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

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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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  • Mike Freestone

    Too often the goals get squashed when the hard work starts to break the barrier.  I guess that is a goal in and of itself in reaching the next level. Running is such a goal where you really need to put in the time to get to the next level…I am working on that.

  • Jason Fancy

    Awesome analogy. I was considering your question about what barriers we erect unknowingly. It made me think about my own situation.  I have started work on a book, but once in a while, I find myself thinking that it somehow just won’t get done! I have to grab myself and do the old boot-camp “you can do this!” scream. And it works. I have chewed through a rough outline and stated my writing purpose(the “why”), my writing plan(the”how”), and started the actual manuscript gathering(now is my “when”).
    Thanks again for the encouragement and challenge.

  • Kjmt

    It’s certainly a lot harder said than done.  If a barrier is invisible you don’t even know it’s there.  Saying “push past it” isn’t that helpful.   If you can identify a barrier– “I can’t do xyz…”–  then maybe.   But that’s a barrier you’re aware of.

    • Michael Hyatt

      This might be helpful: Look at some aspect of your life where you are not seeing the results you want. Maybe it’s a relationship. Maybe it’s your career. Maybe it’s your health. Ask, am I stuck because I am hitting up against an invisible barrier in my mind. Maybe it’s a limiting belief that is keeping your from seeing the progress you want. Does it exist “out there” in the real world or is it something in your head.

  • Lrdixon

    I want to pursue a creative direction in my life and I am thinking it might mean leaving a job which increasing full of distress. 

  • Phil Rothschild

    A great word Mike. I bet you never imagined you would be “breaking through” w Platform U several years ago when you started blogging. Phil and Jennifer

    • Michael Hyatt

      I definitely didn’t!

  • Jamesethomas2

    Talking to and recruiting individuals for my new business. I thought I was good when I did it for other companies. But doing it on my own has been a whole other mindset challenge!

  • Eileen

    Great post.  I know most of my battles are fought in the mind.  And my mind has a way of making the “what ifs” so much scarier than they really are.  I made the decision earlier today to  commit to another conference.  The conference isn’t for several more months but I  am signing up this weekend. (No turning back!)  I’m excited and nervous all at the same time. 

  • Jackie Ulmer

    GREAT insight and analogy. And something I have learned. We can fall back into those “barriers” at many times, even after periods of success. Self doubt and “sabotage” can creep in. So, it’s important to be aware, focused and take steps to get out of the funk when it sets in!

  • Lawrence W. Wilson

    It’s funny how easy it is to spot these internal barriers in others but how difficult to recognize them in ourselves. I’m coming to grips with one of mine right now. 

  • Steve10562

    How is Chuck Yeager breaking the sound barrier a mental obstacle? Pilots died trying to break the speed of sound. 

    I agree with your message, but this is a bad example.

    • Michael Hyatt

      The reason is that because ultimately somebody had to believe it was possible before they could figure out how to do it. Everything starts in the mind. Thanks.

  • JP Nicholas

    Helpful reminder our mindset allows or limits so much of what we do/don’t accomplish. Of course Yeager, Bannister and other barrier breakers had rare gifts, personalities and training suited to their tasks. So lets be sure we’ve got the right stuff to tackle the barriers we’re going after, so we don’t hit walls n go down in flames (wondering why possibility thinking wasn’t enough).

  • Tinty

    Reading your article above and ‘the comfort zone’ article together helped me to click ‘accept’ on my invitation to study a Masters of Management – the invitation has been open for a few weeks now. While I’m rarely considered a ditherer… I have been going around the bend trying to decide what to do. Thank you!

  • Melissa Davis

    Terrific post Michael. You’ve given me a great ‘trigger’ word to use – every time I find myself trying to blame external factors, I’m going to say “barracuda”!  Mind you there are times when external barriers contribute to the problem too, but it’s still your own mind that works to make them tougher or more challenging than they necessarily are or need to be. 
    Thanks so much for flipping the switch for me.  My current big hairy audacious goal is to go back to the book I started writing last year and actually finish it. 

  • Julie Sunne

    My goal to be a published author is way out of my comfort zone. But then it’s not always about being comfortable or even about me now is it? Love the barracuda analogy. Time to set goals and find a way around or through those barriers. Thanks, Michael.

  • Dave Leingang

    I think besides having a self-limiting belief a person can also be paralyzed due to their internal fears.

  • Leslie A

    Oh, my goodness. This is very timely. I have spent the last six months writing a novel and I am deathly afraid to finish it, because that will be what shows me if I have any possibility of success in this writing thing and I am so afraid the answer will be NO.  I have a very large barrier in my mind regarding this and I know I have to get past it if I have even a chance for success. 

  • pinksnowballcakes

    Fantastic.. read. I believe its only when we get out the Comfort zone we can see beneath the surface … 

  • Mark A Santana

    I’ve just started blogging (Thanks to your previous “how to” posts) and Im beginning to encounter barriers I wasn’t even aware of. This is a very timely post for me. Thanks!

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  • Tony Lima

    Thanks Mike! Right now I am planning to launch my own local marketing business to help local small business’s establish a web presence. I feel like that barracuda most days!

  • Ben Ross

    So true, which is why i’ve made it such a focus of mine to learn how to get rid of those inner barriers!

    My main barrier at the moment is around money. I’m very close to achieving my initial goal i’ve been working on for several months and in the next week or two I have to sit down and think about where to go next.  And that will take alot of digging into my internal beliefs and barriers and starting to clear them out.


  • Rhonda

    Wow, thanks.  This exactly what I needed to read today.  

  • Andy Mort

    Thanks for this inspiring post Michael. Great illustration, and linking this invisible barrier to something internal, ie our comfort zone.  The implication being that we are collectively a barracuda – we believe together that we can’t achieve things, and our barriers are socially conditioned, not just within individual comfort zones, but within the comfort zone of the collective whole (society). We laugh at and question when people go out and do something different with their life, we don’t believe that they will succeed (often we even want them to fail)- essentially we don’t encourage one another in the pursuit of our extraordinary personal selves.  

    On the flip side, the little fish swam around everywhere, they got to where they were wanting to go and they showed one another how to get there. Interesting. Man, you’ve really got me thinking!

    Just a quick aside. Did this research actually happen? I was just thinking about it and it seems ridiculous. I couldn’t find anything about it online. Not that it matters, real or allegorical it still has the same impact, I’d just be genuinely very interested to see more about it if it were true because it’s fascinating!! 

    Thanks for doing what you do.

  • Adam Smith

    I needed this, Michael. Thanks

  • Stephen Guise

    Man, I am such a barracuda sometimes. Can this be a saying now?

  • Sunganani L. Manjolo

    I have a goal of earning a certain amount of money per month (think over $20,000) by the end of  6 months. It’s been a stretch. Some mental glass barriers have been taken out and there are a few more to go.

    I needed to read this post. 

    Thanks Mike

  • Jerome

    Helping 5 people earn $5000+ monthly each with the Idaho company I’ve partnered with. That’s my stretch and ‘other side’! Jerome in Boise
    Thanks Michael!

  • Charlie Edwards

    My glass barrier is the “more time” thing. I wrote my 1st novel as a single man. Now I’m married with many time-consuming activities and I need to write the sequel. The quiet time to focus alludes me. Thanks for the challenge Michael. 

  • Yemi

    Hi Michael, my goal is to have 6 clients on a retainership basis by end 2013. It’s outside my comfort zone because it would be much easier for me to just operate as a contractor rather than building a business and becoming an employer

    • Michael Hyatt

      Good for you. That is a solid, clear goal. You can do it!

  • Vicki Cato

    I look forward to reading your post every day. Today’s zeroed in on my weakness. Thank you!

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  • Thad Puckett

    You wrote:  The reason why most of us don’t accomplish more is because we set our goals inside our mental barriers, where it’s safe.

    I think what is so disquieting to me, deep in my soul, is that I have lived this too many times.  And like the barracuda, the change is incremental, not stark and sudden.

    Thanks for challenging me (again).

  • Rpeterson311

    I am an independent medical device sales rep. I need to break the belief that I don’t deserve to be successful and still be a great mom to move my business to the next level.

  • Philip Hughes

    It really is only “Mind over Matter”…. If you don’t Mind,,, then it really doesn’t Matter.  M/M.
    “As we think,,, we become….”
    “Thought precedes Action”. 
    “If you think you can,,, or can’t,,, you’re right,,, you will or you won’t.”
    Og Mandino’s great work, “The Greatest Salesman in the World” is also a great read on Thought, Action, and Habit.  One naturally precedes and follows the other. 

  • Adam Collier

    Great post Michael, I’ve noticed that people grow to feel safe inside their invisible barricades, and they then try to project them onto others.  You cant do that because _____.  

  • Adam Collier

    Great post Michael, I’ve noticed that people grow to feel safe inside their invisible barricades, and they then try to project them onto others.  You cant do that because _____.

  • Bill Marsh

    Reading this insightful post reminds me that this is one of the key marks of great leaders. In every field–sports, sales, academics, the arts, etc–the best leaders equip their people to stretch themselves beyond thier self-limiting beliefs and achieve more than they thought possible.

  • Rebecca H Shaffer

    How sad it is that we are our own captors!? Thanks for this refreshing post.

  • Judy Oltman

    Finishing the last few college hours left to complete to degree and singing solo again.

  • Lori Tracy Boruff

    I’m a big dreamer like God-sized dreams. If He’s not in it, it won’t
    happen. I always run into people a.k.a. family members who shoot the
    dreams down. It helps to put my expectations in God rather than people. The other thing is to have friends or family who believe in you and what God wants to do in your life.

  • Vanya

    Setting up a niche site–completely outside my comfort zone. But yesterday I sat down and took my first steps towards achieving this, and have scheduled time in my calendar to work on it.

  • Ather

    Good stuff Mike and indeed a very important lesson. There is so much that does not happen just because we don’t think far enough or believe strong enough. Reading this post reminds me of a post I wrote titled “The Creative Stretch” few months back. The crux was that we need to set our goals far and high enough and that enables us to become more creative to achieve them, even surprising ourselves. Here is the link: again for the great post!

  • keithlbell

    My goal that is outside of my comfort zone has been to publish books. I’ve written for most of my adult life, but I have kept my work in safe circles.

    Frankly, I’m sick and tired of playing it safe! And thanks to people like you Michael, I am set to go for it or bust!

  • Coach A

    Thanks Mike! I’m a Head Football coach in Texas who took over a loosing program last year…a school and a team that has given up on winning and being successful. Day by day we are making progress in changing the “Culture” and this read will be perfect for one of my daily preaching sermons….keep up your pod cast…really enjoying it too.

  • Cocoshan

    Hi Mike,
    I am a Chinese who have been doing my master for only half a year in Chicago . Currently , the goal outside my comfort zone is to try to blend myself to American culture and build up myself professionally in American business world ,even when my English still needs to improve . I have been following you by listening to your podcast for half a year ,which have benefited me a lot and inspired me a lot . I will continue following you and learn more from you .
    Thank you very much !

    Good luck with your work
    Coco Shan

  • Jonathan Gaby

    I think this post (in email format) will be saved for a long time. Thank you, Michael, for writing this post. See, I think that we all at times “get in our own way”. When a big idea comes or even a small thing we stay in our own zone and fool ourselves. I’m working on finding what is on the “other side of the glass barrier” and break through. 

  • Michele Welch

    LOVE that Michael! So true. It’s our self-imposed barriers that keeps up from taking bigger risks and playing full out. Tackle those inner gremlins and a whole new realm of possibility opens up. 

    Thanks for sharing this awesome story. :)

  • Tracey Moore

    The goal that I currently have that is outside of my comfort zone is to do a radio interview. I have never done one, but I am pursuing that. I am hoping that I will be able to land one eventually so that I can get the message of my book, Oasis For My Soul, out to more people. However, that requires knocking on doors and getting turned down, and noone likes to experience rejection, right? So I have to try to get comfortable with rejection and not take it personally. I have been told it’s a numbers game, and I am going to trust the Lord to open doors that no man can shut. As Joel Osteen said, one more “no” will get me closer to “yes.”

  • @kylereed

    Finishing a project is often out of my comfort zone. I can come up with ideas, business proposals and products, but bringing them to finality is my biggest barrier. 

    I am about to enter into a season that will be ful of these barriers and I am really working on not letting that barrier be there knowing that it is not. It will not hold me back.

  • Mark Guay