From Breakdown To Breakthrough In Four Easy Steps

Instead of treating your breakdown like something that should not have happened, accept it as an inevitable part of being human.

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Don't beat yourself up about having a breakdown.  SHUTTERSTOCK
Don't beat yourself up about having a breakdown. SHUTTERSTOCK

Having a breakdown sounds so dramatic, and so final.  Yet, if you are someone who makes plans, lists goals, and sets intentions, then having frequent breakdowns is inevitable.  It’s how you deal with your breakdowns that makes all the difference.  Beating yourself up for having broken a promise you made (usually to yourself) really doesn’t help. There is a process that will allow you to turn your breakdown into a breakthrough.

A breakdown is when some possibility, intention, or commitment is frustrated, thwarted, or stopped.  When something doesn’t go as you intended, or when you don’t do what you said you would do – that’s a breakdown. 

When it comes to making life-changing choices, it’s your brave, creative, determined, and future-focused intentional self who hopefully is in charge. It’s your intentional self who comes up with questions such as “How do I want to spend my time?” “What could I do more of if I said ‘no’ to things that don’t matter?” “What makes me feel whole?”  “What matters most?” “What brings me joy?” “Who do I want in my life?”And crucially, only your intentional self will generate answers based not on the pain of the past or how ‘good’ you look to others, but based entirely on the possibility of you living a life you love. 

Unfortunately, it’s not always our intentional self who’s running the show. That’s when we have breakdowns. When you make a commitment to yourself to be kind and empathetic, and find yourself raging at colleagues; when you promise yourself you won’t get drunk at the Christmas party, and recall being shoved into a taxi by your boss; when you declare to your colleagues that you will never again apologize for no reason, and catch yourself saying “sorry” again, for the umpteenth time, this is what I mean by having a breakdown. And I can’t think of one single time when my (or my client’s) intentional self was responsible for the breakdown.

1.Put your Intentional Self back in charge.

The secret is to put your Intentional Self back in charge. Your intentional self knows by now that breakdowns are a normal and necessary part of life.  The more promises we make, and the harder they are to keep, the more likely it is that we will break them.

So, instead of treating your breakdown like something that should not have happened, accept it as an inevitable part of being human.

2. Apologize

Then, on behalf of your intentional self, apologize to everyone concerned. “I apologize for losing my temper so horribly just now.”

3. Re-commit

Then, re-commit: “My intention is to be a kind and empathetic colleague, and I am committed to being this way with you in the future.”

4. Request Support In Staying On Track

And finally, ask for support and build your humanity into the plan: “May I ask, that whenever I lose it again, you remind me of my commitment to be a kind and empathetic colleague?”

Humour helps. Perhaps you can come up with some way to diffuse the situation for yourself and others?  
One client (the one who loses her temper more than she’d like) has a troll doll on her desk which she’s asked colleagues to point at on the rare occasions when she gets mad at them.  

Another client (the one who apologizes for himself when he’s done nothing wrong) invited friends and colleagues to say “Doormat” when he does it again – they were resistant at first, but when they saw how it made him smile, they persisted.

The client who committed to never drinking alcohol again at a Christmas party will be wearing a laminated badge of Frank Zappa, who is famously tee-total, on his lapel this year. 


In this way, every breakdown can serve as an opportunity for a breakthrough: to move things forward, to provide you with what’s missing, and to free yourself from some limitation that allows you to achieve an immediate leap in performance and quality of life.

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