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Why Breakthroughs & Epiphanies don’t work anymore

Is there any human desire more universal than the itch to improve ourselves?

The itch is the force behind multi-billion dollar industries in health, fitness, self-help, publishing, medicine and therapy. It’s especially vexing to entrepreneurs, who are the most optimistic of all when it comes to their intentions for the future versus where they are today.

It doesn’t matter if we’re talking business bottom line, your love life or your waist size. No business owner can escape it: When there’s a gulf between the results you’re producing now and how you think you should be doing, you’re feeling the tickle. The itch is always there.

For most people, having an epiphany – the feeling of a big breakthrough – is the soothing aloe for the self-improvement itch.

You read books. Ask for advice. Attend workshops. Hire therapists. All to have an “aha” moment so you can finally start doing better.

The problem is: It doesn’t work. 

Chances are, if you call yourself an entrepreneur – or even aspire to be one – you’re more frustrated than ever.

You’ve poured thousands of hours into personal development and other kinds of soul-searching, and though you’ve made a ton of “breakthroughs” you’re still not there.

Most people believe that they’re close to breaking through to the next level. They feel as though they’re getting warmer and warmer in the game of self help hide-and-seek.
What if they’re all utterly lost? 

A growing group of psychological researchers believe that everything people assume about self improvement is wrong.

Meanwhile, a tiny handful of entrepreneurs – less than one percent – are rocketing ahead in life and business by ignoring epiphanies and avoiding breakthroughs! 

Quick history lesson:

The search for epiphanies really started with the psychotherapy revolution caused by Freud, Jung and Adler busting onto the scene in the late eighteen hundreds.

Without attempting to summarize their theories, we can say that this was the birth of a single sexy idea:

That by talking and thinking about ourselves and our past, we can make meaningful changes to who we are in the future. 

And at the time, it REALLY worked!

The citizens of the late 19th and early twentieth century picked up these ideas and ran with them. We saw an explosion of therapeutic practice and the birth of the self-help movement.

People were figuring things out about themselves and getting results!

But did it keep working that way for good?

It wasn’t until almost a hundred years later (in the 1950s) when a famous psychoanalyst by the name of Allen Wheelis started asking awkward questions. Famously cynical and pessimistic, he started pulling at the thread that’d unravel the whole thing.

The Problem with Personal Development

It turns out there’s been an enormous cultural change in the last two centuries.

Wheelis – frustrated by his clients not getting results with traditional and proven methods – was the first to put his finger on it:

People are having epiphanies faster than ever, but after that the therapy stalls. People don’t have the strength to follow up on insights and implement change in their lives. 

Something had changed since the old days.

Some kind of huge cultural shift had rendered people helpless to turn their intellectual breakthroughs into concrete changes.

Fast forward to the 1990s:

Martin Seligman – author and renowned psychologist – picked up the baton and concluded that there was hardly ANY convincing scientific evidence that episodes in early childhood have a causal impact on the adult personality. (With the exception of severe trauma or malnutrition.)

This was a pretty serious thing to say.
In less than fifty years, the world’s brightest psychological minds went from questioning the epiphany-style of self improvement… to basically calling it out as bullshit.

So what went wrong?

If epiphanies USED to help people improve themselves, why the hell have they stopped working?

Or, if they never worked in the first place… what is it that actually causes people to improve themselves?

(Side note from Peter: These are the questions I have been obsessed with for the past few years.)

An emerging, science-focused field being led by folks like Seligman and Roy Baumeister – psychology professor at FSU – called “Positive Psychology”… is showing us a pretty shocking truth:

Self Control or “our ability to self-regulate” is the only thing that really matters 

Researchers have found that someone’s ability to self-control (or not) is the ONLY personality trait that can actually be used to predict success. And when someone has it, it basically means they’re going to be successful across the board.

Studies have shown self-control leads to:

  • Better grades in students
  • Better performance in the white-collar workplace
  • Better relationships with significant others (and lower divorce rates)
  • Better ability to simply empathize with others (i.e. be a nice, affable person)
  • Better mental health (less depression, anxiety and neuroticism)
  • Fewer drinking/addition problems
  • Oh, and you make more money too!

That last one is where entrepreneurs prick up their ears, and rightly so.
The research on this idea of self-regulation as the ultimate power-trait is overwhelmingly conclusive: People who have this ability are capable of accomplishing enormously more success than others

It’s also worth mentioning that these aren’t just on-campus graduate school studies we’re talking about:

A 2010 study out of New Zealand tracked 1000 children for THIRTY YEARS to measure the holistic life results of the innate “self-regulators” versus the undisciplined.

Scariest part? Of the lowest scoring kids, 40% had a criminal conviction by age 32!

Epiphanies aren’t working because people don’t have the self-control to USE them 

A ton of research is suggesting a growing problem in the western world with our ability to self-regulate. Simply put, we’re less disciplined and more prone to the traps of instant gratification and laziness than ever before.
Something massive has shifted in our culture since Victorian times. Figuring out insights about ourselves is no longer enough to change our lives. 

Many experts believe that the people alive to experience Freud’s psychoanalysis revolution already possessed significant powers of self-regulation. When they used psychoanalysis to figure things out about themselves, they were able to easily act on those realizations and make meaningful change happen.

Nowadays, things are different. Roy Baumeister believes that…

“Self-Regulation failure is the major social pathology of our time.” 

If you’re someone who feels like you’re going crazy experiencing breakthrough after breakthrough, but you’re STILL not getting the results in life and business that you know you’re capable of… well, you might have a Self-Regulation problem.

More epiphanies won’t help you. Building your self control muscles will though!

If you haven’t kept up with what I’ve been up to over at Commit Action, you might like to check it out.

We’re on a mission to end entrepreneurial procrastination.

What we’ve built is basically an anti-epiphany machine. It’s the only personal-development coaching service in the world that focuses purely on execution, helping you achieve more success by having you finally follow through on all your best ideas. 

We’re using science to inform our methodology and we’re helping our members level up their self-regulation abilities in life and business!

We’ve just realized a comprehensive free video course that addresses the HUGE chasm we’ve observed between the superhuman entrepreneurs who hit home run after home run…. and the masses of wannabes who feel continually stuck and frustrated.

If you want to understand the difference between these two groups – and learn what it takes to move from the sucky to the fun side – then check out the training series today.

You can sign up and access everything right away via our shiny new homepage. It’s totally free. Click here or the graphic below:



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  1. Very great read. With the addition of the high accessibility of information right now via the today’s technology, epiphanies have become less and less useful as laziness ensues. The power of execution! And that self-control oh my god yes.
    People buy insight nowadays, as one sales book revealed. “Great times are great softener”, as taken from The Obstacle Is The Way. I, for one, am spoiled since young where I lived in comfort and had most things provided for. Once I entered the workforce, harsh reality check. Culture shock. I had to take action and work!
    Your article might just be the galvanizing piece of insight for me., and I won’t let it be another one of those “epiphanies” again this time! Not gonna get directed by the insight junkie inside me man.

    Stay well, Peter.


  2. I only have addition problems when I’m drinking 😉

    Love the new, slick look for the CA site, Peter. Nice work.

    And you know I love the idea the epiphanies aren’t where the money is. I’m not quite buying the idea that *nothing* that happens in childhood shapes us, though. Remaining skeptical on that one. But yeah, the sort of “my mother never loved me” breakthroughs probably don’t translate into sitting your butt down and making the phone calls you need to make kind of actions.

    1. Exactly. I think the problem is that the original assertions made by the “greats” of psychology about childhood and the like…. were made in an era when empiricism was simply not expected. It’s also something that’s difficult to measure because of the subjective nature of what it is.

      I think we’ll see more scientists start unraveling this stuff, but we definitely have a loooong way to go.

    2. Sukie,

      I only have addition problems when I’m drinking without a calculator 😉

      And Peter, great article. Thanks for sharing the science, that self-regulation is the key to success.

  3. Hi Peter – great article, as always. I’ve been following you for about a year or so and actually met you at a traffic and conversion summit. I love your down-to-Earth, non-stuffy approach to real world things that ail us “treps”. Heading over the video series now. Thanks and keep it coming!

  4. Thanks Peter for your blog. I have been interested in the problem of epiphanies not translating into success for a long time and wrote about it in my book ‘Never Too Late To Be Great’. The whole self-development market is built on them but they don’t last. Will be including Roy Baumeister’s ‘Willpower’ in the new edition of my book ’50 Psychology Classics’. Would love to get a copy to you when its done.
    Cheers, Tom

  5. Ok, next step, I’m watching the video. Once again I feel as if you hit the nail on the head. For 3 1/2 years I have been a business success coach. I always tell my clients, I don’t need to know their “story”. We need to concentrate on their now. ..and their future. We set strategies based on their strengths, not dwell in their weeknesses. It’s been hugely successful! 1X, 2X even 10X their income in less than a year! I knew what your saying inherently, but was not able to say WHY it worked.

    As always, thank you for the insight and my own epiphany! You are amazing! Note. ..even though my business is successful, it sure could be more so. I’m going to apply my known strategies more for myself. …if that does not work, I’ll be contacting you!

    Wendie Kause

    1. Hiya Wendie!

      Glad we’re on the same page. Sounds like you’re crushing it. I definitely think that the past can be important, but yeah… when you look at the science, focusing on the hardcore present stuff seems to be what works.

  6. Spot on Pete. As always! This article couldn’t have come at a better time. I am in the process of the next epiphany at the moment.

    While reading your article I looked back and reflected on the amount of epiphanies I had just this year. It always got warmer, it always felt like “This is it!”. But it never ends. I am still not there and the longer I am chasing the more I realize it ain’t going to happen.

    I am very familiar with CTA and your work but I forgot about it. I got distracted by chasing limiting beliefs and transforming my mindset. The problem I had still is that I got distracted because things went too slowly for me and I wanted that INSTANT gratification.

    Funny how people (including me) can talk themselves into the reality that it is better to work on the next big thing instead of building the 5 pillars.


    1. Yo Seb,

      Don’t you know I have an unmarked van outside of your house filled with camera equipment? My team pay attention to the type of existential angst you’re experiencing… then we publish our content accordingly. How else do you think we’re always “at the right time”?!! 😛

      1. I KNEW it …

        Well, then tell your team they are more than welcome to join me in my desperate attempts to catch the next epiphanies or lifechanging breakthroughs.

        As long as they bring some beers, too 😉

  7. Great article Peter. Was wondering where I can find more on the research into self-regulation being the vital determinant in success. Is it all in Baumeister’s Willpower or are there any online links?
    As a hypnotherapist trained to look for the connection between problems in childhood shaping the adult character, I have to say I AGREE with your article. We’re taught to go back to the initial traumatic event and it doesn’t always work.
    Off to share this article now and look forward to more.

  8. As someone who has been on the “self development” journey for over a decade, this article really resonated with my personal experience. I remember oh-so-clearly my own era of explosive epiphanic experiences. It was equally exciting and intoxicating. Every day it felt like I was discovering the keys to the kingdom. “This is it! It’s all so clear now!” I would exclaim. Fooled again and again by the infinite allure of the magical, all-powerful epiphany. False epiphanies. Five years later I was broke, depressed, and fresh out of epiphanies.

    Then I had one more epiphany. But this one was different. This one wasn’t a feel-good magic pill in disguise. This was the day I discovered discipline. Discipline is my word for what you call self-regulation. This was the day I realized that everything important is supposed to be hard. This was the day I embraced that reality.

    You mention a cultural decline of work ethic, which is probably accurate. But, could there also be a marked decline in the quality of the modern epiphany. Shysters sell us magic pills wrapped up as epiphanies. “3 simple steps to anything you could ever want in life.” But can we blame them? All the “good” epiphanies were taken fifty years ago. In the early days of modern self exploration the discovery of core principles of right action and being a good person were epiphanies.

    Perhaps that is why epiphanies don’t seem to work anymore? The ones that matter aren’t epiphanies anymore, they’re well known universal truths. In a world where we know what we’re supposed to be doing what separates success and failure isn’t the knowledge. It is the discipline, or the self-regulation, to act upon that knowledge more effectively than your peers.

    Thanks for the article, I had never quite thought about it in these terms before.


  9. Hi Peter

    I came accross this in my email archives late but I tend to disagree. The three principles introduced by Sydney Banks is to me a breathrough in pchycology especially in terms of understanding our thoughts and why we gey stuck. His teachings require no techniques its simply getting the understsnding at a deep level that your thoughts are creating your reality NOT what actually happens to you. I think your referring to his principles. For those unaware this is not like aanything youve read before. Listen with open ears start perhaps with the inside out revolution book by Neil Mitchell.

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