

A shift in wording, a change in tense, a considered selection of metaphor, some subtle values priming: these all influence the parameters of thought, and ultimately, the process of insight.

The Old English origins of ‘Insight’ demonstrates a visceral understanding was evident centuries before neuroimaging confirmed the loci and processes in the brain. ‘Insiht’, combines ‘in’ (into) and ‘siht’ (sight or vision) meaning perception with the eyes or mind. We ‘see into’ new interpretations and perspectives in our ‘mind’s eye’. We recognise the process is internal.

We experience insight as a bolt of inspiration, a sudden event or disruption in awareness that flips us from one state into another. At the moment of insight, our brainwaves switch from the more relaxed alpha state to the rapidly firing gamma mode, igniting connections and reconfigurations in neural circuitry across multiple brain regions. Adrenaline and dopamine are released in a breakthrough of anticipation and excitement, we are primed and ready to act on our new understanding.

This sudden knowing, the ’Aha!’ moment of illumination that bursts into the bright awareness of our conscious mind from the dark reaches of our subconscious mind is revealed in our choice of metaphors. We talk of ‘lightbulb moments’ and ‘seeing things in a new light’. We ‘connect the dots’, an unconscious reference to linking or reconfiguring previously disconnected units of information. We ‘turn a corner’, suggesting relief at new pathways and new directions where passage was previously blocked or unclear. And we ‘see the big picture’, reinterpreting situations through broader systemic conceptualisations of context that shift our awareness and attention to new possibilities.

The metaphors of insight embody light, connection and forward momentum. They evoke a sense of confidence, certainty, resolve and purpose. There is a delight, energy and openness in insight that you just can’t get through the toil of linear analytical thinking.

Beneath the sudden knowing that comes with insight lies significant unconscious cognitive processing and this is where we return to the work of the Changemaker, which is creating the conditions for insight in others.

Insight, like upwards of 95% of our cognitive processing, occurs beneath the level of our conscious awareness, but we can guide the parameters and direction of the process through the words we use.


Focusing on what we’re for in our messaging, primes people to subconsciously move towards the possibilities inherent in change, fostering a creative solutions-orientated mindset. It moves us forward.


Whereas, focusing on what we are against or opposed to, reinforces the status-quo, in which we stagnate in a problems-orientated mindset, magnifying the anxieties inherent in the uncertainties of change. It takes us backwards. 

Foregrounding the greater good values of care, connection and curiosity in our messaging, activates benevolent thinking and broadmindedness. This primes the unconscious mind to generate new insights and understandings that consider other people, other species, future generations, the bigger picture, and other possibilities.

Framing is always a choice. The words we use, the values we activate, all impact how people feel, think and act. Drawing our attention to these unconscious processes and creating the conditions for insight with intention, can change hearts, minds, actions and outcomes.

Put the words of change out there. Let them swirl.

Go Deeper:

Kounios J. & Beeman M. (2014) The Cognitive Neuroscience of Insight. Annual Review of Psychology 65: 71-93.


Rock D. (2020) Your Brain at Work. Harper Collins. 

© Words for Change

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