Breakthroughs

Breakthroughs.

Those elusive “aha” and “eureka” moments where everything changes.

Breakthroughs are important, because they don’t just change everything – they make change fast.

Normally, humans – both as individuals and groups – make liner progress: In school, we learn to multiply and divide, the history of our country, some basic facts about our planet, and how to read.

As communities, we learned over many generations how to raise livestock, store grain, and extract useful minerals from the earth.

Breakthroughs are different. 100 years of slow, incremental progress can be surpassed almost instantaneously by a single breakthrough.

The wheel was a breakthrough for transportation. Vaccinations were a breakthrough for human health. Refrigeration, the printing press, and the Internet – all breakthroughs.

Another distinction held by these giant leaps forward is that, most often, there’s no way for the step-by-step method to achieve the result.

That is, the normal, incremental progress that typifies how we live and learn is rarely capable of taking us to the promised land of revolutionary innovation.

Nobody tried a square wheel, then thought “you know what, that might roll better if I knocked the corners off.”

This solution could only be reached by a quantum leap in judgment. A new paradigm in thinking.

For instance, in my work as a marketing strategist or “breakthrough artist” – I remember one client was using a bunch of different landing pages to make offers to their prospects, but not keeping good track of performance.

In less than an 30 minutes, I was able to identify the top performers, which produced over 3x the businesses average. By funneling all their prospects to those pages and ceasing to use the underperformers, they could increase sales by a conservative $20,000.

Per day.

That’s a breakthrough. Even if the solution was an obvious one for someone who knew where to look.

I apply the same mindset to language learning.

The conventional approach to learning languages is to do a bunch of memory drills and mental calculations of grammar and syntax.

Vetran language learners have made a breakthrough in their approach – instead of trying to become better calculators, they know that the most important thing is to develop their intuition of the language.

Just like I (and possibly you) speak English naturally, without thinking about things like word order, tenses, and verb conjugation, polyglots aim for the same skill set in their 2nd, 3rd, and additional languages.

That’s a strategic breakthrough that not only expedites the learning process, it makes the use of the acquired language much more fluid and natural – or fluent. And it requires doing something totally different in our brains, even if some of the techniques look similar.

The question then, is how can we create breakthroughs?

After all, if these are quantum leaps in judgment, or wisdom, or strategy, and we can’t approach them step by step – how the heck can we do this with intent? Isn’t the Newtonian apple-to-the-noggin our only hope?

Fortunately for the novice, there is one powerful question we can start asking ourselves that can put us on the precipice of finding the revolutionary answers we seek:

If I could never do “x” again, what would I try instead?

Let me explain.

When we are trying to solve a problem, we usually look for the exact same types of answer.

The dieter tries one diet. Then another. Then a 3rd. Whatever the flavor of the week is.

A bachelor trying to get more dates might focus on learning “pickup lines” or other, basic conversation starters, continually adding to his repertoire of openers.

Someone trying to get rich might favor multi-level-marketing companies, trying Mary Kay, Amway, and Herbalife.

There might be slightly more variation within these examples, but we are creatures of habit, and we tend to look for variations of the solution we want instead of something truly innovative and new.

The question: If I never do “x” again, what would I try instead?” forces us to look outside our habitual stomping grounds.

For example, if someone trying to lose weight asks themselves “If I never try a diet & exercise regime again, what would I try instead?”

They haven’t given themselves a definitive answer, but what they have done is they’ve made an answer possible to find.

Because as long as they’re hopping from one fad diet to the next, they have no way to see the other factors involved in weight loss – the bigger picture.

Diet tunnel vision means missing out on all the other lifestyle factors that may play a role – of which sleep, stress, and sex are 3.

If we go a bit deeper, the would-be-dieter asking themselves this question might also realize that worrying about where they are/aren’t, feeling badly about their self image, or wanting to fit into their prom dress/tux again really aren’t the best reasons to be dieting. And dropping that emotional baggage will at the very least be a weight off their shoulders while they look for a way to take weight off their waistline.

A breakthrough of this nature played an important role in my own life too.

When I couldn’t talk for 2 years or use my hands due to a coincidental repetitive strain injury, I was extremely stressed out because it meant I couldn’t interact with family or friends the same way, couldn’t write, and couldn’t play guitar.

All that at once was a brutal psychological blow, and it brought me down for a while.

However, I then used this question to help find something meaningful to do with my time.

I asked myself: “If I never talk or can use my hands again, what would I do?”

And there were answers that were surprisingly simple: I could run. I could also do yoga or play soccer, do freerunning/parkour, and other leg-intensive activities.

It wasn’t the same, of course. But it was an important development – because I could then reorient myself to things I enjoyed and excelled at, which cascaded into an improved outlook, more energy, and hope. Less stress and fatigue. All that meant a greater ability to find the answers I was looking for.

Create Your Breakthrough

Now it’s your turn. To create your next breakthrough, follow these steps:

  1. Identify the biggest challenge you’re currenntly facing in your life.
  2. Identify the thing you’ve been repeatedly doing to try to solve it. If it’s hard to find, list everything you’ve tried and look for a pattern in your behavior. What do these things have in common?
  3. Answer the question:  If I never do “x” again, what would I try instead?
  4. Implement your new idea

Often, we make progress simply when we stop doing the things that aren’t working. And that’s something we can do immediately. So do this now, and if you’re feeling brave – let me know in the comments what your answers to this exercise were. Make it social and make it real.

How to Enjoy Anything: A Simple 3-Step Formula

A large part of our days are filled with monotonous, routine tasks.

Chores around the house, shopping, banking. Hardly the sort of stuff to get one’s heart pumping, with the adrenaline-spiking, pupil-dilating sort of excitement a lot of us could sorely benefit from.

But what if it could? What if we could make the ordinary, extraordinary?

Well I have great news, today you’re going to discover one of my favorite techniques for enjoying anything, and the 3 simple steps you can take to make it happen.

Ready?

Eating Humble Pie

When I was growing up, I was an extremely picky eater. My palate consisted of cereal (which I usually ate 3x a day), some fruit, plenty of meat, eggs, nuts, and potato chips – as well as any other form of deep fried potato.

Long story short – dishes with multiple ingredients were basically out. And about half of the things we would classify as “food” today.

It seemed like I was locked out of the extreme ends of the “healthy food” spectrum. I didn’t enjoy toxic concoctions such as Coke or hot dogs, but nor did I consume much in terms of vegetables, with carrots being the notable exception due to their sweetness.

Hell. I didn’t eat pizza until I was 13, when the peer pressure became so much that I simply caved and ate it anyway.

But my favorite one: When I was around 8 years old, my grandfather had to bribe me with $5 to try rice.

Normally people avoid rice because it’s bland and boring. I, on the other hand, thought it was going to be gross.

It wasn’t until I was in university that I decided to get a handle on this – partially for social reasons partially for health reasons, and partially psychological – I didn’t want this limitation.

So I picked a target to pick as my new food passion, to obsess over and incessantly glorify: Corn.
With my family, I’d be melodramatic about how much I loved our fine yellow friend, while maintaining an underlying seriousness that was unwavering.

I loved corn.

And I made sure the world knew.

Of course, at the start I didn’t particularly enjoy it, but all the dramatic “mmmms” and consistent extolling of it’s virtues (“absolutely delectable with a bit of melted butter and salt”) changed my mind rather quickly.

In matter of weeks, corn became a legitimate favorite of mine.

Which was somewhat ironic, because after I read about the Paleo diet I basically stopped eating it.

But the floodgates had opened. I became more ambitious, adding broccoli and kale to my smorgasbord of innovative delicacies.

Now, I eat – quite literally, probably 5x as many foods as I used to – though I admit I haven’t made a complete list.

All because I changed the way I acted and ran my mind.

And the great part that making life easy and fun is…easy and fun!

Here are the 3 keys to succeeding with your new outlook.

1) Be Ridiculously Enthusiastic:

Positivity has been shown to improve our ability to learn, and apparently this doesn’t only apply to history facts or algebra. Forming new connections in the mind happens faster when we’re positive and engaged.

And positivity goes beyond thinking – it’s the way we use our voice (think: tone and pitch), hold our bodies, move, and so on. Thinking is important too, of course, but acting the part sends our minds the message that this is real, and our thoughts had best reflect the reality.

2) Be Silly…Almost:

I picked something that I would find internally amusing to fawn over. I mean really, who in their right mind would obsess over corn. I also did this with doing the dishes with Katia in our St. Petersburg apartment.

With the dishes it worked even better, because this is a chore that most people try to avoid. I got a lot of pleasure just from breaking the expectation that dishes = annoying and boring housework.
Sometimes I would sing while I cleaned them. And I remember telling Katia once, “you’re so sweet letting me play while you do all that work setting up the movie.”

Maybe it sound strange, but it works. I also love doing dishes.

3) Be consistent:

Once I chose a target, whether it was corn, broccoli, kale, or doing dishes, I was consistent with my message, both externally and internally.

I never told the world how much I loved corn while internally grumbling about how much it sucks.

That sort of incongruity will prevent the sort of rapid transformations I experienced.

Flossing may not be the most pleasant thing to do, but if you’re consistent about your message, you can say you love it, act as if you love it, and you will end up loving those 5 minutes before bed when you take care of your oral hygiene.

The point is, there are so many of these little activities and innocuous matters of taste that affect the quality of experience we have.

I think – why not try to enjoy everything. If I’m going to have to scrub the scum off the bathtub, repair a window, eat liver & onions (which I actually love, by the way), stand in long lines and do bureaucratic nonsense – then I figure I have the options of hating every minute or loving every minute.

Why not choose love?

The great thing is that you can develop this attitude as a habit and apply it anywhere – and the more you do it the easier it will become.

Expect it to be the most challenging the first time. Doubts are okay. Inaction isn’t.

Maybe you start like I did, with a fairly soft target. Corn was hardly a big stretch for my taste buds to accept as pleasant. For you that might mean a small activity like brushing your teeth or changing the bed sheets.

But a massive change in quality of a single, small activity has compound benefits, for your good mood will trickle in to your next endeavor, just as a bad or neutral mood would have, and make that experience better too.

This is, so far as I know, one of the fastest ways to make life easy and fun.

So pick your target, one activity that you want to turn into an irrational passion, and commit to making it an absurdly enjoyably part of your day.

Let me know what you chose in the comments below.