When I was in graduate school, the topic of the doctoral dissertation would inevitably come up in class from time to time. From the moment we received our acceptance letters into the program, we knew conducting a massive research project and writing a massive, extremely rigorous, paper about it would be part of our requirement.
But we were also good at thinking, “Eh, I don’t have to worry about it yet.”
Until, of course, we did.
The dissertation posed a challenge unlike any I had pursued up to that point. I had set and achieved big goals before, and I had stretched myself beyond my comfort zone many, many times. But the pre-research, the planning, the formulating of questions, the meta-review of data, the interviews, the structure requirements… Where to even begin? It didn’t surprise me so many students finish with their ABD – All But Dissertation – instead of the Ph.D., but I was determined to complete what I’d started because it meant so much to me.
It was then that I experimented with what is now one of my favorite tools for turning big wild dreams into reality. I’ve used it practically weekly ever since.
The Tool For Breakthroughs
The first step to success is, of course, determining what you want to accomplish, and I shared two questions to help you clarify that in my Breakthrough Goal article a few days ago.
I also promised in that article to share one of the best tools I know for propelling yourself down the path of accomplishment, which is the focus of this article. Once you’ve determined what you want to accomplish – writing a book, tripling your business revenue, hosting the greatest event ever, completing your dissertation, or practically anything else, your next step to set it in motion: Create a Breakthrough Map!
A Breakthrough Map (also referred to as a mindmap or idea web) serves multiple purposes: It allows you to get thoughts out of your head and onto paper (instant relief), gives a visual display to see gaps and prompt further ideas, and provides the starting point for an action plan. These maps can also prompt more, richer, and higher-quality results than standard lists.
In essence, Breakthrough Maps make the impossible possible.
How To Create A Breakthrough Map In 5 Steps
Like with most professional development tools, there is no single way to create a Breakthrough Map, but perhaps these steps I’ve learned over the years since my grad school days can help:
1. Decide Your Topic/Goal.
By now you hopefully have your Breakthrough Goal identified, but if not – or if you need help refining it – revisit my earlier article. Try to be as specific as you can. For example, a desired outcome of raising $100,000 for your nonprofit will yield better possible actions than “make more money.”
2. Phrase It In “How Can I…” Format.
Rather than simply putting your goal on paper, turn it into a “How can I…” question. You might consider this simplistic, but it shifts your mind into problem-solving mode and actually unlocks more than the goal statement by itself. It also assumes positive success: There’s no questioning whether you can succeed, the question is merely how – what steps your success might require.
On a blank piece of paper (consider large poster paper your friend here!) or a whiteboard, draw a circle in the center and write your How Can I question inside of it. For example, my Spark live event is just around the corner and since it’s my final one, I am putting my all into it. One of my earliest Breakthrough Maps posed the question, “How Can We Make Spark ’17 The GREATEST EVENT EVER?” My team and I have had SO much fun dreaming on paper with this!
A topic several clients have brought up, especially as we move into 4th quarter, revolves around their goals and ongoing distractions: “How can I stay focused on my top-priority goals as we near the end of the year?” I’ll use a version of this as an example as we continue:
3. Empty Your Mind Onto The Map.
Now it’s time to free up your mind space by purging all your thoughts, ideas, and even random possibilities onto the paper. Make a big mess. Pour them out in any order. Include actions to take, people who could help, resources you might call on, books that may support you, tools you may need…anything and everything that comes to mind.
This step will challenge the list-makers out there (I’m right there with you!) but believe me, it’s a challenge worth accepting! Don’t try to order your thoughts at this point. I promise there will be time for that later. 🙂
When I work with my coaching clients on Breakthrough Maps, I encourage them to keep going until they’ve generated at least 25 ideas. This can seem daunting at first, but it stretches your mind and helps you think beyond the status quo. Depending on your topic and where you are in your process, you might invite trusted others (i.e., your mastermind partners) to contribute possible actions as well.
Remember: You are not creating a to-do list here. You are simply giving space to ideas. You may decide later to only implement 1/3 of them – it doesn’t matter. The goal is to stretch, expand, and generate possibilities.
4. Leave It Alone.
Once you’ve created at least 25 ideas, step away from your Breakthrough Map for a while. Go for a walk, take a nap, do some yoga, switch to another project, maybe even put your map in a drawer for a day or two. As additional ideas come to mind, add them to your map.
5. Start Categorizing.
You can do this in a few different ways. One possibility: Take your ideas from your first Breakthrough Map and create a second one with logical categories.
What I’ll often do instead is take different colored highlighters and mark categories accordingly. With the Spark example I gave earlier, I poured everything out onto the map, then used pink highlighters to note any actions related to the venue/environment, blue for logistics, yellow for materials, green for guest speakers, and so on.
Or, if your list-making itch has gotten the best of you, you can now start forming your thoughts into lists.
From Idea Into Action
While you can use your Breakthrough Map itself as your action plan, checking items off as you go, I’d suggest turning your “beautiful mess” into a truly organized action plan; my free Big Dreams, Bold Goals e-book can help you with that (click here to get yours).
What do you think? Ready to create a Breakthrough Map?
No joke, I make one at least weekly – and usually more often. I’ve created Breakthrough Maps for everything from the book that I’m writing to summer activity ideas to how to solve a problem that’s keeping me stuck to anything on which I find myself procrastinating. My journal is full of these random scribblings and I am so much better for it!
So whether you need to get unstuck, determine your first (or next) step in a project, or brainstorm what to pack on your upcoming trip, give the Breakthrough Map strategy a try. Let me know how it goes by sharing below, or on Instagram or Facebook! And for more on Breakthrough Maps and so many other practical, useful, research-based tools to help you fulfill your highest potential, join me at Spark on November 3 – click here for details!