The One Thing You Must Do to Achieve Break-Through Results

I often meet people who are stuck in one area of their life or another. They want a break-through, but they can’t seem to get traction.

The One Thing You Must Do to Achieve Break-Through Results

Photo courtesy of ©

Contrary to what they think, it’s not about having:

  • More money;
  • More time;
  • The right contacts; or
  • Better luck.

Instead, it almost always is about overcoming an invisible barrier that exists in their own head.

The barrier isn’t something external. It’s something internal—something they have created in their own mind.

Years ago, I heard a speaker talk about a research project conducted by a marine biologist. It seems he put a barracuda in a large tank. He then released smaller, bait fish into the same tank. As expected, the barracuda attacked and ate the smaller fish.

Then the researcher inserted a piece of glass into the tank, creating two separate chambers. He put the barracuda into one and new bait fish into the second. The barracuda immediately attacked.

This time, however, he hit the glass and bounced off. Undaunted, the barracuda kept repeating this behavior every few minutes. Meanwhile, the bait fish swam unharmed in the second chamber. Eventually, the barracuda gave up.

The biologist repeated this experiment several times over the next few days. Each time, the barracuda got less aggressive, until eventually he got tired of hitting the glass and stopped striking altogether.

Then the researcher removed the glass. The barracuda, now trained to believe a barrier existed between him and the bait fish, didn’t attack. The bait fish swam unassailed, wherever they wished.

Too often, we are like the barracuda. The barrier isn’t “out there.” It only exists inside our heads.

Think how many other barriers have turned out to be only mental obstacles:

  • The sound barrier. Pilots didn’t think it was possible to fly faster than 768 miles an hour (the speed of sound at sea level). Then Chuck Yeager officially broke the sound barrier on October 14, 1947.
  • The four-minute mile. Runners didn’t think it was possible to run a mile in less than four minutes. Then, in 1954, Roger Bannister ran it in 3:59.4.
  • The two-hour marathon. Endurance athletes didn’t think it was possible to run a marathon in less than two hours. Now several athletes are on the verge of breaking Geoffrey Mutai’s world-record of 2:03.02.

The reason why most of us don’t accomplish more is because we set our goals inside our mental barriers, where it’s safe. (That’s why it’s called “the comfort zone.”)

But if you want to get unstuck and start getting traction again, you have to set your goals on the other side of the barrier. You don’t have to get crazy, but you do have to stretch yourself and push past the invisible barrier in your head.

This is the secret to achieving break-through results.

Question: What goal do you currently have that is outside your comfort zone? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Mark Guay

    Thanks Michael. This is such a powerful anecdote. I see the metaphor of the barracuda every year when teaching seniors in high school, which furthers my wonder on how schools can further help motivate students to not fall for what Seth Godin called The Icarus Deception. Thanks for the poignant example which I plan to share with my students. My mental barrier? Leaving the safe money of a teaching career to spend more quality time on my writing – transforming education to meet the skills needed to excel in the economy of tomorrow. Thanks again!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Mark. It’s much easier to see the glass wall in other people’s heads than our own, isn’t it? How cool to work with high school students and get them to think this way from the get-go.

  • Elizabeth Watts

    This is so true. One thing I am starting this week is blogging. I am a decent writer but I worry about being judged a lot. I know it is in my own head though.

  • Kristopher Bosch

    The ‘out of my comfort zone’ move is going out on my own and starting my own practice.  I am a physical therapist, and totally agree with your statements – it’s not about not having enough time, or not having the skills to be successful.  It is the fear of starting from scratch and having to support a family that is part of my mental barrier.   I want to be prepared, but I also have to take action and not get stuck in the ‘analysis paralysis!’

  • Diana Reid

    Simple but Massively effective! We seem to live within a set of lenses and forget that we can take the lens off! only then we can see further. Thanks Michael.

  • Liviu

    I am not nativ english speaker(as you can see!). English is my barrier in many important thing in my life.  Today I decide to learn english every day; Respect Mike.

  • Trevor Wilson

    We shouldn’t just try to push beyond our comfort zone — we need to smash through that sucker! Blow it to pieces!

    That is the only way to fully realize its insignificance. Like you say, we make the barriers ourselves. And it’s up to us to remove them. Brutally.

    Only through the utter destruction of our own limiting beliefs will we ever be able to realize our full potential.


  • Deborah

    I am never any less awed that I continually attract to me exactly what i needed to hear/see/do in that moment.  Thank you, Michael.  I am deeply grateful for what you share and that I found you.

  • Roger Messner

    Outside of my comfort zone…leaving an unfulfilling job with an unfulfilling paycheck to a job with an uncertain monitary compinsation.

    NOT that I don’t trust you, but can you share thr reference point of the barracuda study? Thanks

    • Michael Hyatt

      Unfortunately, I can’t. As I mentioned in the post, I heard a speaker use it. I don’t know it’s true or not. I couldn’t find a source. Thanks.

  • Judi

    This post is great and love the Barracuda story … so true!  I just wrote my blog post this week on Taking Risks … one of my favorite Improv rules and life lessons.  It’s all about thinking and dreaming big … thinking way outside the box and not listening to that little devil that’s called “resistance” (big fan of Stephen Pressfield’s “Do The Work”).   Thanks for the post and for all you do … always love reading and sharing your posts with my network!

    • Jim Martin

      Judi, Pressfield’s “Do the Work” was very meaningful to me as well.  You are right.  It is easy to yield to our own “resistance.”

  • TJ Trent


    Your article reiterates the principles John Maxwell discussed in “Thinking for a Change”.  Thanks, this was very helpful and I needed to hear this now.

  • Ben Matthews

    “I am willing to put myself through anything; temporary pain or discomfort means nothing to me as long as I can see that the experience will take me to a new level. I am interested in the unknown, and the only path to the unknown is through breaking barriers, an often painful process.” -Diana Nyad 

    • Jim Martin

      Ben, I love this quote.  Thanks so much for sharing this with us.

  • Benjamin W Roberts

    One mental barrier I am always having to overcome is phone calls with potential clients. I always want to put off those initial cold calls for some reason, I guess because of a fear of rejection. Eventhough money is on the line it’s still hard for me.

  • Flybabymom

    I’m involved in bringing a movie to our town for screening.  It’s pushing me WAY past my comfort zone–advertising, media contacts for interviews…it’s all bigger than I am.  I have a great small team, but it’s still almost overwhelming.  And in a 2-1/2 week time frame!  Hebrews 10:35 is getting me through–”Don’t cast away your confidence, which has great reward.”

  • Sandra

    My comfort zone comprises of the fact that I realy realy realy need to lose weight,I know this for a fact!! I have such a lot I want to accomplish this year and I know that losing weight,toning up and also striving to be the woman God wants me to be is part of this,I have always had an issue with my body, at school I didnt eat, then I got married ate too much, then got divorced,didnt eat, 12 years later i have developed on and off unhealthy self image, I was praying the other day and all of the sudden, the Holy Spirit revealed to me that the reason why I cannot seem to get victory over my eating habits is that my purpose in life has somehow have to do with the way I look. Oh my word!!! I cried and yelled and praised God for that revelation, I always thought that it is because I was weak with no self control,but now I know that I am moving towards something amazing where I need to be fit and healthy, so in one day, with that revelation grasped,I have made more progress in self control than in all the years of strugling and beating myself up. Enough said, Have a great day and thanks for you inspiring e-mails

  • Kaz Maslanka

    First of all I am an artist that has a muse that forces me to make the kind of art that I make. The barrier in my head is believing that what I do will affect more than a handful of people.  (so why do it?) My work is digitally created visual art with mathematical poetry centering around a zen philosophy, embedded inside the visual work. – I imagine your advice will be to change the artwork but unfortunately muses don’t bargain well.  

  • Ndidi lilian

    Hey! I am up and jumping over this! This is too much Michael. Needed to hear this just now, really. You sure do know what to write about and how to write it and greatly inspire someone! You are a huge blessing to me and those who hear you on a consistent basis. God bless you. Love you loads!

    • Jim Martin

      Glad this post spoke to you Ndidi. I think this post is very encouraging to many of us.

  • Gina Cleminson

    Great pep talk! Very inspiring!

  • Maoojelabi

    Great load of poignant truth. Used to think what we seek is the comfort zone, but clearly we excel greatly outside of it. Thanks.

  • Kaz Maslanka

    When I first started following your blog – I seriously thought
    that it was too akin to business people and too off topic for an artist. But
    the more I read the more it dawned on me that the people you were addressing
    were really not that different from me. You talked about the importance of
    influence.  It was easy for me to connect
    to this concept for the sustainably of artists are proportional to their
    influence.  When I read this latest entry
    of yours I thought that I certainly can relate since I have a mental block that
    I think is sharable.  Since my original
    question/comment never showed up on your blog, I can only assume you felt that
    it was off topic.  However, in your
    dismissal of it you confirmed my fears that my work is too esoteric for the
    mainstream.  In fact, just the question
    alone found its way to be too esoteric and off topic in your eyes when in fact
    I believe it is exactly the topic you are discussing, yet, I am surprised that you
    could not see it. I can only assume that the verbiage was in a context to
    personal or foreign to you so let me rewrite it in something more familiar:

    I have a calling in life to produce a product (A body of
    artwork) that I believe is too difficult for the general population to connect
    with and consequential will never sell.  How does one overcome the self doubt and
    continue to put tremendous effort in such a thing?

    Sincerely, Kaz Maslanka 

  • Kathryn Crawford Wheat

    Speaking to a room filled with thousands of people.

  • Mark Kaplan

    Thanks Mike.  Job #1 is be aware of the artificial glass that causes us to compromise our potential/destiny, like the Barracuda.  Most often, it’s someone that we trusted who established in our minds that we weren’t enough.  THEY inserted the glass….usually the same glass that was imposed on them.  True happiness & achievement comes to those who break the chain of negativity.  Of course, I’m talking about Self-Discovery to re-establish that inner-child who always knew he could do it. 

  • Michael Hyatt

    You’d have to give me something specific, Jesse. I don’t know how to answer in the abstract. Thanks.

  • Jbistline35

    Trying to get past what others think of me and all the knowledge I have about children in the church. I feel I am not listened too, or taken seriously

  • zcoffeegirl

    I have several ideas on writing and I long to do it…I keep asking myself what is holding me back..I have several excuses..but what is the real invisible barrier?  Failure.  That I won’t be creative enough, smart enough and will disappoint myself because it has been a desire for so long.  There I said it out loud.

    • Jim Martin

      Good for you!  You have just named your fear and even posted it here.  That alone is a huge step.  

  • Sjw2481

    That’s it? That’s your advice? Push through? Really?

    Worst advice ever!

  • Kvang71

    I agree a lot with what you had to say. However, what about those darn marine biologist? :-) I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. Although I agree that we created these barriers; many times we have a marine biologist messing with our heads. Hopefully, I don’t give away my manhood by referencing the Disney film, Tangled, where she was duped to believe that the world was a really ugly and dangerous place by evil witch. 

    Thanks for your insight.

  • Debbie Norred

    I have a goal of learning to sing.  I was told at a young age that I could not carry a tune.   I believed that until God began to encourage me through different situations to SING!  So now at the age of 51 I am embarking on taking vocal lessons and it is definitely out of my comfort zone.  At times I hear that voice saying “you can not carry a tune” screaming back at me.  I will try to visualize this voice as a barrier that is keeping me back from getting to the goal of singing in tune.  With God all things are possible.  Thanks for your post it was encouraging.  I have a voice lesson tomorrow and will definitely be thinking of this post as an encouragement to keep on singing till I get to the land of “in tune”!

    • Jim Martin

      Congratulations on taking on this challenge, Debbie.  It is very encouraging to hear that you are going against an old message and are pushing through beyond your comfort zone.  Thanks for sharing this.

  • jen

    Hi Michael. The out-of-comfort and even out-of-sensible-planning thing i am doing is stew over several book ideas ! 

  • Misty Williams

    This is brilliant, Mike.  :)

  • Julaine

    Writing a book

  • Kathy

    Very cool post Michael!  I love the barracuda story.  Sometimes I’m not even aware of what is holding me back.  This was a good post for me to really look at where I am and where I want to be.  Thanks!

  • Elias Lionsgateinfo

    That was an encouraging short excerpt Mike, I tend to focus on what can’t be done rather than what can.

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  • Padlinroun

    I love this concept and the bope it gives me. I’d like to learn more.

  • Gothope77

    Disney princesses half marathon this Sunday. I’m 52 and every pre race run has been a struggle…I’m not a runner. But I’m doing it as part of a fund raising opportunity to help some friends in the Dominican republic. So it’s worth it! Hope to see you there!!

    • John Tiller

      Awesome!   Good luck!

    • Barry Hill

      You are going to do great!

  • Robert Kennedy III

    This is a great story.  I will probably use it at some point :-).  I was just talking to a friend the other day about the fact that we don’t accomplish certain goals because we are nervous about what others might think.  In fact, they aren’t thinking about us at all and we have made up the story in our own heads.  Time to Create a new story.

  • Mike Veny

    Great story Michael. For the past few months, I’ve been operating outside of my comfort zone. I feel vulnerable, excited, and overwhelmed, yet I am seeing more momentum and results than I have ever achieved in my life.

    Thank you for your great podcast, Platform book, and blog.

  • Joe Wickman

    Wow. Fantastic inspiration. Thank you, Michael.

  • AccentJim

    The mental response was also changed for the bait fish. It was no longer a victim. I imagine the experiment was more effective because they were both enrolled in a new reality.

    • Michael Hyatt

      That’s a great insight. Thanks for sharing!

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  • Anita Mathias

    Hmm, this is less practical than usual.

    You don’t have to get crazy, but you do have to stretch yourself and push past the invisible barrier in your head.

    But how? Just do it?

    • Michael Hyatt

      My goal in the post was to convince the reader that the barriers are often in our head. Thanks.

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  • Kimberly Contreraz

    I would love to run a half marathon in under 2 hours. My PR in the half is 2 hours 14 minutes. I know it’s possible to run my goal time, I just need to dig deep and truly believe it’s possible. Then put that belief to work.

  • James Beeman

    Michael, thanks for the encouragement to remain persistent and remove those internal barriers to personal, meaningful life goals.