8 Stages to Manifesting Lasting Change
by: MILENA NGUYEN
This is Part II of a three-part series on realising Transformative Change. We recommend that all readers start with Part I of the series, which can be found at this link.
Calling all those who are interested in making lasting change in their lives! Allow me to ask you two questions to start (you might need your phone or a good old pen and paper for this):
(a) What change do you want to bring into your life in the coming year?
In 2018, I want to change/move/shift from ________________ to ________________.
E.g.This year, I want to shift from a sinking feeling of depression to a light and unburdened sense of joy.
(b) What are the things you want to make/build/create in your life come 2018?
I want to create _____________________ in 2018.
E.g. I want to create/be part of a healthy, supportive, and loving relationship(s) in 2018.
Don’t spend too much time overthinking your responses to these questions – write down the first thing that comes to mind / what you can feel is something that you genuinely desire. However, be careful not to write down something inauthentic. Here's an example of the inauthentic: Goals you think you want to achieve because society expects you to aspire toward them i.e. Everyone my age is getting a car, I need to get one, too.
As promised in Part I of this series on realising Transformative Change, I will be walking you through the '8 stages of change'. As you go through them with me, please try to visualise you accomplishing the desired changes you outlined above – some people are going to find this really difficult to do; not to worry, just do your best.
STAGE 1: AWARENESS – I see.
One of the biggest reasons why we don’t let our life evolve for the better is due to being numb from our pain. We’re so busy being busy, distracting ourselves with deadlines, Facebook notifications, games, alcohol etc. When we are overly distracted, we become desensitised – we’re sitting on a hot stove refusing to move because we've lost all feeling in our lower limbs, only to wake up one day to find that we are wholly 'fried' with depression, hormonal breakdown, cancer, or in some cases, an urge to end our own lives.
Due to an alarming state of numbness, the first thing I usually need to do with people who come to me for coaching is to revitalise and 're-sensitise' them, so that they can fully experience their current reality–the good, the bad and the ugly–we need to know everything before we can enact change. E.g. Are you in a job that makes you feel exhausted and miserable about yourself? Acknowledge that, and write it down. Are you in a relationship that is making you feel terrible about yourself? Acknowledge that too, and write it down. Do you seemingly 'have it all' on the outside, but know full well that you are emotionally and spiritually bankrupt? Accept how you are at this moment, and write that down, too.
This exercise in awareness is not designed to encourage self-pity or personal resentment. It's your chance to reacquaint with how you feel about your life experiences thus far. The more you genuinely desire to change, the more pain you're going to feel. As human beings, we’re wired to resist anything painful, whether it's physical or emotional. Once you understand this, you won't let yourself bury the pain under the carpet – instead, you'll allow the 'pain' to fuel your desire for change.
I believe that the most potent reason for change is when a person is so acutely aware of their life that she has no other choice but to surrender to the truth.
STAGE 2: PERSONAL DESIRES
“I want to find a new job which I do not hate.”
“I want to find a life-partner who supports me in all my endeavours.”
“I want to make a decent living doing what I love.”
“I want to shift from feeling down about everything to feeling grateful for what I have in life.”
“I want to start my own business.”
“I want to write and publish a book that will help others.”
Statements like these once declared with intention, have tremendous power.
However, chances are, if it means a lot to you, you won't even dare to say it out loud. Perhaps it's because you’ve translated repeated failures in your life into hopelessness and permanent despair. Or maybe it's because you’re afraid that you will disappoint yourself if you even attempt to achieve any of these personal desires. For some, they hear the loud voices of their parents telling them to be 'realistic', to get a well-paying 9-5 job and forgo all dreams of being who they truly want to be.
One client asked me when I was guiding her through the process of uncovering her desires, "Is it okay for me to want this much? Will I come across as being 'overly ambitious' or perhaps, 'too demanding'?" It was almost as if she felt the need for someone to give her the permission to want something – which is of course, entirely tragic and endearing at the same time.
Her self-deprecating comment revealed an intensely humble person who was most probably brought up to believe that she had to be 'realistic' and 'content' with what her lot in life. However, the truth is that no one ever needs any permission from anyone to have personal desires. No one needs to shrink themselves to fit into the small moulds that others have set out for them to fill.
I say all this with a lot of love because I’ve been there before. The same way a plant yearns for sunlight, your heart’s desire is you craving for an authentic life. It's your responsibility to stop thinking small, feeling small and living a half-life.
STAGE 3: CONFIDENCE – Yes, I can.
Every single client I’ve worked with struggled with high levels of insecurity in the area(s) of their life that they wished to make the most changes to. It's going to sound pretty obvious, but you need confidence to bring about change.
Unfortunately, people are often burdened with crippling self-doubt. They think to themselves, "You know what? I’m just not young/smart/old/rich/experienced/strong... enough to do this." As soon as you think this way, the fear of failure is triggered and puts up an invisible mental blockade between you and the path toward achieving what you desire.
Naturally, if you've been doubtful of yourself over an extended period of time, your negative views aren’t going to disappear in a flash. You need to train yourself to be aware of them as they bubble up in your mind. Notice those negative thoughts, acknowledge them and then remind yourself that you have the power to choose not to believe in them. While it is, of course, impossible to feel confident all the time, 'I hope I can do it' is not enough. It has to be, 'I know I can do it', and you have to believe and own it, so as to be able to live it.
In fact, let me share with you a 'secret' about confidence: it is entirely experiential. Let me explain: I was born a highly sensitive introvert; I struggled with anxiety and insecurity all my life until I realised that I had the right and the courage to 'fake' having confidence until I had it in me. I’ve spoken in front of large audiences in 6 different countries to date, including three TEDx talks. At each public speaking engagement I've shown up at, I kid you not when I say that I felt as though I was going to ruin everything by barfing instead of greeting the audience. Thankfully, I haven't done that yet, and I attribute that to being able to 'manufacture' my confidence.
Here are two steps to “fake” your confidence:
(1) Power Poses – According to a famous Harvard study by researcher and renowned TED speaker Amy Cuddy, adjusting your body postures will change your biochemistry and give you a confidence boost. So be mindful of your body at all times and try to adopt expansive, open postures. Expand your chest, lift your chin and eyes, lengthen your spine, spread your arms, relax your shoulders down and away from your eyes, uncross your legs and let your feet feel the floor beneath you. Now, take deep breaths and allow even more air to fill your lungs.
(1) Do it anyway – When you’re having a hard time with confidence, ask yourself:
“What would I do if I were confident?”
“What would I do if I believe that I can succeed in doing X?”
Journal the answers. Picture the answers in your head. Do what suits you best. It doesn’t matter if you feel insecure, 'fake' it and do it anyway. The process of 'doing' will give you confidence.
In fact, a client of mine who felt shy about raising her voice at her workplace was able to turn things around with this exact method. As I guided her to repeatedly choose to speak up, even if her voice often shook when she spoke, her confidence gradually grew. Speaking up at meetings is now second nature to her, and she guides those close to her in the art of manufacturing confidence.
STAGE 4: INTERNALISING DESERVEDNESS – I deserve
Hardly anyone of us gets through childhood without establishing limiting beliefs about ourselves.
"I’m not lovable."
"I don’t deserve love."
Such thoughts will serve to block you from enacting the change you wish to see. This is because negative thoughts have a toxic subtext which your subconscious mind responds to. They translate to, “There’s something fundamentally wrong with me. I don’t deserve what I want.”
When I was young, my father went through a dark period with alcohol. I couldn’t understand why he was never happy with me. Since there must be a reason for everything, I concluded that there was something wrong with me. As a result, I struggled with unworthiness and the shame of being fundamentally flawed from that time and into early adulthood. I unconsciously punished myself, mirroring the way my father 'punished' me with his displeasure and neglect. I chose to have bad relationships; I decided to take up as many vices as I could (e.g. alcohol, smoking, irresponsible spending, unrelenting self-criticism, etc.)
My father had his demons, and some of them became mine. Despite what I went through, I love my father. I’m sharing this today not to blame him, but to show you how I needed to do a lot of deep inner work to heal our relationship as well as myself. It was an arduous but highly necessary process. The healing process allowed me to release my self-limiting and self-destructing beliefs. In place of 'punishments', I started allowing myself to receive beautiful things in life. From there, I was then able to work on attracting the right person to partner in life, forge lasting and meaningful friendships and start a business I am passionate about. Most significantly, I was able to realise my childhood dream of publishing a book, instead of sabotaging it by repeating negative thoughts about my inability to become a published author.
One's sense of deservedness is a consequence of going through inner-healing work. I’ve met many people who are resistant to healing altogether. They just want to 'get what they want'; they say that they have 'no time' to deal with the process of healing. I always have to remind them that healing is essential and that it's not something you can buy in a store. It's something that you have to do in your mind, within yourself. Without going through the necessary inner healing, you are condemning yourself to carry around a permanent anchor that will keep you from moving forward with your life.
STAGE 5: RESOLVE – I can take action
When you’re clear about your desires, have a keen sense of self-confidence (or at least know that you can manufacture it), and believe that you deserve what you want, your actions will carry a different level of magnitude.
You’ll find yourself making powerful choices and taking decisive action. You'll feel change happening, and yet, I can guarantee that you will feel a great resistance towards it. In his book titled book titled, "Do the Work", Steven Pressfield articulates this resistance eloquently, “[the] rule of thumb [is this]: the more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel.”
For example, I didn't resist watching the entire Harry Potter series for the 6th time (yep, I'm a Potterhead), but I did find myself procrastinating on writing this article. Anxiety, fear, procrastination etc.–these are all examples of resistance–and the big mistake we all make is to think that we need to have boundless motivation and a perfect plan before work can begin. Most of the time, the converse is true, with the actions themselves creating the momentum, motivation, and clarity we need to propel us forward.
So, whatever it is you have on your list: show up. Get to work.
STAGE 6: WHOLENESS – Giving 100%
I want to share an excerpt from Khalil Gibran's poem,"Do Not Love Half Lovers", here:
“Half a life is a life you didn't live / A word you have not said / A smile you postponed /
A love you have not had / A friendship you did not know/
To reach and not arrive / Work and not work/
Attend only to be absent.”
Over-thinking, second-guessing, doubting: These are all energy and time suckers.
Remember I mentioned that I was able to fulfil my childhood dream of writing and self-publishing a book? It wasn't as smooth sailing as it sounds. The truth is, after I finished writing the first draft, I was utterly depressed. I honestly believed that the book wasn't any good and almost deleted it from my computer. I wasted month after month going back and forth, until I realised that I was creating mental barriers that were causing me unnecessary pain and blocking me from achieving my goals.
My book has since been published, and the response has been incredibly positive. In fact, I got an email from a lady in Vietnam two days ago saying that the book has had such a profound impact on her that she promptly "cried like a baby" after finishing the book. She realised, for the first time in her life, that she had never loved herself enough. Call us emotional or whatever, but reading her message made me cry like a baby, too.
So if you’re on the journey, see it through to the end. Don’t talk yourself out of greatness.
STAGE 7: GRIT – I’ll never give up
When you start working on making powerful changes in your life, you’ll be met with seemingly insurmountable challenges. You will experience failure, disappointment, disapproval, rejection, and even heartbreak. Notice how I didn’t say that you may suffer these things because I can tell you now that you will.
This is because there will always be things that will be out of your control. The investor or client you've worked so hard on impressing could tell you that they're, 'just not interested'; you could receive an email from HR saying, 'We regret to inform you, but you're not the right fit for our company'; the person whom you've identified as an 'ideal life partner' could one day tell you that they're 'not into anything serious right now' – the list goes on.
Ofttimes, it will also seem like no one cares about your changes and all the inner work that you're doing, save your beloved family and friends who will express that they are worried and suggest/pressure/beg you to go back to your 'normal' self.
Even if none of the above things happens to you, chances are that you’ll fall off course along the way. Did you know that the Apollo 11 mission, while on its way to the moon, was off path 97% of the time? It reached its destination only because of constant feedback from NASA and diligent course-correction on their part. Similarly, your transformative journey will have a zigzagging trajectory, and you will have to see that you persist on it.
The biggest problem I often see when I work with healthy independent people is that they want to figure everything out by themselves. They don’t know how to ask for support. They feel weak and almost ashamed that they need help from others. That was me in that past – but no more.
One of the most significant lessons I’ve learned after nearly a decade of continuously reinventing myself is the importance of having support. A mentor, a coach, an accountability buddy, community, a soul-sister friend, a supportive husband… The more support I can gather for myself from the onset and along the way, the higher chance of success I have, and the more joyful the journey. These people can call me out when I’m bullsh*tting my way out of my dream (pardon my language).
To have real strength, you also have to be vulnerable enough to ask for and receive help. True wisdom is to recognise that you don’t know what you don’t know and use the expertise of others as powerful leverage for your dream.
STAGE 8: ALIGNMENT – I am
You have gone through the journey of change and you've come to the stage of alignment. You’ve given your absolute 100%.
I don’t believe in the motivational pop culture that says you’ll succeed in all of your endeavours if you work hard and believe i.e. "Go ahead, give it all up and follow your passion; you’ll get precisely the what you desire and are looking for!" I don’t think it’s that simple.
I’ve put 100% of myself in many things in my life, and I’ve “failed” many times (fail = not getting the outcome I expected). However, I have always gleamed invaluable lessons, each and every time. Secondly, whenever I poured my heart-work and hard-work into something that I desired but didn't manage to achieve, I was somehow still re-routed to a path that was even more rewarding: I was allowed to engage with what my soul needed more. I see the same thing in the clients whom I coach.
Earlier this year, a young woman started working with me because she wanted to find a suitable life partner. She felt that she was trying very hard to meet someone who was 'right' for her, but was unable to do so. After a few months of deep inner work with me by her side, she was able to let go of an old relationship that was holding her back. In the process of opening her heart to potential new love, she realised that it was actually a change in career that she needed more than anything else. She made a bold move by leaving her cushy corporate job which was financially stable but gave her zero satisfaction. She now runs a medium-sized business, continues to challenge herself while pursuing her passion for art. She feels fulfilled, enjoys the person she has become, and no longer feels an aching, urgent need to find the 'right' person immediately. In summary, what she needed was to learn to be happy on her own, before sharing her happiness with someone else.
The path toward lasting change is always worth it. You climb a mountain not just because you want reach the peak, but to thoroughly engage with the wild trail –its high points, low points and plateaus; the brilliant morning sunlight and the night with no moon; the unexpected flower growing at the edge of a hidden spring; the melancholy song of a bird at dawn. You're in for a journey filled with soul-enriching experiences that beget personal evolution.
Isn’t that the whole point of living?
Milena Nguyen, one of our lovely PAUSE Guides, is a three-time TEDx Speaker, multiple-business founder and life coach. She has spoken in six countries about self-love, lifestyle design, conscious relationships, healthy living, happiness, and finding one’s purpose in life.