Aha! The Crucial Difference Between a Breakthrough and Transformation | Joanna Lindenbaum

Confident, smiling older coach against grey background

In this article we look at the crucial differences between breakthroughs and transformations—and how to support your clients in achieving them.

The coaching, wellness and healing industries use the terms "Breakthrough" and "Transformation" a lot—and interchangeably—when marketing to clients.

However, most practitioners don't actually understand the difference between a breakthrough and a transformation, and how to co-create both with clients.

Why this matters

It's important to know the difference between a breakthrough and a transformation because when you don't:

  • Your client's progress toward their goals can bottle-neck. This is where a client's self-sabotage can start to creep in, and they may feel they're not moving forward in the ways they would like.
  • And, as a coach, you may struggle to navigate your clients toward their goals in ways that feel easeful and in flow.

The most effective coaches are clear on the difference—and the relationship between—a breakthrough and a transformation… And know how to co-create both with clients.

So what is the difference between a breakthrough and a transformation?

Often called an "Aha!" moment, a BREAKTHROUGH is when your client understands, becomes aware of, sees, senses or feels a new piece of information. This new information can be a new inspired idea, a new feeling, a pattern they hadn't seen before, a way of being etc.

Breakthroughs are awesome (obviously!). We need breakthroughs in order to move forward toward our goals and toward our evolution: they bring solutions to problems and lots of inspiration.

Plus, they're so darn sexy! It's the best feeling in the world to have a breakthrough and understand, see or feel something new.

But, at the end of the day, breakthroughs are useless if they aren't moved toward transformation

That's because a new idea, feeling or awareness is usually not enough to yield true action or change.

It's so wonderful and satisfying when a client has an "a-ha!" moment. But coaches and clients can sometimes become addicted to the sexiness of breakthroughs—and never move on to the deeper, not-so-sexy work of transformation.

A TRANSFORMATION is real and long-lasting change—in our habits, thinking, feeling, in our perceiving, actions, our ways of being or ways of relating.

Transformation—or real and long-lasting change—requires a deeper shift in your client's neural and/or somatic pathways.

In other words, breakthroughs are a first step on the pathway to change and transformation—but they're only part of the story.

What true transformation looks like

Real transformation comes when the information from a breakthrough is applied and reinforced, persistently and consistently, until change on the cognitive, emotional, spiritual and somatic levels occurs.

And when this happens over time and with dedication… Wowee! …it's pretty magical. And even more exciting than the original breakthrough.

This is when your clients can more easily achieve goals.

This is when your clients becomes more consistent in their actions.

And this is when you get to feel that special satisfaction knowing that your clients are making the best use of your work together—and that you are in your highest purpose.

So what's the first step to activating breakthroughs and transformations?

It definitely takes mastery of skills and techniques to be able to co-create breakthroughs and transformations with your clients.

But the first step is to know the difference. And to decide that you're the type of practitioner who isn't willing to settle for breakthroughs only.

It requires patience and an honouring of the real process of change to decide that you're the type of practitioner who is committed to co-creating real and long-lasting change with your clients. Who has the gravitas to hold space for the deeper change. Who isn't only interested in the "sexy," but also in the process of how human beings truly evolve and step into their highest expression.

That's because too many of us, our clients included, have been taught to believe that change happens overnight. That there's some magic pill that can activate motivation, inspiration, clarity and the overcoming of fears and limiting beliefs.

There is not.

To help another human with any of that, time, patience, persistence and trust are needed. It's not always a linear path. There are many steps forward, and sometimes momentary steps backward.

It can be tempting to want to take the shortcuts. But being dedicated to co-creating transformations with clients means you're willing to do the more challenging work.

4 Coaching skills that activate "Breakthroughs"

There are many different coaching skills that can activate breakthroughs for clients. Here are just a few:

1) Questioning skills

Crafting excellent questions is one of the top breakthrough skills that coaches can possess. A well-designed question has the potential to instantaneously bring to the surface for your client new ideas and new insights.

2) Reflection skills

A well-placed and well-articulated reflection in response to a piece of information a client has just shared can create new awareness and support your client in understanding themselves and their situation in a new way.

Sometimes we may reflect back exactly what a client has just said as a way of emphasizing an important idea or breakthrough they just shared. By reinforcing the breakthrough in this way, reflecting can also be a next baby step toward a transformation!

3) Consulting skills

Often a coach will have a particular expertise or knowledge in an area their client doesn't have. Based on that expertise, the coach will offer a new idea for their client to consider, and this new idea can activate a breakthrough.

It's important, though, to be conscious of how much you use your consulting skills as a coach. Too heavy on the consulting and you limit your client's ability to achieve the deeper breakthroughs that happen when they come up with ideas on their own.

4) Visioning skills

Any time we support a client in visioning out a new project or initiative, we have the potential to activate breakthroughs. New ideas and understandings—not just about the project itself, but about the client and who they are and what they value and want—can come through the visioning process.

3 Coaching skills that cultivate "Transformation"

Remember: any types of techniques or activities that encourage a client to remember a breakthrough, to go deeper on, "practice" or take action on a breakthrough help the client take inner and/or outer steps toward the transformation—the real, often tangible, change they desire.

Here are three transformation skills to consider:

1) Working with fear or beliefs

Any cognitive or somatic techniques you use to help a client befriend their fears or rewire their beliefs can be transformative.

These techniques will likely include practices your client can continually come back to in order to more deeply pave the new insights and keep them feeling alive.

2) Strategizing and "homework"

Completing well-designed homework assignments based on the breakthroughs that arose during a coaching session brings clients closer to inner and outer change.

So, anytime you strategize on a new project, idea or initiative with a client and support them in articulating specific action steps to take toward their goals, you are in essence helping them to move a breakthrough into a transformation.

The same goes for co-crafting homework assignments with your clients. And this should be collaborative with your client, like all things in coaching!

3) Accountability structures

You can't ever hold a client accountable to change and to the actions they commit to taking toward change (because only clients can hold themselves accountable).

But, you can create structures within your coaching containers that support clients in getting action steps and homework done, especially if they would be otherwise resistant.

Accountability structures can often be a key factor in guiding clients to move from the great new ideas that arise in session toward achieving real change based on those ideas.


As a coach, I personally love and find so much satisfaction in getting creative and using different combinations of my breakthrough and transformation skills to help my clients step more and more into the projects they are ready to bring into the world—and the people they are ready to become.

I hope you enjoy it as well!

Free eBook Overcome Resistance eBook

If you'd like to take some next steps in supporting your clients toward true transformation, you can download the ebook Coach Your Clients to Overcome Resistance (& Reach More Goals!).

In this powerful guide, you'll discover how to recognize resistance when a client is hiding behind it, discover which of the five resistance archetypes are at play and what to do, and cultivate a new relationship with your own resistance so that you can move your goals forward.

Author Bio

Joanna LindenbaumContributing author:

Joanna Lindenbaum teaches masterful transformational skills to new and seasoned coaches so they can respond powerfully to the issues their clients and groups bring.

With 20+ years experience with coaching, human behaviour and Shadow, Joanna's approach supports her students in gaining a level of skill, confidence and depth that the majority of their peers don't have. Graduates of her Sacred Depths Practitioner Certification and Advanced Depth training become top in their field, which attracts more renewals, referrals and opportunities to their businesses.

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