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How to Usher in a Breakthrough

How To’s designed to get you unstuck and pull you into alignment with your highest self.

Oh breakthroughs, how I love thee.

It’s such a surreal feeling when we can tell our inner experience has shifted to a new state.

We feel brighter, wiser, and empowered in those moments!

Additionally, they often coincide with new habits, perspectives, and other changes that suddenly feel much easier to maintain.

What comes to mind when you think of the breakthroughs you’ve experienced?

How did you get there?

When I remember my own breakthroughs and those of my clients, there is a surprising theme.

Most of them had nothing to do with willpower.


How can that be the case when we’re continuously fed the myth that we need more willpower and self control to create lasting change?

The #1 most common answer I hear when I ask what’s been stopping a client from reaching their goals is that they need more willpower.

And to be completely honest, I feel sad every time I hear it.

Because it’s not true!

To illustrate this point, let’s talk about the two main brain systems involved in having a breakthrough:

  • Our prefrontal cortex (which I like to call our Human Brain)
  • And our brain stem (which I affectionately refer to as the Critter Brain)

The Human Brain

When we envision our lives as we want them to be and dream of better experiences, we do so with our prefrontal cortex, the Human Brain.

The Human Brain is where we get our personalities, our identities, and our values.

This part of our brain loves change and adventure.

It tells us when we’re dissatisfied with the way things are and encourages us to try something new.

If we only had this part of our brains to contend with when making changes, we’d be golden!

The Critter Brain

Our brain stem, or the Critter Brain, is responsible for keeping us alive.

Aaaaaaaaand that’s basically it.

It doesn’t care if we’re happy, and it doesn’t care if our lives are exciting and fulfilling.

That’s not its job!

Because its positive intention for us is centered around survival, it particularly hates change.

Once you’ve experienced a pattern and survived it, the Critter Brain wants to repeat that pattern because from its perspective, familiar = safe.

And that’s where things get a little dicey.

How do you usher in a breakthrough if a major part of your brain is resistant to change?

Well, we often combat this resistance by calling on our willpower.

Hello Willpower, My Old Friend

Now, we all have a certain amount of willpower, and it DOES help us tremendously.

The problem arrives when we rely purely on willpower and nothing else.

That’s when we experience self sabotage.

Self sabotage happens when the Critter Brain starts getting wise to us trying to pull one over on it by attempting something new, especially if that “something” is perceived as unsafe.

It so badly wants to keep us alive that it will actually force us back into old habits that are familiar, even if those patterns are a major drag.

Remember, to the Critter Brain, stepping outside of a familiar pattern literally means we’re risking death.

Its responses to our efforts to change sound something like this:

“Trying a new lifestyle around food and exercise? We’ll die.”

“Creating boundaries with that overbearing family member? We’re toast.”

“Making a schedule that includes self care, keeping our home tidy, reading for an hour every day, or getting more sleep every night? We might as well play in traffic.”

It’s a bit one note in this way, isn’t it?

How to know if self sabotage is at play for you:

  • You look at patterns in your life and notice they haven’t changed or have only changed minimally for years or decades
  • You get right up to a breakthrough only to find yourself at the bottom of the hill again
  • You feel like something is wrong with you when you can’t get unstuck
  • You think you lack willpower or self control

The reality is that there is a civil war of sorts going on in your brain with one side desperately wanting change (the Human Brain) and the other side trying anything in its power to keep things the same (the Critter Brain).

Willpower can only take us so far.

With true habit change and breakthroughs, our whole brain is on board and we agree that change is necessary and safe.

How in the Sam Hell do I do that?

Kathleen Dannemiller, expert in the field of organization development, designed a simplified formula for change.

It is as follows: Dissatisfaction x Vision x First Concrete Steps > Resistance

In other words, to align our brains (and get our Critter Brains to stop resisting all our great ideas), we need to:

  1. Realize what we’re unhappy with
  2. Get a vision for what we would like to have instead
  3. Find the easiest step we can take toward that new vision

That’s it!

Repeating that formula is a recipe for overcoming the Critter Brain’s resistance to change.

You might be thinking “that’s great, Captain Obvious. If it was that easy, everyone would do it.”

There are lots of places to fall off track, though.

Which is why next week, we’re going to talk about the things that get in our way when we strive toward permanent change and how to get ahead of them.

My vision for you is one of you kicking butt and taking names as you learn to outsmart your old patterns so you can finally experience the breakthrough you desire!

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