Tsunami of Change – Make a Breakthrough

by Marc Winitz

This is Part 1 of a series on training yourself to achieve breakthroughs.

One of the most rewarding aspects of self development through any activity, and one that is clearly seen in martial arts training, are the significant breakthroughs that occur in both mental acuity and physical performance over time. These are milestone events and are best described as getting yourself to the next level of ability or performance. I say “milestone events” because the changes, while not immediately noticeable to you, are very tangible based on how you view them.

Most performance development breakthroughs don’t happen quickly and it is not uncommon (really it is more the norm) that you actually won’t realize you have made a breakthrough at any one point in time. This is also true for some types of personal or mental improvement. There is usually no “Aha moment” for breakthroughs in performance development in the Oprah sense. The changes are subtle. It’s a bit like a tsunami (more on this below). I want to point out I am not taking about suddenly recognizing something about yourself and deciding you want to change whatever that is. That’s another type of breakthrough outside the scope of my training and teaching ability.

An easy way to describe the breakthrough concept I am referring to is to think about the development of a specific skill, like writing, public speaking or a sports activity and get a baseline of where you are at that point in time. For example, in karate training a simplistic way to view this is looking at differences in belt levels. A yellow belt can kick with minimal power, poor targeting focus and rudimentary balance. That yellow belt works hard, gets pushed by senior students and over time improves. A year later at testing, the person is now a blue belt who can generate substantial focused power to a specific target and not fall over when making contact. I am sure you can think of similar examples to activities you are familiar with but you get the idea.

It’s important to look at performance both in the short and long term.

The Value of Short Term Results
Our society values short term results. There is nothing wrong with this but most personal and performance development really occurs over long periods of time. The short term results are valuable to us however because:

  1. We see where we are currently and visualize where we want to get to next;
  2. We can try new techniques or approaches and potentially see small changes of improvement;
  3. We get frustrated because we are not making the change as quickly as we’d like

The final point of all three of these – frustration – is key. It’s the most important one. Often times we dismiss too quickly whether or not we are achieving something because we are not getting the “immediate results” we are looking for. I am not saying immediate results are wrong, just don’t make an “end all be all” judgment on whether or not you are making progress towards something just because you are not getting the desired change quickly enough. Most of the time you can’t so don’t stop what you are doing without serious reflection. All of the points above are great markers both for the actual activity you are undertaking and from a character building perspective, especially (but not exclusively) when a physical activity is being pursued.

The Tsunami Approach – Long Term Improvement
As I said above, breakthroughs occur over long periods of time but they are only successful if you intensely pursue whatever the activity is. In any physical activity it’s associated with doing the physical elements regularly. In public speaking it may be simply taking more opportunities to address groups, speak in public, do a presentation with peers, etc…For a software developer it may be focusing on a specific technology and applying AGILE practices regularly for a period of time to create new software. I point this out because whether or not you realize it you may be half way towards breakthrough training. The intensity matters. Just doing something over a long period of time will eventually lead to some form of breakthrough. But to get them more quickly you have to sustained periods of intensity to move yourself up the achievement ladder.

Tsunami waves are defined as large bursts of intense amount of energy. They travel large distances (typically but not always) and reflecting their result only right at the end. It’s at that end point, and especially if you take the metaphor and look back at yourself, that you see the change. Interestingly on a scientific level you can be in the middle of an ocean with a tsunami passing underneath you and you won’t necessarily notice it. Its intense power is lurking below and only raises its devastation up as it approaches the shore line. Personal development breakthroughs are a very similar to this same concept.

(I’ll add that I have been thinking about this post for some time and the recent events of the earthquake in Chile that caused massive devastation and the resulting tsunamis that struck different parts of the area are both tragic and a reminder of the power of nature. I have been to South America many times and my heart is with the Chilean people right now.)

I like the generic picture of the term tsunami as it serves as a visual cue for me in different periods of training for improvement regardless of the activity. In essence, if I choose to work on something specific for a breakthrough (like the kicking example or public speaking). I like thinking of the wave and associating it with the activity. It’s an easy way to remind myself of the focus I am placing on it versus “just doing kicks better” or “improving my public speaking”. I grew up on the shore of Pacific Ocean so it works for me. Nature is also such a relevant part of martial arts training as so many concepts are culled from it. If the nature aspect doesn’t work for you, find something relevant to help you as a visual cue to associate what you are focusing on. It really does work.

A Training Framework to Achieve Breakthrough
This is purposefully generic. I am outlining the general steps I see when teaching others in terms of how to achieve long term breakthroughs.

  1. Set a baseline for yourself in regards to where are you now
  2. Identify a specific area for improvement and focus on it intensely
  3. Define what the improvement should look like to you
  4. Establish a preliminary time period to focus or train towards
  5. Periodically review progress through feedback from outside sources

The intensity doesn’t have to be done every time you perform an activity; you just need to seek periods where you heavily focus your effort so you can speed up the process of improvement.

You also need to take periods of time to reflect back on where you where and how you got to where you are to see the break through. This is done regularly in martial arts training as the express principle is to “shine a light” on your successes because getting good at the activity is not a quick process. It’s perfectly fine if you don’t see improvement right away, you will do that over time.

Make a Breakthrough (Look Right)
You’ll notice on the right side of this blog is an area labeled “Make a Breakthrough”. This shows the 6 Elements I have defined that black belts train to achieve. Each is a category of personal development where breakthroughs are relevant and evaluated over time. They are the martial arts principles I talk about in this blog but are applied to any type of personal or performance based development. If you select one of the elements it will automatically pull up all the posts relevant to a particular topic. Each topic is categorized to only one major element for simplicity.

In my next post, I’ll dig more deeply into each of these points and how to push yourself to the edge and to failure so that you can get to a breakthrough. It is commonly done in martial arts training but the principle can be applied to any personal improvement process.

Tell me about your breakthroughs. Do you recognize them? If so, when and how do they occur for you?

Thanks for training with me.

Photo Credit Courtesy of TarikB

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How to Start
March 8, 2010 at 8:28 am

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Patty - Why Not Start Now? March 2, 2010 at 11:58 pm

Nature metaphors work really well for me, so I thoroughly enjoyed this Mark. The tsunami metaphor also reminds me of the seasons metaphor, especially how in winter much is going on underneath the surface that we don’t see, yet it all breaks through in spring. And I love that you’re saying we recognize breakthroughs in hindsight, and they really aren’t like those big ah has that get so much attention. I’ve realized for any breakthrough to happen for me, I have to give it time and be patient, just as you say. And continue working on it. That’s happened in so many places in my life when I look back – growing a business, doing my work as a counselor and coach, being in a long-term relationship. Your stuff is great because it really does apply to everything!
.-= Patty – Why Not Start Now?´s last blog ..Meaning Mondays: The Big Rabbit Edition =-.


2 Marc Winitz March 3, 2010 at 8:39 am

@Patty – I was unaware of the seasons metaphor but I like it! I look into it as I am big on analogies in communicating anything.


3 Paul March 3, 2010 at 4:03 am


There is so much of this post I can relate to, I would need to write another post to deal with them all.

Just dealing with one; I like your analysis of the value of short term results. The three steps you identified; I have seen in many learning environments and how the learners become frustrated by their perceived lack of results. I have also expereinced it in my own development; however I now deal with this in the approriate way.

I like your analogy of the tsunami being quite harmless at sea and suddenly making the breakthrough at the shore.

Thank you for sharing this.


.-= Paul´s last blog ..Rocky Road =-.


4 Marc Winitz March 3, 2010 at 8:38 am

@Paul – This is definitely a tricky one because there is such a tendency to want to change what you are doing. On a personal development or even physical development level that frustration is where the change is happening. Sometimes that is hard to see so having a gifted teacher or coach makes a difference.


5 Ben March 4, 2010 at 1:33 am

Really nice post Marc.

I’ve have personal breakthroughs in the past and it’s only really looking do I realise that they happened and that all the small changes I’d made had added up to a massive change. You’re right there is no “Ah Ha!” moment – but I like to think of it like a post event/s “Ah” moment when you realise the change has taken place


6 Marc Winitz March 4, 2010 at 7:33 am

But that is the satisfying realization, when you can look back and see that progress. Definitely a different kind of breakthrough.


7 Phil - Less Ordinary Living March 4, 2010 at 8:53 am

Marc -

You always have such strong content – thank you. I love the metaphor of the tsunami building up through the ocean but only becoming apparent near the shoreline. I see with myself and my clients that sometimes despite all the hard work and dedication, frustration can creep in. Sometimes this is because there hasn’t been enough work yet and sometimes it is because the breakthrough has already happened but was subtle. Your counsel to seek regular objective feedback is a great one.

I guess its a bit like parents. They see their children every day and have a continuity of this. When I see my friend’s children every three months, they have grown, changed and made huge advances in their development. Sometimes the parents are amazed when I point out a change as it has just crept up on them.

Thanks for an outstanding post,

.-= Phil – Less Ordinary Living´s last blog ..What I talk about when I talk about running =-.


8 Marc Winitz March 4, 2010 at 6:56 pm

@Phil – Thank you for your very kind and appreciative words. I have to agree on the example you provided, the analogy is excellent. See something periodically and you note the changes that have occurred because you haven’t been there the whole time absorb the subtle improvements. Thanks for your thoughts, a definite contribution here.


9 Armen Shirvanian March 4, 2010 at 9:32 am

Hi Marc.

One thing I’d say is that breakthroughs happen for me when I am not exactly looking to make a breakthrough. However, while I was writing that, I realize that they also happen when I very much want them to occur. I am not completely sure.

You are right that intensely pursuing something is worth way more than casually pursuing it. It might be worth 5 or 10 times as much. It makes a difference in output, creativity, and also the reception from others.

If we come at our efforts like a powerful tsunami, it is tough for big results to not show up. I can’t imagine it not working out.

Good mental imagery here.
.-= Armen Shirvanian´s last blog ..Empowering Thoughts And Fearful Thoughts =-.


10 Marc Winitz March 4, 2010 at 6:54 pm

@Armen – I agree they don’t usually occur when we are looking for them, it seems to happen over a long period of time. The “aha” moment breakthrough typically happen when someone else points out a way of thinking or a point you haven’t thought of, so you get the “aha”. At least that is what I have seen. Appreciate your contribution here.


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