break·through (brākˌTHro͞o). noun
1. a sudden, dramatic, and important discovery or development
The vast majority of my personal development has been gradual and incremental. It has also been a mix of haphazard and intentional. I’ve had plenty of lessons I’ve had to learn again, to my embarrassment and pain.
But sometimes there is a moment. A very clear moment that changes everything. I had a major personal breakthrough recently and feel it’s worth sharing. I sat down and kinda manufactured it. It was pretty damn cool.
If you’ve had a major personal breakthrough, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below or email me: Pat at HappinessTornado.com
This article is quite lengthy, so the first part is high level summary. Later, I get into the whole narrative and then I end with a more expanded step-by-step guide.
Any feedback would be greatly appreciated.
Some Cool Results of getting past my fear of failure:
This breakthrough took me about 3 hours of work. Since that day:
- I now only sleep 4 hours each night (down from 7)
- I’ve gained 20 lbs. of muscle (145 to 165 lbs)
- I’ve won two “entrep in residence” competitions resulting in revenue or profit share
- I can write thousands of words a day of copy, ebook, emails (substantive communication- not chit chat), business plans
- I’ve travelled throughout SE Asia and met hundreds of location independent entrepreneurs
This process is meant to help you tackle some core fear that is holding you back from taking the action you want. Fear of death, fear of failure, fear of rejection (social or romantic), etc.
In it’s simplest form:
- Pick a fear that you want to deal with.
- Take time to breathe and be present (in the moment, free of distraction) as you grapple with the emotions and memories.
- List off all the things in your life connected to this fear- your current situation (the present), your worries (the future) and root causes (the past) of that fear.
- Now think of the things that counter that fear (the opposite of the statement you made in the list- one for one). Either positive things from the past or simply opposing statements about the future.
In a brief step-by-step:
- Set aside a good amount of time free of distractions
- Pick a Fear you want to deal with
- Write out all your thoughts, feelings, memories around that fear. Experience that fear.
- Become present. Straight posture. Closed eyes. Curled toes. Belly breathe for 10 breaths. Repeat as many times as you like.
- Write out thoughts, ideas, and memories counter to your fears. If you fear failure, explore your successes. If you fear death, explore your rich life and the things that can happen. If you fear being lonely, explore all the wonderful relationships you have and the quality of person you are. Experience this counter state. Success, Rich Life, Love.
- Become present. Straight posture. Closed eyes. Curled toes. Belly breathe for 10 breaths. Repeat as many times as you like.
How to practice being present:
- Posture: sit up straight. On the floor or in a chair.
- Eyes: close them and stare at your nose or forehead. Or keep them open and stare at a single point.
- Toes: curl them if sitting. Curl with each in breath if sitting on floor. It reminds your mind that it has a body.
- Breathe: 10 deep belly breaths. In through nose, out through mouth. Inhale- push belly button out. Exhale- belly button in.
- Thinking: think or don’t think. Don’t fight it. If you are thinking- just observe what you are thinking but don’t judge it or resent the fact that your mind isn’t “clear”- whatever the hell that means. Don’t have inner dialogue about your inner dialogue. Don’t suffer about your suffering.
A moment on Gurus
Anti-guru guru-dom. I think it’s pretty much impossible to avoid becoming a guru if you seek to have an impact and some of your thoughts get recorded and disseminated in this world. People want gurus and will elevate “leaders” to this place even against the will of that individual. Can’t fight the need of people to have a leader.
I aspire to be more a Warren Buffet and Ben Franklin (Poor Richard) anti-guru rather than a Deepak Chopra, Tony Robbins guru-guru. Experienced, down to earth, well traveled, nonjudgmental. Don’t know where writing this woo-woo stuff is gonna take me- but here we go.
I believe my breakthrough was a result unique to me because I’ve told others about it and I’ve explained the whole process and no one else has had a similar kick to the head. I’m telling you a story- not giving you a recipe (TLDR- the Recipe is at the end of the article).
But, it’s not the recipe. It’s not me. It’s you. Plain and simple. I have no answers, just a story. Hope it helps.
My Breakthrough Story
I’ve been consuming a lot of content for a long time. I believe that you get compound interest and network effects from every conversation, experience, book, art, and podcast that you encounter. I’m a big fan of histories, biographies, business, personal development, fiction, and philosophy.
So, this emotional work was more the :last piece of the puzzle” rather than “the answer in a box”. The last snowflake that causes the avalanche.
Desperately seeking a Solution to my Discontent
I have always been a malcontent.
I’m a self directed learner and so I was never happy in grade school. Didn’t do homework, missed as many days as possible while still being allowed to advance to the next grade.
In undergrad at the Air Force Academy, I couldn’t really stand the military discipline (yes, I’m an idiot). It always felt like a lowest common denominator form of control. I was going to be a pilot- someone to be trusted with making decisions- so….let me make decisions.
Then in the Navy, wow- that was worse. Pretty much every activity was pointless and every policy really, truly was directed at mouth breathers. There is also some really adverse selection in the higher ranks where 5% of the senior officers are awesome leaders and 95% are pretty mediocre bureaucrats. My superiors. The people that were literally in charge of my life.
Then I was an investment banker for a year. I knew I’d hate it before going in. I fought like hell and got in. I did good work and all my coworkers are friends, but boy did I hate it there. They knew it too. 9 months later I got fired/happily quit. That was 2011.
So, lot’s of discontent.
I’ve also done a lot of fun stuff and made great friends and have a great family. It’s just- damn, something ain’t right- and it’s pretty central to the meaning and purpose of my life. What am I doing?
Committing to Failure
Then we go through 2 more years of me attempting and failing to become an “entrepreneur” or whatever the hell that means. I’m doing consulting work and leaning on my wife’s income, living off savings when not making money. It just feels like I’m falling. I never feel like I have traction or that I am building something or that I know where I’m going. It really sucks- especially with two small boys. One who has a minor heart condition that requires surgery to fix (he’s fixed).
I Love People
I try to find the answer in other people because I know it ain’t in me. I go to World Domination Summit 2013 and join Dynamite Circle and The Foundation 2014. I network like crazy in Chicago. I’m trying to copy success by bumping into other successful people and asking questions. I’m happy to even buy an “answer” or a “business in a box.” Desperation is a stinky cologne.
I’m taking lot of action. I’m meeting people. Having tough conversations. Introspecting. Searching. Spending money- buying magic beans.
Some of it worked out though. See this POST about networking with awesome people.
On Sunday, November 27, 2013: this happened.
In the morning I went with my wife to her Buddhist temple. We do some guided meditation with a temple elder. The elder tells me that I’m self aware, but I need to seek to understand myself more and that will help me to understand others. I’m so unaware that I do not remember this excellent advice and have to ask my wife to repeat what was said and then email it to me while we are driving home.
Me = Buddhist of the Year.
When we arrive home, my wife is kind enough to take the boys out and leave me a quiet house for the afternoon as I sit down to tackle this Mindset Module in the TF2014 curriculum.
I work through the online course module, taking things seriously and doing some serious soul searching. The process goes like this:
Face Your Fears
I decide to take on my fear of failure. It’s been two years since I’ve had a job and steady income. I’m terrified that I’ve made some terrible mistake trying to own my own business and be my own boss (enterpernuehsip is hard to spell). I’m terrified that I’m going to have to go back into a corporate life and that it’s going to be 35 years of eating someone else’s shit every day. Every month I’m not in some aggressive career track, I’m sacrificing upwards of $20,000 in compensation- I’m paying a serious price here. My parents are 70 and need financial support. My young boys need money. My education debt needs money. My underwater San Diego condo needs money. This sucks. I feel like I’m missing something essential to having business success. I’m too greedy, too set in a military/MBA mindset, too ADD, too arrogant, too selfish, too irresponsible…whatever leads to not being able to figure it out even though plenty of people have figure it out- and I’m meeting those successful people all the time. Painful.
Feels like Shit
So, fear of failure seems like a good fear to tackle.
I write down all my fears around failure and money.
It feels terrible. I feel this fear as acid around my heart. Like if you ripped my chest open and poured acid on my heart- that’s how it feels. Tight and hot. I sit there with all this fear and the acid and I ask my body for more of it. I intensify the feeling.
Then, after a short while- I straighten my posture, I curl my toes, I close my eyes, and I belly breathe for a short while. I become present rather than worry about the future and the past.
I notice that while breathing deeply from my belly, I don’t feel the acid around my heart.
I then stop being “present” and the acid comes back.
So, I become present again with straight posture, curled toes, eyes close, belly breathing. That fixes it.
I’m beginning to physically realize that I’m in control of my fear and I can make it go away instantly.
Flip the Fear
Next, I ask myself what is the opposite of failure…and to me that would be “success”.
So, I list out all of my greatest successes in life. All the times I worked really hard against fierce competition and came out on top. I actually have a pretty decent track record of success.
So, I focus on the day of my graduation from the Air Force Academy. I had just survived a double roll over car accident in my brand new Subaru WRX and still had 16 stitches above my blackened left eye and scabs on my left temple. I’m a lucky idiot. But I digress.
Bask in the Glory
I had just accomplished something I’d set out to do 6 years earlier as a Junior in high school. I’d beat out lots of talented young men and women all along the way. People who were all trying their hardest too. I felt the shiny leather shoes on my feet, my high necked parade uniform, my white hat, the sun on my face as I hugged my parents and the Thunderbirds roared overhead and 1,000 other newly appointed military officers and their families all celebrated. I put myself right back there with the sights, sounds, smells, touch, and emotions.
To me, that kind of accomplishment feels like a euphoric layer in-between my brain and my skull. I feel electric and strong and giddy.
And then I become present and that sugar rush of happiness goes away. Then I open my eyes and shallow my breathing and the sugar rush comes back, but a little diminished. I can make that great sense of accomplishment and happiness come and go to.
So, I’m seeing that I’m not my fear of failure and I’m not my success stories, I’m me. I’m in control of these emotions and states of mind. I make them come and go at will.
I am something more substantial than these things. I’m the boulder in the stream. Sometimes the water is calm and sometimes it’s raging but I, me- the boulder, do not move. The emotions flow around me regardless. I’m still here, they go away- downstream.
Lastly, I write out affirmations or positive statements that directly counter the statements of fear that I wrote out earlier. I trying to write in the affirmative “I will succeed” rather in the negatory “I will not fail” as much as possible. Once that was done, I felt incredibly light. I felt really at peace.
New Self Identity
I realize much later that what I’ve just done is slam a new personal identity into my mind- searing it in there. I now knew that I was a success. I was going to be a successful entrepreneur, just like I’d been a successful athlete, student, officer, pilot, grad student, finance peon, friend/brother/son/husband/father.
My other three identities are that of athlete, good person (integrity, honor, duty), and grinder (I don’t quit).
Cool stuff happens when you decide to put down the bag of bricks you’ve been carrying around. Things get much easier. Lots and lots of good things have happened to me since that day. It was a really, really cool day.
Have you had a similar experience? Please comment below.
If you have any questions or anything to share, just shoot me a message at @PatrickLarsen on Twitter.
A few things have changed in me/for me since that day:
-I only sleep 4 hours at night now, down from 7. That’s two REM cycles. I enjoy a siesta as well if I can get it. No alarms ever.
-I’ve put on 20 lbs (…mostly muscle, some fat, not cutting yet). Going from 145 lbs to 165 lbs (65 to 75 kgs) and increasing my strength vastly in major lifts- bench, squat, dead lift. Flexibility also increased due to martial arts and yoga.
-I spent 60 days traveling to Manila, Puerto Galera, Ho Chi Minh, Chiang Mai, Bangkok, and Portland OR meeting location independent entreps. Also had trips to Panama and Tokyo.
-I throw SaaS/Entrep meet ups in Chicago monthly and 10-15 people attend, from as far away as St. Louis
-I’ve met two need friends for life (weird simpatico) and dozens more genuine friends- mostly entrepreneurs or education reformers
-I won “entrepreneurship in residence” competitive applications for Recruiting Ninja by Dane Maxwell and a new SaaS venture from Gary Nealon. Both involve revenue or profit share. Both were highly competitive processes. Both wins are directly tied to my mindset, my ability to learn quickly, and some massive action I’ve taken in marketing experiments I conducted pretty much just for the learning.
-I can write thousands of words a day
-Business ideas come easily. Not crappy ones either. Sometimes semi-crappy. They come pretty fully formed: MVP, marketing plan, target customers, price points, database structure, UI/UX, what products/services to copy/compete against/JV with. Homeschool idea I’m working on.
OK, here’s the Recipe
Feel the Fear
- Sit down with white paper in an isolated place. Clear everything. Turn off everything. Get ready for some heavy lifting.
- Pick a central fear that you know you must grapple with. Fear of Death. Fear of Failure. Fear of never finding Love. Fear of Judgment. This process will work on smaller fears too though- like “I’m afraid to make cold calls”
- Write out all the fears, thoughts, worries, concerns, scenarios, feelings, scripts, judgements you have surrounding that fear. These are your “negative affirmations”
- Focus on how writing all this stuff makes you feel. It probably makes you feel stressed and fearful. If it does, plunge into that feeling. Intensify it. Note where you are physically feeling the tension in/on your body. Ask yourself for more of that feeling. Sit with it for a while.
- Now, become present by:
- Straighten your posture. Straight back and head
- Close your eyes. Stare at your forehead or nose ridge through your eyelids to fix your gaze
- Curl your toes. This reminds your brain that there is a body attached to it.
- Belly breath 10 times. Slow, deep in through nose. Slow, deep out through mouth. Use whatever pacing and technique you like.
- Notice in that moment of presence what you felt and what you did not feel. Mental and physical sensations.
- Reflect on how that fear likely went “away” while you were breathing with your eyes closed, back straight, toes curled.
- Feel the fear come back and the stressful physical sensations when you are not being present.
- Become present again. Then “come back” to “un-present”
- Feel the fear come back- maybe the same, more, or less.
- Realize that you control your fear. It obeys you. It is not an essential part of you but something transient that you can make go away anytime you want. It doesn’t drive you. It doesn’t define you. It’s not real. It’s not you. You are not your fears. You are not defined by them. They are not an essential part of you. You can live without them.
- Play with mental imagery if that helps. Imagine yourself as something solid and unmoving (a boulder in the rapids) and your fear as something moving, non substantive, ephemeral (water, smoke, shadow). You are permanent. The fear is not. You are the core. Your fear is not.
What’s the Opposite
- Now with white paper, write out actual, personal life experiences that are highly counter to your fears that you previously wrote out. If you fear failure, write about your biggest successes. If you fear death, write about the times you took physical risk and where ok and felt exhilarated and alive. Write about the times you felt the most happy, the most centered, the most unworried, the most content.
- Take each individual situation and sit with that really good feeling for a while. Bask in it. Relive it in as granular and fine a detail as you can. How your shoes felt on your feet. Where the sun was. The sounds, the smells. Everything. Shift your focus around in your memory.
- Notice where in your body you physically experience these good feelings.
- Now, become present. Close your eyes, straighten your posture, curl your toes, and belly breathe.
- Notice in that moment of presence what you felt and what you did not feel. Mental and physical sensations.
- Reflect on how that happiness/success likely went “away” while you were breathing with your eyes closed, back straight, toes curled.
- Realize that you control your happiness. It obeys you. It is not an essential part of you but something transient that you can make go away anytime you want. It doesn’t drive you. It doesn’t define you. It’s not real. It’s not you.
- Play with mental imagery if that helps. Imagine yourself as something solid and unmoving (a boulder in the rapids) and your happiness as something moving, non substantive, ephemeral (water, smoke, shadow). You are permanent. The happiness is not. You are the core. Your happiness is not. You may play with different visual metaphors when contemplating happiness vs. fear.
Flip the Script
Reverse your statements around your fear.
- Take a previous Fear of Failure statement like and write something counter or opposite to it.
- Simple: “I am afraid I will not be able to provide for my parents as they age.” becomes “I will provide for my parents in their old age. They will have no fear or stress about their resources.”
- Complex: “I’m afraid I don’t have what it takes to be a successful entrepreneur. I fear I’m lacking something essential and that I will never succeed. I’ll end up having to work for a corporation and hating life.” and turn it into: “I have everything it takes to succeed. I am fully equipped and ready to succeed. I have all the tools, experience, resources, and drive necessary to succeed. People less capable than me, with less resources than me, have succeeded wildly- and I will too.”
- Positive statements: “I am” are preferable to negative ones “I am not” “I will not” but sometimes the negatives ring more true. Try out both versions of a statement and see which you like better. Generally, “Don’t picture a white elephant” results in seeing a pale pachyderm. “I will not fail” will likely be less impactful and beneficial than “I will succeed”
- Pick a New Identity
- Build up a new identity for yourself. Live that archetype. Cultivate avatars that embody that identity for you. See if you can slam that new identity into place for yourself.
- A simple positive statement like “I am an athlete” may be enough. Play with it.
- To explain this Self Identity thing: if you are out of shape- don’t try to tell yourself to drink water and stretch for 20 minutes and eat grilled chicken and buy sporty clothes and get up early on the weekend….Just tell yourself you are an athlete. Once you believe that, you will make the right decisions as they come up to get in better shape because those are the decisions an athlete would make. It’s way more effective than trying to keep in mind the 10,000 things athletes do to be athletes.
- For trauma victims- I think trying to substitute an identity of “victim” for one of “thriving survivor” would be helpful.
- “Bad students” blossom when they find their calling as a “insert future profession here” because it become a part of their identity. I’m bad at math, but I’m an awesome mechanic, writer, painter, scientist (lot’s of scientist will tell you they are bad at math).
- For corporate malcontents, it might be “future successful entrepreneur”. Take the blue pill.
Other things to keep in mind:
Personal reflection and self awareness are effortful and slippery. You are really good at hiding from you. You might need to write things down or talk things out with someone else to nail this stuff down. “Stuff” being your whole mind, ego, psyche, soul…
Patience. I think my ten years of reading, my life experiences (success, failure, financial ruin, death of loved ones, near death of self, love, kids, travel, education, art, conversations, friendships, enemies, hate, fear) all got me to a tipping point. It took a lot of intentional and haphazard cultivation.
Be open. I read a lot. I talked to a lot of people. I am not a Buddhist, but I went to my wife’s temple. I give credence to past wisdom that has been tuned over millennia about what is a good life (psalms, sharia, Aesop’s fables, golden rule). Then of course, you take what’s best for you and shelve the rest. Mediation “doesn’t work” for me, but I keep trying. I try things out. I share my experiences and am open to suggestions, feedback, and criticism (gasp! Criticism).
No new problems, but there are new answers. Reading a lot will give you comfort in the fact that other people have been in your situation and pulled through. Their solution might not be applicable to you, but it can’t hurt. You will likely have to update the advice and customize it to your situation, but at least you aren’t starting from scratch.
No cookie cutter solutions to life. Don’t hold yourself to any one else’s standard. Not for your mental game, not for a definition of success or failure or happiness or anything. Take input from the world, reflect, digest, synthesize, and customize. You belong to you and you alone.
Becoming present isn’t meditation. I still have no idea what meditation is or isn’t and if I’m even doing it, or doing it right or wrong. This is pattern interrupt and a reset. Becoming present it shoving your pen into the little black hole with the red reset button in your mind. Like some Taiwanese electronics, all these processes and faults and errors have compiled in your mind and you’re getting junk on the screen. If it’s music- it’d be like when your 2001 mp3 player crapped itself and you heard the precursor to dubstep music all of a sudden. Just a cacophony. Turn off your speakers. Force quit. Hit the reset button for 10 breaths and see what happens.
As a Westerner, you may think that it’s very strange and counter to our highest self actualization to “cast aside” happinesses. I find that cultivating “contentment” in whatever situation I’m in is personally preferable to seeking happiness. I personally view happiness as an ephemeral sugar rush and not a sustainable, desirable state of being. Win the lottery. Happy. Happiness goes away and you are left with your base level contentment. Same thing happens if you lose your legs. Therefore, focus on the state of being content. The irony of “Happiness Tornado” is not lost on me- but to me that’s more about activity than end state and permanence. You can aspire and work and climb while being somewhat content. I don’t think that 100% contentment is ever going to be achievable for me personally as a state of being- nor do I necessarily believe that is desirable. I am a fighter and a climber. I need to strive. At least now as a 30-something. I leave room for change. Sebastian Marshall’s “Ikigai” is fantastic on this topic.