Provision #460: Breakthrough Moments

Laser Provision

When was the last time that you had a breakthrough? If it’s been a while, perhaps it’s time to find and work with coach. Coaches are especially helpful when it comes to transformational change because breakthroughs are so highly charged. They often involve giving things up and taking things on that are very different than where and who we are today. Changing your position and identity in life is not easy; coaches can give you the courage and the perspective to do it right. Sometimes, they are the key to whether or not you do it at all.

LifeTrek Provision

Bob: It is fascinating that breakthroughs carry such positive connotations while so many other breaks carry such negative ones. Consider the following definitions:

  • Breakthrough: “a major achievement or success that permits further progress; a productive insight; an important discovery; overcoming or penetrating an obstacle or restriction.”
  • Breakdown: “failing to function or continue; a sudden collapse in physical or mental health; disintegration or decomposition into parts or elements; a cessation of normal operation.”
  • Breakup: “a division, dispersal, or disintegration; the discontinuance of a once important relationship; a disruption; a loss of control or composure.”
  • Break-in: “trespassing and illegal entrance into premises with criminal intent, especially theft; an initial period of employment for training and evaluation.”
  • Breakout: “a sudden manifestation or increase, as of a disease; an outbreak; an escape from jail.”
  • Breakage: “loss or damage as a result of breaking; a quantity broken; goods damaged while in transit or in use.”
  • Breakneck: “dangerously fast: a breakneck pace; likely to cause an accident: a breakneck curve.”

These apparently unrelated terms may in fact give us some guidance as to how breakthroughs actually happen. Most clients come to coaching wanting to experience a breakthrough of one sort or another. Whether it’s an obstacle they want to overcome or a passion they want to pursue, most clients expect coaching to generate those productive insights and important discoveries that will enable them to get where they want to go.

But how does that actually happen? I submit that breakthroughs are often preceded and accompanied by breakdowns, breakups, break-ins, breakouts, breakage, and breakneck speed. By paying attention to and sometimes even creating the negative breaks, coaches can assist clients to generate the positive breakthroughs they desire. Here are some examples of how the connection works.

Breakdowns. Many clients come to coaching during or after they experience a breakdown in their normal functioning. When the breakdown is severe, generating clinical depression or other mental health issues, coaches know to pass those clients on to therapists in their referral networks. Most of the time, however, breakdowns are within the pale of ordinary experience. What seemed like a great idea three years ago, no longer seems like such a great idea today. As a result, the motivation for change grows in both urgency and importance.

I remember one client who had left her job and started a new business about three years before contacting us for coaching. She had the dream of being a fashion designer, with her own label, and she figured that twelve months of financial reserves would be enough to get her through to profitably. Three years later, with her reserves spent and her business going nowhere, she retained LifeTrek Coaching to assist her to develop a new strategy and a new vision for her life and work.

When she came to us, she was desperate. As her credit card debt rose, things really began to break down. She doubted her ability not only to make her business work but to chart any successful and fulfilling course of action in the future. Our role was to stay with her in the breakdown until she could experience the breakthrough. We were not her business advisor as much as we were her champion with the confidence that she was not bereft of abilities, opportunities, and hope. Our not being overwhelmed by her overwhelm enabled her to develop and implement a breakthrough strategy and plan. She ended up leaving her business behind, as a choice freely made rather than as a victim of circumstance.

Breakups. Breakups are an even more universal prelude and accompaniment to breakthroughs than breakdowns. That’s because breakthroughs, by definition, require change both on the inside and on the outside. There is an inevitable letting go of the old • a losing of one’s life • in order to begin taking up the new • a finding of one’s life.

I remember one client who had to breakup his relationship with toxic foods in order to lose weight. He and I talked a lot about the distinction between “stomach hunger” and “heart hunger.” At the outset of our conversations, he was not sure that he had ever felt “stomach hunger.” He was so quick to put toxic but comforting foods into his mouth in response to “heart hunger,” in order to meet his emotional needs, that he had never really known what it was like to eat in response to his physical needs.

The first step in his breakup with toxic foods was to throw away all the junk food and unhealthy comfort food in his house. Once that was done, he began to establish new eating patterns both at home and away from home. He would drive different routes in order to not pass his favorite haunts. He swore off fast-food restaurants altogether. He even had designated fast days in order to get in touch with “stomach hunger” and his physical relationship to food. In the end, the process enabled to him to have a major breakthrough, losing almost half his body weight. And it all began with a breakup.

Other clients have to breakup their relationship with toxic people. This is a delicate matter that is ripe for misinterpretation. Are the identified toxic people the cause or the effect of our problems? It’s helpful to have a coach who you can talk this through with, especially when those people are close family and friends. One client was sure that his wife was the cause of all his problems and that he needed to breakup with her in order to have a breakthrough. Upon further review, however, he decided to breakup with two other friends who were sabotaging his relationship with his wife. Once that happened, the couple experienced a real breakthrough in their relationship.

Break-Ins: Without recommending illegal activities, it is nevertheless true that clients sometimes have to break in to forbidden territory before they can experience a breakthrough. In fact, trying out bold and venturesome activities, as an experiment and without firm commitment, is at the heart of the coaching process. Sometimes, all it takes is for the coach to extend permission.

We have many clients who are themselves coaches, looking to develop both coaching mastery and successful coaching practices. One client came to us after getting the requisite training and working for more than a year on the vision and business plan. Everything was set for breakthrough performance. Over several months, however, she failed to thrive. Promises were made and not fully kept. Actions were taken without positive affect. Something wasn’t working.

“Did you ever think that coaching may not be your destiny? What’s wrong with your life right now? Perhaps, if you were to set the dream of coaching aside for just one month, you would experience a breakthrough.” Those questions and that conversation proved to be huge. The thought of not going into coaching was definitely forbidden territory, but she could allow herself to conduct a one-month experiment.

By breaking in to the idea through that experiment, she eventually experienced the breakthrough she had been looking for. Freed from a sense of obligation to pursue a vision that had once inspired her, and on which she had invested a significant amount of money, she was able to let go of the coach track in order to move in new and productive directions.

Breakouts, Breakage, and Breakneck Speed: These three are related to each other. They reflect the elevated pace of change that takes place as people anticipate and experience breakthroughs. It’s hard to not break things and breakout when traveling at breakneck speed. As the vision for change becomes more real and concrete, more palpable and immediate, people want to get going and get going fast. Once again, that’s when it becomes helpful to have a coach along for the ride.

Sometimes, it’s the coach’s job to slow things down. It’s easy to develop tunnel vision when the target looms large. One client was ready to quit his job as soon as the vision became plain. I asked him to hold that thought for a month, as we searched together for the best things about his current job and the best things he could imagine for his new job. That month-long delay, that chance to step back and think, proved to be invaluable. He realized that he had a major investment in one project and that seeing the project through to completion would bring him great satisfaction. For the next six months, he was able to enjoy the best of his current situation at the same time as he conducted a methodical and eventually successful job search.

On other occasions, it’s the coach’s job to hang on for the ride. When the pace of change get ratcheted up to warp speed, clients can get cold feet and change their mind even when they are on the verge of a breakthrough. I will never forget the client who hesitated to take a major promotion, that she had worked hard to get and that she was more than capable of handling, because she was afraid that she didn’t deserve the breakthrough salary. Fortunately, we had a coaching session before she had to make her decision and she went on to a successful career in business.

Breakthroughs are what people hope for out of coaching. But they come with a cost. That cost is sometimes measured in terms of breakdowns, breakups, break-ins, breakouts, breakage, and breakneck speed. Handled right, such costs become an investment that pays big dividends in life and work.

Erika: Some of the most powerful breakthrough moments occur when we discover that we aren’t making progress toward goals because the goals weren’t genuinely attractive and compelling to us. When the goals are not our goals, when they are things we believe we should be working toward, we end up “shoulding all over ourselves.”

Trying to live into the things we should do, have to do, or need to do does not provide enough energy to create transformational change in our lives. It’s the same as making decisions based on guilt or fear, instead of desire and hope.

Tom, for example, began his coaching expressing the desire to improve productivity at work, building his book of business, and selling more. When there was a lack of progress and energy toward that goal, we explored what was happening. The discovery was that the goal was the desire of his wife and his boss, not his own. In fact, his desire was much different • it was to express himself creatively and not to be a part of the corporate world at all. In the end, he discovered a compelling goal and, with it, looked forward to taking action.

Other clients find that they are living into the expectations of their parents. Even into mid-life, long after they have established a life of “their own,” it is the voice of their father or mother at the wheel. Breakthroughs occur when we are able to distinguish those voices from our own, and then be at choice with whether or not to listen.

This often shows up around the issue of career planning, when we find ourselves making career decisions based on what our parents might think, or how our parents lived out their own careers, rather than what is right for us in the circumstances and desires of the present.

As an example, Lisa wrestled with whether or not to A) continue living with the security of full-time, long-term tenure with an employer (parents’ expectation) or B) to fulfill her own desire for the nomadic, adventurous, life of a consultant.

Beautifully, the most surprising breakthrough for her was not in choosing “B,” but in discovering a new alternative altogether! Choice “C,” was to live with the security of full-time, long-term tenure with an employer while shifting to the mindset of a consultant. She embraced new beliefs about the freedoms she could give himself, and the boundaries she could set in this situation. This was neither her parents idea, or her original idea, but an idea born out the ability to break through preconceptions and the expectations of others.

Kate: My experience of “breakthroughs” with clients and on a personal basis are not so much marked by a “moment” but by opening oneself for a change in belief or thinking pattern, and then processing and applying that new thinking through the intervening days, weeks, or months. The moment of revelation is marked by the opening of new thought, which then allows for the shift.

I have seen the most shifting in those situations where the client was willing and interested in more effectively engaging the power of the mind. This is where I have witnessed my own breakthroughs, as well.

A good deal of my coaching work has been in the areas of career transition and of attracting one’s ideal mate. People who are seeking one of these two things tend to get a lot of advice on these processes, both by those they know and by books and articles written on the subjects. What is missing from much of this information is the need to align personal beliefs and energy.

I have witnessed a client allow herself to see new possibilities in both her marriage and her professional future, only after concentrating on letting go of restrictive beliefs. I celebrated with a client who made a job and geographic transition look easy, once he began using meditation and the law of attraction to focus on what he really wanted. I was also tickled when another client proved to himself that he could land a job in his preferred industry, and at a higher level, than he had experienced before.

Anyone can experience a breakthrough if he or she is willing to explore new ways, beliefs, and practices. If we are open and focused, the information will find us. We need only pay attention to where our energy is leading us, our intuition, and to the possibilities they present.

Coaching Inquiries: Are you experiencing breakdowns, breakups, break-ins, breakouts, breakage, or life going by at breakneck speed? Are these negative trends perhaps the harbingers of positive breakthroughs? What do you desire more than anything else? How can you make it so? What do you need to let go of? Who can assist you to make it so? How could this year be your year for transformational change?

To reply to this Provision, use our Feedback Form. To talk with us about coaching or consulting services for yourself or your organization, Email Us or use our Contact Form on the Web for a complimentary coaching session.

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)

Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..


Thanks for taking the time to record your Provisions. It’s nice to have both options for getting the information. I have put them on my MP3 player in order to listen to them when I have the time.


I saw your page on eating organic and I see that your address is in Williamsburg. I am going to be moving to Williamsburg in the near future and I was wondering if you could recommend a place in Williamsburg to buy organic meats? I know that this isn’t the sort of service that you typically provide • but I am having trouble finding any information about organic meats and produce. (Ed. Note: The farmer’s market, in Williamsburg and elsewhere, is a great place to start. That’s where we met a local, organic buffalo rancher. Many stores are also beginning to carry these products.)  



May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC

President, LifeTrek Coaching Internationalwww.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformationwww.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coachingwww.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a TimeOnline Retailers

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