HAVE YOU EVER HEARD of the concept of a “breakdown before a breakthrough?” It’s this idea that, sometimes, life gets harder before it gets easier. It’s also a way of reframing our thoughts about what is happening when we are struggling with growth–whether personal or business-related.

A “breakdown before a breakthrough” promises: If we can just make it through the hard part, life will not only get a little better, there will be a seismic shift in our thinking and, therefore, in our actions and outcomes. Scaling the mountain is arduous, but there’s nothing like the view from the top.

Are you required to have a so-called “breakdown” before you have a breakthrough in your business? No. Absolutely not. You can choose something different. A breakdown is about giving in to negative emotions as you are going through difficulty. You can struggle to achieve and never experience the negative emotions of the struggle, i.e. the suffering.

Think of a really, really hard workout. You are about halfway through, you are crying, cussing and want to quit and never go back to the gym again. That’s a breakdown. You are not only struggling to finish the workout, you are suffering emotionally. Push through it and you’ll finish the workout and get that much closer to your goals. Follow through on the negative emotions and leave the gym before finishing, and you’ll never experience the positive emotions associated with the sense of accomplishing a hard goal, much less the rush when you win your first fitness competition (the breakthrough).

So what is happening with when we experience a breakdown in this context? Often times, when we push past previous self-imposed limitations, our subconscious mind–that part of our mind that acts automatically based on a lifetime of mental programming–freaks out. It wonders why we are moving out of our comfort zone into a mental and emotional place that feels very unsafe. It tries to stop us from continuing to do that because our subconscious mind’s job is to keep us feeling safe and secure.

Perhaps, for example, everything in our business has been going really, really well for quite a while. We’ve been growing and getting some new clients. More money is coming in. All of our plans are working! And then…we start feeling like we are falling apart and everything is falling apart all around us. We might:

  • Feel like crying and want to go back to bed and pull the covers over your head.
  • Want to quit.
  • Start rationalizing all the reasons why you don’t need any help any more.
  • Start having more “money” problems that aren’t really money problems.
  • Feel angry.
  • Feel sad.
  • Want to drink more.
  • Feel rebellious.
  • Want to tell clients to go screw themselves.
  • Want to go shopping or on vacation. Like, right now.
  • Feel our “imposter syndrome” come on with full force.
  • Start to think we aren’t really good at this and therefore maybe it’s time to find another career.
  • Feel really, really tired and like we could sleep for hours.
  • Feel “overwhelmed.”
  • Not want to talk to your coach, trainer, therapist or anyone else we’ve paid to help/support/guide us.
  • Feel like a victim.
  • Feel it’s someone else’s fault/problem.
  • Want to buy a whole bunch of self-help programs we think will solve the problem but, in reality, we won’t ever do them (if the past is any indication).
  • Feel impulsive.
  • Stop paying our bills.
  • Cancel appointments or show up really, really late.
  • Make excuses (“very good reasons”) for cancelling.
  • Sit around thinking “how can I get out of X.”
  • Wait for someone to challenge us so we can argue with them.
  • Avoid phone calls, texts and e-mails.
  • Feel very judgmental and find ourselves judging everyone around us.
  • Want to eat, drink and watch a Netflix marathon all day.
  • Feel like we are getting sick. Again.

This is the work of our hardworking subconscious mind, believe it or now, trying to warn us, to protect us from our irrational, childlike fears. How do I know all this? Been there. Done it. Too many times to count. I’ve also witnessed almost every client go through this same process, which led me to research and explore the subject even more. And I know there is an option for something different. We do not have to choose to give into our fears. We can make another choice.

If you find yourself experiencing a breakdown, what do you do so you don’t lose traction in your growth? Start with these three tips:

1. Take time out to nurture yourself. Remember: you are a human “being” not a human doing. Go for long walks, eat healthy food, meditate, read a good book, spend time alone in nature, watch a movie that makes you laugh. Try to replace wallowing with self-nurturing activities. Remember that it’s okay to say “no” to others for a few days and to ask others for help. HOWEVER, put a strict time limit on self-pity and wallowing. Be the master of your mind.

2. Call your coach and talk it through, especially, if you don’t want to. A good business coach wants the best for you. He or she won’t judge you and will help you process your negative emotions. He or she also will help you come up with a plan to pull yourself out. They’ll remind you this is temporary, and they’ll ask you some pointed questions to help you get to the root cause of the breakdown so you can make decisions about what you truly want for yourself and your business. Unlike a friend (or your mother) a business coach will not suggest you just chuck everything you’ve worked so hard to achieve just because you are having a bad day, or two, or three. She’ll hold space for you to feel the fear, and then she’ll challenge you to do it anyway.

3. Make yourself take ONE action–even if it is a little one–toward your goals. Even if you don’t “feel” like it. Even if it sucks. Self-discipline is your best friend. Tomorrow, take another action. Keep moving forward with your business. Focus on what you love about what you do. Why did you decide to start your own business? Why do you do what you do? How do you help people? What is it you love about what you do? What fills you with joy? Make a list of these actions, and then do more of them each day.

Remember: Everything starts with a thought, even your feelings. You have dominion over your mind and your body. Assert yourself with yourself. You can choose ANYTHING YOU WANT for you and your life. Make a list of what you want and then review that list daily. Ask yourself if your current thoughts and behaviors are going to help you get what you want. Or not.

P.S. In my experience, a gratitude list also helps. Write down several items for which you are grateful. Finish each sentence with the phrase “…and I gratefully received it.” You’ll be surprised how helpful this exercise is in shifting your energy. Fear and gratitude cannot exist in the same place at the same time. Try it! It really works.

P.P.S. Most of all, be encouraged. A breakdown like the kind I have described usually precedes a breakthrough, and if you own your business for a long time, you are likely to experience them multiple times. They usually are good indicators that you are growing so you can be the kind of person who can handle all the awesomeness that is coming. Muddle through, embrace the challenge, and when you come out on the other side, you just might be rewarded with a view to take your breath away.

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