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Let’s talk about breakthroughs! A breakthrough is a sudden, dramatic and important discovery or development. I love to think of the example of Archimedes sitting in his bathtub and having that mental breakthrough and shouting “Eureka!”
Maybe you don’t consider your own breakthroughs as academic or historical as a greek mathematician discovering the displacement of water. I’m guessing your own breakthroughs are more personal to you and less about science and math and the volume of liquid.
When is a Breakthrough Possible?
Some people might think that a breakthrough is only possible if you’re already at a low point, for example, once you hit rock bottom, you’re finally ready for a breakthrough. But that’s not true at all!
I’ve had so many breakthroughs throughout 2020. I’ve been in a pretty consistent pattern of breakthroughs for the past 5 years. These breakthroughs didn’t come from a low point or from being at rock bottom. My early breakthroughs, in recent memory, did come while I was feeling pretty stuck and purposeless.. but the breakthroughs have kept on coming even when I’ve been on a consistent high and even as I’ve been noticing everything working out for me.
Today I’m sharing some breakthroughs that happen as a result of coaching – both self-coaching and working with a coach. In learning about these examples, maybe you’ll achieve a breakthrough of your own, right as you’re reading. Or, maybe understanding examples of breakthroughs that other people have had will help loosen up your brain to create space for your own personal breakthroughs.
First, I’ll share some breakthroughs of my own, then some breakthroughs my clients have experienced through coaching with me. Before I start telling you about my own breakthroughs, I want to tell you about a prerequisite that has been helpful for me to achieve breakthroughs. I recommend it to my clients when I suspect it might be necessary.
Star Student Phenomenon
The phenomenon I noticed in myself when I first started being coached (and still see pop up now, sometimes, even years later) and that I sometimes see in my clients – is that the ego will want to be the “star student” during the coaching call. It will want to give all the correct answers, it will want to prove that I’ve done the work, it will want to present me and my thoughts in the best possible light.
So, for the first 20-25 minutes of the call, instead of being raw and vulnerable and totally open and honest, I would answer my coach’s questions with those “right answers” or “pretty thoughts.” Finally, around the 30 minute mark of the coaching session, I would realize that I only had a short amount of time left, and my real, true issue wasn’t being addressed or solved, so then, I would let down my guard and say all the non-flattering thoughts I was actually thinking. That’s when the real coaching could finally begin. Breakthrough was finally possible.
The Repeated Cycle
This cycle repeated itself each week- me spending the first half of the call being the star student until remembering there were no grades and no stars – only coaching and breakthroughs – and I would only get those by pushing my ego out of the way and really communicating with my coach.
So now, I try to be intentional and remind myself, going into a coaching session, that I can trust my coach to hold space for me. She will remain neutral with no judgement. Her only job is to show me what I’m thinking.
When I sense one of my clients is giving me all the “right answers” and telling me what she thinks she should be thinking, not what she’s actually thinking, I make sure I’m completely neutral and non-judgmental and try to get her to open up to the ugly, less-than-flattering sentences she may sometimes be thinking so that we can examine them.
What Type of Question Am I Asking Myself?
Am I asking myself disempowering or empowering questions? This example of a breakthrough demonstrates how we can know of a principle, or we can be familiar with it, but not really get it until the conditions are just right.
I learned the concept of empowering and disempowering questions years ago before I ever started my path to becoming a coach. I remember thinking it was a helpful concept and made a lot of sense. The day after I learned it, I noticed myself applying the concept. But then, I haven’t made a practice of using this tool. I didn’t think of it very often.
That all changed during one of my own coaching sessions when I was explaining to my coach how I felt so unmotivated and disinterested in working on things I had committed to working on. I was being very open and honest and factual about the situation, so it wasn’t exactly a case of me not facing my unhelpful thoughts. I was asking myself “why aren’t I motivated to do the things I’ve decided to do?”
My coach pointed out to me that I was asking myself a disempowering question, and instead, I could ask myself empowering questions. Let’s talk about what I mean when I say disempowering and empowering.
A disempowering question leads to a dead-end answer. The question doesn’t have to be particularly negative in tone, but it sets up the opportunity for disempowering answers.
Why am I so frustrated about work? – the only possible answers would be examples of things that cause frustration and the reminders of the frustrating part of the job – not very empowering right?
Why am I not losing weight? – all the possible answers to that question point to the reasons that are obstacles to weight loss. Not powerful! Actually more of a downer!
Empowering questions open up the answers to so many possibilities and solutions.
“How can I focus on the positive parts of my job?” By giving your brain this empowering question to answer, it goes to work looking for how to focus on the positive. Your brain can start noticing the positive parts (as opposed to the frustrating parts).
“How can I lose weight and feel satisfied?” When you pose the question that way, your brain sets to work thinking of ways (not obstacles) to lose weight with the added “search term” of satisfied – so that excludes any solutions that would make you feel deprived. So empowering!
In the coaching session when I had this breakthrough, even though I had heard the concept before, and used it at least once, my coach noticed I kept bringing up my own growth and learning. She pointed out to me that learning is an important value for me. So, she suggested that I ask myself: “what do I stand to learn from doing this?”
Isn’t that a brilliant empowering question? It capitalizes on something that I value – learning, it didn’t require false motivation. It kept me in the productive mode. What an amazing breakthrough!
Processing Feelings First
Recently I was sharing with my coach how frustrated I had felt the night before about a situation I had created for myself. We talked about identifying the thoughts that created the feeling of frustration and I agreed and understood – but I wondered why I wasn’t able to approach the situation with logic and rationality in the moment, like I was able to during our coaching call. Plus, I worried that I wouldn’t be able to think as clearly and respond intentionally if this situation came up again.
My coach pointed out that I had the option to process the uncomfortable emotion first, and only then, consider the thought that created it. What I had been doing was trying to go straight into changing the thought while I was in the midst of my frustration.
Obviously when I’m frustrated, I don’t have all my logic and rational skills at my disposal. When I’m feeling frustrated, a feeling I don’t like or want to feel, my brain thinks something’s wrong, it resists the feeling of frustration. It immediately tries to solve that frustration.
The breakthrough I got on that coaching call, which I’m still practicing and seeing progress on, is that when I notice a feeling that’s not my favorite- like irritated, frustrated, guilt, shame, I can allow the feeling, instead of resisting it. Once my brain is no longer threatened by the feeling, that’s when I have more of my rational abilities to consider the thought creating the irritation, the frustration or the guilt. Such a helpful breakthrough!
Noticing the Absences of Resistance
Here’s a breakthrough I got while doing my own self-coaching as I was journaling one morning. I noticed that plenty of things in my life had come easily to me. I saw how every success, every creation, every accomplishment, everything I’ve done and achieved and attained had all come to me because of the absence of, or when I finally no longer had any, resistance to it. It was when I just knew it was happening, it was just a matter of time, it was just taking the next step to next step without questioning, doubting or resisting. I talked about this a little in the Easy vs. Easy episode.
List of Easy Things
So, the breakthrough came for me when I made a list of things in my life that had come relatively easy for me- things I had zero resistance about: my marriage, my friendships, my real estate investing, my education, my finances, my morning routine, even my appearance! I commented or made a little note about each of those things. I realized (here’s the breakthrough) I can apply those same comments or notes I have about the easy things in my life to the things I have resistance to! What!?! Amazing! I can repurpose and recycle my own thoughts to serve me in other areas! (I also described this in the Last Best Thing episode).
Here were some of the thoughts I have about the easy things in my life:
- I know we’re a match
- I’m willing to throw money at things I believe in
- I know I’ll finish
- This is worthy
- I’m focused on my goal, meaning, I don’t entertain distractions
- It’s part of my identity
- I have examples of what I want and I’m willing to move on when its not right
What powerful and helpful thoughts! Then, I stretched that breakthrough out by asking myself why I didn’t think those thoughts about the things I had resistance to. That really showed me my thinking!
Those were a few examples of my own breakthroughs, now I’ll tell you some slightly altered (for anonymity) examples of my clients’ breakthroughs.
Staying on that last example I just gave you, about noticing the thoughts about things that came easy. I used the same coaching exercise with a client who felt really confident in one area of her life, but unworthy in another area of her life. I had her tell me the thoughts she had about her confident area. Then we noticed how she could apply those same true statements about herself to the area where she felt unworthy.
It was so powerful to see the breakthrough crack open her brain right in the coaching session. Her whole demeanor changed. That awareness – that came from her own words, her own thoughts – had ripple effects in the coming months for her in multiple areas of her life. What a beautiful breakthrough!
Thoughts are Optional
I have another client who’s working on her relationship status. She wants to be in a relationship. She’s currently not. So she’s considering online dating, even though she doesn’t like online dating. She thinks it’s “a lot of work.” It just is, right? That’s a fact! That’s what she thinks.
So, when she thinks something is “a lot of work” (not very enjoyable work), how does she feel? She feels drained before she even opens the app. It’s a chore, she thinks it’s something she has to do, but doesn’t want to. So, she puts off doing it. And, she tells herself she’d rather not date if it means she has to do all that work.
I just want to point out, this thought “that’s a lot of work” that creates a drained feeling resulting in procrastination or even complete avoidance applies to lots of different things, not just online dating. It can come up for people who are job searching and think that way about looking at job postings and filling out online applications. I heard a slight variation for the job search example as the “job market is brutal right now.”
Here’s the breakthrough for those clients: those thoughts (a lot of work and brutal job market) are completely optional! They were thinking those thoughts and believing them, and not questioning them and letting those thoughts make decisions about their relationships and careers, not realizing that the thoughts were not helpful and completely optional!
When we dug in a little deeper and looked at all the possibilities, the dating client realized online dating was actually pretty efficient and a lot less work than so many of the other ways to meet people. She also realized that she had been adding so many steps and expectations for herself about how she would use the dating app which weren’t necessary at all. This breakthrough may not seem new or exciting, but here it is again – the thoughts you’re thinking right now, all of them, are completely optional.
If they help you feel how you want to feel and do what you want to do, keep thinking them. But, if they make you avoid and complain and do the opposite of what you actually want – drop those thoughts. When the dating client dropped that optional unhelpful thought, within a week, she had created her online profile. On our next coaching call, she told me she had a date the coming weekend! Amazing breakthrough!
Who is Responsible?
The last breakthrough I want to share with you is from a client who is already in a relationship. She was telling me how disappointed she was about her partner and a few other members of her family because of what they weren’t doing and weren’t saying. I asked her: “Who is responsible for meeting your needs?”
She started to continue to talk about her expectations for her partner and her sister. I interrupted and suggested – and here’s the breakthrough: You are the only one responsible for meeting your own needs.
That stopped her for a moment, and she didn’t agree at first, but then the realization came.
She was totally liberated when she realized if she took responsibility for her own happiness and feeling loved and appreciated and accepted, she could feel powerful, instead of powerless when she thought others didn’t love her or appreciate her. When she provided herself with acceptance and care and respect – regardless of what other people said or did, she could just love them and enjoy their company unconditionally. Her love for them didn’t depend on them saying or doing anything. That was a true breakthrough!
Breaking Through your Resistance
If you think of your resistance like a barrier or an obstacle to you getting what you really want – notice that you can use the examples I just gave you to literally break through your own resistance! Isn’t that fun and liberating to think about?
You can break through! That’s your breakthrough! What do you think? Can you imagine yourself breaking through your resistance?
Do you have any resistance to the breakthroughs I described? What breakthroughs have you experienced in your life?
Let me know in the comments below.
Schedule a Coaching Call and Get the List
If this resonated with you, or if this brings up more questions, I invite you to schedule a coaching call with me to find out what breakthroughs are waiting for you!
Do you want to get a compiled list of the breakthrough prompts mentioned in this post? It’s included in the companion workbook, along with many of the exercises and worksheets that go along with each of the other posts on this site. No matter when you joined me, and no matter what you’re currently working on, if you download the companion workbook you can follow along with most of the worksheets and exercises that I mention. Go get that pdf right now.