A friend was on the verge of a breakdown.
I could see it in his body language, tone, and general life outlook. He was stuck in a cycle of unhappiness, bad habits, and helplessness. These symptoms were chasing him through a cycle of misery.
Until the day, he chose to see the situation differently!
Ultimately, he had gotten sick & tired of being a victim of his circumstances — some of which he could control, and many others he could not. It was that very life-altering day when he went passed breakDOWN and entered breakTHROUGH.
I certainly have been there before. Yet by being an observer of his situation, I was able to see that there is a formula to breaking through.
The stress, restlessness, and anxiety of a breakdown is a clue that something is wrong. And if we choose to listen and act with intention, we can make different choices.
Although transformation is certainly not guaranteed. We fall victim to the situations around us, recognize them, and then get up and do the exact same thing the next day.
Until…the day we DON’T.
So how do we get passed breaking down, and achieve a breakthrough?
Perhaps it’s as simple as:
If Breakthrough = Breakdown + X ; then what does “X” represent?
When “X” = Sleep
This is the old adage of “sleep on it, things will look differently in the morning”. This formula works particularly well after a long day or an exhausting week. We don’t make good decisions when we do not take care of ourselves.
However, experts cannot agree on whether “sleeping on it” actually helps us make better decisions.
Take, for example, this argument made on the Today Show based on some recent Harvard Business School research where the panel suggests sleeping on it may be a waste of time. We should actually go with our gut reaction.
And in this corner we have Harvard expert, Robert Stockgold’s explanation from a fascinating New Yorker article titled “The Work We Do While We Sleep” that declares sleeping and dreaming help us sift through the details and get to the “gist”. He says, “When we dream, we get the pieces. When we wake, we can know the whole.”
Although experts are undecided, your breakthrough may be only one good night’s sleep away.
Perhaps the experts need to sleep on it?
When “X” = Experience
The older I get, the more I understand experience is the key to new thinking.
Good decisions come from experience, and experience comes from bad decisions.
As Malcolm Shepherd Knowles brilliantly coined in his Adult Learning Theory, experience becomes more important to how we learn as we age. He called it “Andragogy”, or adult education.
One of the principles of his theory is that adults must have experience with the subject matter to effectively learn and retain it. He suggested that when “teaching an old dog new tricks”, an adult must practice the new skill, and get it wrong a few times, to actually master the material.
In the late 90’s, I volunteered to help a retirement community learn how to use personal computers. Talk about a painful learning experience (… of course, I am referring to the volunteers’ pain!) But I recall the teacher saying something that has stuck with me.
As the novice techies initially sat paralyzed by the fear of the foreign devices before them, she said, “Your own experience is the best teacher…so sit down, shut up, and start learning. There will be time for questions later.”
There is truth in that brash statement.
We often don’t know the questions to ask until we have experience with the situation or material. And just like a non-verbal toddler who cries for what they want before she has the skills to ask, we breakdown.
Perhaps we must totally absorb the experience of a breakdown, in order to experience the rainbow it leaves behind.
When “X” = Mindfulness
Several years ago, I began practicing mindfulness.
(Of course that was after I backed into our closed garage door, because my mind was already on the mountain of work awaiting me at the office.)
Again, experience is a great, and sometimes painful, teacher.
Anyway…since beginning my practice, I’ve realized that I mindlessly give away most my precious and valuable resource — time, all the time.
Mindfulness expert, Ellen Langer describes mindfulness as “the process of actively noticing new things” in this HRB article. In the context of a breakdown, or in my friend’s situation from above, mindfulness brings new perspective.
It reframes how the situation feels into knowledge, motivation, and energy. Being intentional prevents us from thoughtlessly making our previous mistakes or blindly falling into old habits.
Mindfulness is still very much a practice for me. Some days it takes a great practitioner to remind me of its power. And on those days, I listen to this Tricycle Talks podcast with the great Yoda herself, Sharon Salzberg and her approach to Real Happiness at work.
(Seriously, I have listened to this interview so many times that I mouth her words, and echo her belly laughs! Mindfully, of course. )
When “X” = Persistence
I have been living with this post of a while now. I wasn’t sure what it was, but something just wasn’t right to me.
Then I heard the words “break down” in the chorus of a song, and suddenly I knew what was missing.
Here’s to the break ups that didn’t break us,
The break down wrong turn that takes ya
To a little dive bar in Dahlonega
Hear a song from a band that saves ya
Man, it’s a hittin rock bottom, smoke em if ya got em,
Nothings goin right
Makin the best of the worst day kinda night
The missing “X” was persistence.
Sometimes you have to nudge, and push your way to a breakthrough.
Three “Breakthroughs” I Later Learned About This Song:
#1. Dahlonega is a small town in Georgia, population 5,242, and apparently a well-documented, “good place to retire”. It was also the home of the first major gold rush in the United States.
#2. Now knowing the lyrics take us to a bar, you may have already guessed this is a country song. But it is also the breakthrough hit called “A Little Bar in Dahlonega” for new country artist, Ashley McBryde.
#3. I was immediately drawn in to this chorus…because I have lived this chorus.
Break downs, wrong turns, unexpected detours, and long days — I have been there.
…Haven’t we all?
Hitting the bottom, can’t get it right, finding comfort in a good song & cold drink — I still go there.
But yet, we persist.
We shake ourselves off, make the best of it, and try again…and again…and again…until BREAKTHROUGH just like Ashley McBryde did.
Oh yeah. And as for that lil’ bar? Well, I met my husband of almost 13 years in one just like it.
He resisted. But I persisted and ultimately, broke through with suitcases in hand.
Truth be told, there could be a lot of variables that complete this formula:
If Breakthrough = Breakdown + X ; then what does “X” represent?
What does “X” represent for you?
Stacy Cassio had to sit with this post and experience it a while before publishing. But after a good night’s sleep and some early morning mindfulness…
Works every time.