spark a breakthrough

Photo: Dan Saelinger

Law No. 1: It's All About What You Do with Your Breakthrough
Martha Beck explains why the epiphany is just the beginning.

Try something for me: Close one eye, then spend a minute looking around. Scope out the room, admire the view, scrutinize objects near and far. Now open the closed eye.

Boom! Right?

You can see pretty well with one eye, but the stereoscopic image you get with both is richer, deeper, and more beautiful. Guess what? Life works in a remarkably similar way. You can live years, even decades, with an obstructed view of the world—believing things that are false to be true, holding fast to things that don't really matter—until the day your point of view is so thoroughly rattled that you finally see what's what. That experience is often referred to as a breakthrough. It's a shift in your understanding of the world, because the lens through which you view it has been suddenly, gloriously changed. And boy, do breakthroughs feel amazing. They help us live better by helping our outlook match up with reality.

Read more: The Most Important Moment to Creating Lasting Change in Your Life

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Law No. 2: No Two Breakthroughs Look Alike
Five visionaries—including a celebrity stylist and high-wire performer—reveal their greatest lessons—and how they learned them.

Read more: 5 Breakthroughs You Can Learn from These Visionaries

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Law No. 3: They Can Be Sparked by the Smallest, Silliest Stuff
When it comes to shaking up your point of view, Sue Fliess has found that no source of inspiration is too insignificant. (Honk if you agree.)

While heading to the grocery store one morning, I stopped at a light near an old Chevy sorely in need of a paint job. There was a teenager at the wheel, blaring music with the windows down. Her bumper was scuffed. One taillight was crushed. But she didn't seem to mind. Her manicured fingers tapped the steering wheel like red-tipped drumsticks, her hair lifting in the breeze. She sang at the top of her voice, ignoring the audience around her. I liked her.

Just before the light changed and she drove off, I noticed her car had a bumper sticker: What if the hokey pokey is what it's all about?

Then I thought, "Wait, what if it is?"

Read more: How to Make Every (Ordinary) Moment Count

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Law No. 4: Sometimes You Have to Fail—Hard— to Figure Things Out
Our most agonizing moments can usher in our most transcendent, discovers Naomi Barr.

"You're a monochromatic actor," the director said, standing to leave. "You'll never surprise anyone."

I was 25, a few years into a theater career—one that appeared to be swiftly approaching its end. The director, an intense man celebrated for his work, had accepted me into his master acting class. Thrilled, if intimidated, I'd been trekking weekly to the classroom where he sat, pashalike, critiquing our scenes. Today I'd lingered after class to get more feedback. I'd like to say that I asked probing questions about my character, but what I really wanted was his stamp of approval. The master knew it and seized the opportunity. I lacked complexity, he said. I didn't make the bold choices that separated good actors from bad. I felt as though the wind, and my dreams, had been knocked out of me.

Read more: The Enlightening Gift Hidden in Crushing Disappointment

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Law No. 5: They Don't Always Look Like Breakthroughs
Sometimes, writes Beth Levine, the big realization is that nothing can, or will—or has to—change.

Recently, a friend asked me, if I'd ever been to Israel. Before I could even open my mouth, she added slyly, "Oh, that's right. You can't get on a plane." I think she was trying to be funny.

There was a time when I would have died a thousand deaths: She knows my dirty secret; she's making fun of me; she thinks I'm pathetic; I am, in fact, pathetic. This time, however, I stopped the tape in my head and played a new one. It said, "Everyone has a screw loose somewhere, and having a thing about planes happens to be mine.

Read more: The Mental Shift That Can Help You Make Peace with Your Quirks

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Law No. 6: They Only Have to Make Sense to You
Aimee Swartz couldn't deny her love for Jackie. Her friends couldn't believe she'd take on so much pain.

I met Jackie shortly after I left a relationship that made my world feel small and crushing—that made romance feel impossible. Which was fine, since Jackie was only a friend; she'd never even dated a woman. She was disarming, generous, a world-class doler- outer of advice. She played me her favorite albums—the Rolling Stones' Beggars Banquet, Quasi's Featuring "Birds"—and sang every word. She told me stories about her girlhood in a hippie cult, riding a dirt bike through California's Central Valley. She was so cool—uninhibited and completely herself. Her air of calm made her easy to be around and, as time passed, hard to be away from. She made me feel like everything was going to be okay.

Read more: The Moment That Reminds You That Love Is Worth the Risk of Heartbreak

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Law No. 7: They're Incremental
Cristin Wood, 29, thought she'd always be "the chubby girl." Then she decided to run a half marathon for charity. And try a new diet. And change her attitude.

OCTOBER 2010: I signed up for a half marathon to raise money for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. I weighed 210 pounds. I don't know if you could even call my first training session a run since mostly I walked. But I'm not a quitter. And hey, I was still ahead of everybody on the couch. In several months, I was jogging a 13-minute mile.

Read more: This Woman Will Inspire You to Never Give Up on Your Fitness Goals