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A pivotal “aha” moment put Sally Ride on a path that would send her into space

Sally Ride was in high school with a comment by her father sparked a life-changing aha momentThirty years ago this summer, Sally Ride became the first American woman to travel into space. As she prepared for the flight, she fielded some bizarre questions from reporters. Would she wear make up while on  the mission? Would she wear a bra under her NASA uniform? Did she ever cry at work? Whew, I’m grateful that the view of women at work has changed, and that Sally took steps to break down the barriers for us!

Sally was still a student when a comment by her father sparked a pivotal “aha” moment that  put her on a path to space, even though it would be years before the thought of becoming an astronaut even crossed her mind. She described her AHA! and its impact on her life in a 2002 book of transformational stories collected by Marlo Thomas titled The Right Words at the Right Time.

Teenaged Sally had come home from high school one day feeling blue. It wasn’t because kids were picking on her. They weren’t. The problem was her friends. Sally saw how smart they were and was convinced she’d never measure up.

Sally didn’t say anything to her father about her insecure feelings, but somehow he knew. “You’ve got to reach for the stars,” he told her that evening. He had always cheered her on and encouraged her to have big aspirations. But for some reason those words that night sparked a profound realization for Sally. Suddenly she saw how important it was to believe in herself, to set her goals high, and to work relentlessly to achieve them.

After her insight, Sally focused on becoming a professional tennis player. She loved the sport and was already playing on the U.S. junior circuit. She gave tennis everything she had but eventually saw that it wasn’t her path to the top.

Sally went back to college. She was close to earning a Ph.D. in astrophysics and was beginning to think about life after school when she noticed a NASA ad in the student newspaper. The agency had just opened the door for women to become astronauts. The rest, as they say, is history.


AHA! Tip: Hear what the VIPs (Very Important People) in your life are saying. Their words might spark a moment of clarity that will stay with you and change the course of your life.


Would you like to learn what you can do — the steps you can take — to prime yourself for life-changing insights like the one that Sally and so many others have experienced? The AHA! Handbook: How to spark the insights that will transform your life and career draws from more than a decade of research and describes the steps you can take now to generate powerful and life-altering realizations in your life and career.

A spiritual “aha” moment

DSC00480Summer wouldn’t be complete for me without a trip (or two) to the Finger Lakes in upstate New York. I love the waterfront cottages, the crystal clear water, and the warm breezes. And I love the drive there almost as much. The road weaves through rolling hills as it passes small towns, vineyards, and farms.

I was reminded of the beauty of the Finger Lakes when I picked up this month’s issue of Guideposts magazine.  In it was an article written by Pauline Weaver of Penn Yan, New York—a town in the heart of the region.

Unfortunately, Pauline wasn’t focused in the article on the beauty of her surroundings. Instead she described how she and her husband, Kenny, had struggled to make a go of their 120 acre dairy farm. Drought on their land had withered their crops and dried up their water supply. Sickness in their herd reduced the number of productive cows by close to half. A high bacteria count in the milk meant that Pauline and Kenny lost their contract to sell it.

Pauline also described how she and Kenny saw their situation very differently. Throughout it all, Kenny had kept a positive outlook. His faith was strong and he believed that God would bless their farm. Pauline thought Kenny could use a dose of realism.

Then in a flash of clarity Pauline saw her husband in a new light. Suddenly she saw his faith as a virtue, and as a result she had faith too—a faith that would sustain her in the months and years to come.

(Click here to read Pauline’s story of her spiritual “aha” moment.)

Can a tape measure spark a life-changing “aha” moment? Just ask Amy Boyle.

How a conversation sparked a life-changing aha moment for Amy Boyle

Photo by Alessandro Paiva

I remember as a kid playing with my dad’s retractable tape measure. I’d pull the tape all the way out, lock it into place, and then with a careful flick of my thumb release the lock and watch as the full length careened back inside the casing in no time flat.

For me a tape measure was a toy. For Amy Boyle, it was the catalyst for a life-changing “aha” moment, one that she would recall years later in a letter to the Edmonton Journal.

Life was nothing but problems stacked upon problems. At seventeen years old, Amy was certain of it.

One day she shared her troubles, all of them, with her dad’s business partner. “Life’s too short to have complaints and problems,” he told Amy and encouraged her to think about the people who hadn’t had the privilege of living long enough to experience life’s challenges.

Amy didn’t buy it. Instead, she asked for proof.

The man pointed to a retractable measuring tape. He told Amy to extend the tape its full length and then to lock it into place. He instructed her to find her age on the ruler and, then, to look down the length to 70″ or 75,” a person’s average life span.

In an emotional flash of clarity Amy got the message. “Ever since then I have never taken anything for granted,” she wrote.

How did Brad Pitt land in Hollywood? In the flash of an “aha” moment

22-year old Brad Pitt experienced a pivotal "aha" moment that prompted him to move to Los Angeles.

I just bought my first copy of Esquire magazine. (It’s probably no surprise to anyone that it’s my first copy. I’m not, after all, a member of the magazine’s target demographic.) On its pages I found a new and curious world of humor, language, pictures, and scents—although I could have happily done without the men’s fragrance samples.

Why buy a copy of the June/July 2013 issue? I had received a tip last week from Google Alerts that in it would be an interview Brad Pitt in which he discussed a life-changing epiphany, one that he experienced about the time he turned 40. That’s something I can’t pass up! I’m always on the look out for stories of defining moments. Was or wasn’t it a profound “aha” moment for him? That was my question.

Well, I can’t answer that question. Not yet anyway. I was so excited to read about a different AHA! (the one took Brad to Hollywood in the first place) that I haven’t read the rest of the interview.

Brad was a senior at the University of Missouri with graduation was just a few weeks away. Write one more paper. That’s all he had to do before a journalism degree would be his. Then a flash of clarity propelled Brad out into the world, far beyond his Missouri home.

“Then it occurred to me, literally two weeks before graduation: If the opportunity isn’t there, I’ll go to it. So simple. But it had never occurred to me. I’ll just go to it,” Brad recounted his pivotal realization to Tom Junod in the Esquire interview.

After the insight, 22-year old Brad stopped what he was doing, went home to Springfield, and focused on earning money. Soon he had saved up enough to drive his Datsun 200SX 1,600 miles west to Los Angeles.

Wow. What a great story. It has all the markers of an AHA!. In a flash of clarity, Brad gained a new understanding of the way the world works, one that was so convincing that it gave him all the focus, motivation, and determination he needed to change course immediately.

And, I love that Brad said, “So simple. But it had never occurred to me.” That’s the beauty of a transforming “aha” moment. Once you’ve had one, it all seems so simple.

What’s Your Advice for the High School Graduating Class of 2013?

It’s great to be back! (I’ve been lost for the last month in blogger no-man’s-land. My WordPress log-in was broken. It’s a looooong story, but the good news is that things seem to be working nicely at the moment.)

iStock_000004407014XSmallFor a bit of fun, I’ve put together a quick (90-second) survey with just one question:

As you think back to the “aha” moments you’ve had since graduating from high school, what is your top tip for the class of 2013?

I’d love to know what you think! Here’s the link if you have a chance to weigh in before the end of May. (Please feel free to share the link. The more the merrier!)

AHA! The Spiritual Practice of Insight

"aha" moments can help you along your spiritual path, say self-help book author Donna Hartney, Ph.D.I found as I analyzed the stories of life-changing insights for my book , The AHA! Handbook, that pivotal realizations have the power to impact any and all areas of a person’s life—career, health and well-being, relationships, spiritual life.

That last category, spiritual life, has been on my mind recently. Buddy Hubbard (the pastor of my church) and I are beginning a 5-week discussion series tomorrow on insight as a spiritual practice.

I was surprised when Buddy suggested the discussion series. When I asked him why, he said, “When I think of tapping into God’s wisdom for us, I immediately think of contemplative prayer. Yet, there are so many additional ways available to us, and insight is one that can be so valuable in our lives.”

In the discussion series we will be homing in on three questions:

  1. How can the experience of insight help you along your spiritual path?
  2. What do we know about insights and how to trigger them?
  3. What can you do proactively to prime yourself for insights that can have a profound impact on your spiritual life?

If you’re in this part of the world, you’re more than welcome to join us! Sunday, April 7 – May 12, 9:30 until 10:30 a.m. in the lounge of the First Presbyterian Church at 9 Paine Street, East Aurora, New York.


Len Saunders’ Healthy Tip #157 – An “Aha” Moment

Len Saunders prints a healthy tip from Donna Hartney, author of "aha" moment self-help book

Len Saunders recently shared on his blog a tip from me on getting one step closer to a healthy lifestyle. Click here to read the post.

Lindsay Lohan Had an Epiphany! Did She or Didn’t She?

According to news reports, Lindsay Lohan has experienced a life-chaning "aha" moment

Celebrity news was abuzz last week with the story—Lindsay Lohan has had an epiphany! At least according to an interview that Mark Heller, her new attorney, had with E! News. (A google of “Lindsay Lohan epiphany” on Saturday netted 361,000 results.)

Okay, I  know what you’re thinking. We’ve been here before. We’ve watched the revolving door that is Lindsay’s life. An ongoing omg! poll of readers found that (at the time I wrote this) only 4% believed it’s real this time, while the remaining 96% think it’s just “more of the same.”

Her attorney said in the interview, “…being re-arrested and facing going back to jail caused her to have an epiphany. Some times the cumulative effect of everything in your life percolates and you have a realization and a clarity that things have to change.”

I read this looking for clues of a pivotal insight as I thought about my three criteria for an AHA! (At this point all we have to go on is the interview with her lawyer. I didn’t find any first-hand comments by Lindsay.)

  1. A sudden flash of clarity. Epiphany. Realization. Clarity. The lawyer used these words to describe Lindsay’s experience. Did that clarity arrive suddenly in a jolt of understanding? We don’t know.
  2. About the reality of the situation. “…a clarity that things have to change.” Has Lindsay woken up to that realization? Is it her new reality? Again, all we have to go on is one brief comment by her lawyer.
  3. That has a profound and lasting impact on Lindsay. Her lawyer mentioned that she is exploring options—working with girls who are hospitalized and/or speaking to schools.

It’s too early to tell whether Lindsay’s experience was truly a pivotal, life-changing insight. I certainly hope for Lindsay’s sake that this time it’s a real “aha” moment, one that will have a powerfully positive impact on her life.

A Little Boy’s Fears Sparked a Pivotal AHA! for Bridgette Laird, CEO of Wings for Kids

Bridgette Laird was working as an after-school counselor at Wings for Kids, a program that teaches kids the social and emotional skills they will need to be successful in life. When she got engaged, she couldn’t wait to share the new with the kids. They were all very excited for her, except one little boy. Instead of being excited,he was afraid for her. His reaction to the news sparked an “aha” moment that defined Bridgette’s career path.

AHA! trigger for Bridgette: Understand the perspective of others



An AHA! Can Point You Toward the Perfect Career — The Story of Steve Call

“What do I want to be when I grow up?” That sure can be a difficult question to answer. Steve Call was a senior in college when an “aha” moment answered the question for him. You can read Steve’s story at this link. And as a total tangent, check out this fun video of Steve and the members of his jazz band playing an impromptu concert for a herd of cows.