The Myth Of Light Bulb Moments

Don’t you just love it when a client has one of those amazing aha-moments?

When you ask a killer question that seemingly destroys a previously held paradigm, or at the very least, massively shifts their thinking?

In that moment it seems you have done your job and crushed it.

But have you?

Have you really delivered a beneficial lasting change with a swift stroke of your mighty coaching sword?

Or, are you just working with a client who gets excited easily, who likes hyperbole and to talk in absolutes?

I was working with a client this morning who was concerned and discouraged that she wasn’t having enough clients making massive breakthroughs.

She thought that maybe she wasn’t doing a great job.

I went through that thinking a decade or more ago.

Why on earth weren’t clients punching the air more often whilst shrieking Eureka! and recognizing my undoubted genius?

I wondered if I sucked?

Or, if I was missing something?

Or, perhaps I wasn’t pushing them hard enough?

I have no doubt some of those reasons were applicable, but by and large they weren’t.

If you want to talk to people who have had amazing life-changing breakthroughs and seen the light in an instant, go and stand outside a Tony Robbins event just after it’s finished.

Stop a few dozen people and you will know what transformation really is because they will be bursting to tell you how much they have changed their lives over the previous 72-hours.

Nice, eh?

Then follow up with those same people 6-months later.

Ask them what is fundamentally different in their life now compared to their time shortly after bouncing up and down in a room with a few hundred like minded souls high on adrenaline and oxytocin before hopping over hot coals to prove they were invincible?

I’ve probably worked with at least 30 or more people who attended a Tony Robbins event and I don’t remember one not enjoying it – in fact most loved it.

Unfortunately, I also don’t remember one implementing anything remotely close to being beneficially life changing.

Not one.

Many left thinking a new dawn was opening up before them and some did make some short-term changes, but most were back where they started, just a few hundred, or even a few thousand, dollars lighter in the wallet.

I’m not knocking Tony Robbins, I happen to quite like the guy and if you bought me a ticket to one of his events I’d happily trot along.

But I’d have no expectations of my life changing in any meaningful way.

The kind of high intensity immersion training/event Robbins delivers has been proven to be highly ineffective when it comes to long lasting change.

Of course there will be exceptions and maybe you went to such an event that created a revolutionary change in your life, but you’re one of a tiny minority.

People talk about the moment a light bulb came on in their life and everything suddenly became clear, and those events happen to all of us.

The problem is however, because they are so instantaneous and remarkable we tend to remember them and think they are far more frequent and more important than they really are.

This is because of a cognitive bias called the availability heuristic that suggests the more easily we can remember something the more importance we ascribe to it.

But most change isn’t like a light bulb turning on, it’s more akin to somebody slowly cranking up the dimmer switch and as such it’s far less noticeable.

As a life coach it’s nice to have clients excited about rapid change, and indeed it can happen – I even teach some rapid change techniques to coaches for certain issue, but in the main they are less likely to be sustained.

Watching and encouraging gradual and consistent improvement is the real key to being a successful life coach.

But the problem is, it requires patience and being okay with not being seen to be a magician by your client.

And let’s face it, what coach doesn’t want a client taking they are a coaching genius?


  1. Thank you! I so appreciate your wisdom.
    Everything is rush, rush, rush! Results now please!
    And I think part of everyone’s solution is to take the time to be real, to slow down, and see and feel their life – and come to change from a solid place – rather than a Wooo -hoooo! -that-was-exciting! place. As you imply, all the “fast results” are superficial. Real deep work requires time.
    Thanks again – I look look forward to many more wise words.

    • Tim Brownson

      I think you *can* get fast results, but equally I think they are the exception not the rule so yeh, let’s all just slow down!

  2. Well said, Tim. The clients I’ve known personally that have taken Tony Robbin’s courses fit into the same scenario you’ve suggested. One woman, in particular, spent $17,000 on TR training. The end result? Depression. The reality that her entire life didn’t transform as a result of the training came crashing down on her after about a year. And she was 17K poorer for it.

    TR is such an interesting figure – and so many of my clients and students were introduced to NLP because of him. On the one hand, I’m grateful for the exposure and I think (barring the hype and inappropriate crowd leveraging, which is unethical in my view) he is technically sound in his teaching. On the other hand, I wish he’d make his participants sign some sort of disclaimer to keep their expectations in check. That would save so much heartache. But it would also put him out of business, right? He sells dreams.

    As far as Aha-Moments. I’d say they should be seen as a wonderful first step. There’s insight, and then what you do with it. Unfortunately, there are no magic spells. Any coach who could work such magic would become an instant, real-life Jesus figure. The world would beat a path to his/her door, driving the Jesus figure mad:)

    • Tim Brownson

      For sure Robbins is a funny one. Still not sure I have 100% forgiven him for taking Bandler and Grinders ideas for the backbone of Awaken The Giant Within.

      Just taking a peek out of my office window reveals nobody beating a path to my door, so I’ll keep going 😉

      BTW, I shall be contacting you soon to hopefully get you to join me on a weekly webinar I’m starting next month.

  3. “Watching and encouraging gradual and consistent improvement is the real key to being a successful life coach.”

    A awesome reminder worth remembering not only when we coach clients but in our own personal development.

    As always I’m enlightened by your share.

  4. There is always the possibility for a shift in perspective & perception. Of course, it’s just as likely to come from a leaf blowing in the wind than from a life coach.

    • Tim Brownson

      Not sure as it’s just as likely Tom, I have seen a lot of leafs in my time and I don’t remember too many changing my perspective on life.

      Get the gist though.

  5. Brad Jorgensen

    Hi, Tim! I’m more student than coach (I found this post because of our LinkedIn connection) but I strongly agree with your message. I’ve consumed volumes of “self-help” advice, often in exchange for others consuming a large portion of my bank balance. But it seems that every time I have an epiphany about my life, it’s like downing a pot of coffee–I’m buzzing with enthusiasm for awhile and then feel worse than ever once it wears off. It’s the incremental changes–writing 2 pages a day, meditating for 10 minutes per day, putting my vitamins where I can see them and actually remembering to take them–that make me believe I have control over my life and that today will be better than yesterday.

    As a coach, I’m sure this message is a tough sell for you (more time = more money), but lasting change comes from habits and I don’t remember ever forming a new habit overnight no matter how inspired I was.

    • Tim Brownson

      I think you make a good point about it being a tougher sell Brad, although I have to confess to never having thought of that before.

      On reflection though I’m sure there are plenty of coaches making outrageous claims and thus attracting more clients. Twas ever thus I guess!

  6. The developing and practicing of helpful disciplines that serve us well leads to slow but sure change. It’s getting clients to apply consistently better living/thriving strategies and repeating this for a period of 6 weeks that will help them contrast a before / after scenario. It’s those small changes with positive results that usually empower to keep going. Our role is to encourage and champion …. Then, it is up to them when they leave our rooms!