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Anatomy of Personal Change

personal change

Personal change is both an internal and external experience. It stems from a change in mindset and branches out from there. In truth, we are constantly moving toward some things, and away from others. But in order for noticeable transformation to occur, we must pass through a series of tipping points in succession.

This does not mean that a personal change can’t take place quickly, because it can. What it does mean is that all meaningful change, regardless of the time required, will follow a certain sequence.

On the path of personal transformation

We see an excellent large scale example of this sequential process in a typical life span. We all begin life as infants and progress through childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, middle age, and finally old age. Some pass through these stages at different rates, but the sequence is always the same.

Note also that these stages of life are not limited to physical change alone. There is a complete metamorphosis on all levels. Mental and emotional change is present in conjunction with the physical. A very similar order is in involved in the process of personal growth and development.

The 7 stages of personal change

1) Awareness. The initial motivation for change starts with a sense that something is no longer working as well as it once did. This awareness can be extremely subtle at first. Maybe you feel uncomfortable with a long held belief, or with your current way of dealing with certain situations. Perhaps you realize that you no longer feel as resourceful or effective in certain areas of your life.

These feelings are the beginning of your personal recognition that something needs to be adjusted and precede any change in mindset. Even before you can put your finger on the source of this internal discomfort, you feel it on some level. Something is just not right and your conscious mind begins to investigate.

2) Discovery. This is the stage where your conscious mind has located the source of discomfort and is attempting to alert you of its presence. At this point you may run into resistance from your own ego, and the whole process of growth could be cut short.

The ego seeks refuge in denial, pretending that your discomfort is from an external source rather than an internal one. For personal change to progress past this stage requires that we accept that the source of our uneasiness is from within ourselves. The ability to override the denial tendency and adopt a new mindset is a prerequisite for moving to the next stage.

3) Ownership. In this stage we take responsibility for our own discomfort. That means that we fully accept that we are the source, rather than some external force. At this point we consciously acknowledge that it is our feelings, habits, perception, emotions, limiting beliefs, or faulty reasoning that needs to be adjusted.

This is a very powerful and key step on the path of personal transformation. It is the realization that we are actually in control, and therefore have the ability to facilitate a change. Accepting complete ownership of the situation opens the door to a new mindset of personal empowerment.

4) Exposure. This is the stage where we expand our search to identify the emotion or belief that is no longer serving us. This can be difficult for several reasons. For one, logic is not usually a very effective tool in the emotional arena. For another, we tend to view our beliefs as facts of life, and will always look for ways to justify them.

Rather than a direct confrontation, it is much easier to look at our behavior patterns to see how different beliefs have affected our lives. Once we recognize that we have been held back by, or suffered because of, certain beliefs, we will have both logic and emotion supporting our desire for change.

5) Intention. This is the threshold of personal change. You have identified an obsolete belief or behavior pattern, and you are now motivated to replace it with something more empowering. You are ready to move away from your former stage of development and embrace the next level. It’s time to choose a direction.

By the time you reach this tipping point, it is fairly easy to see where you want to be. The same comparison process that exposed the original source of discomfort has probably already revealed your next destination. All that’s left is to embrace a mindset that affirms your resolve to go there, and to formulate a plan of action.

6) Action. In the world of personal transformation, this is the only way to achieve results. If you don’t act, nothing will change. In fact, your discomfort with the current reality will increase because you have a much greater awareness of it. Before, it was just a subtle sense that something is no longer working. Now, it has a face.

Taking action is the only way to reestablish internal harmony. Any other course will require that you relinquish control and accept the mindset of a victim. When people feel helpless and depressed with their life, failure to take action and move toward a solution is often the cause.

7) Integration. This is the final stage where you have fully adopted the new belief or behavior. What started as a subtle awareness that something needed to be adjusted, has resulted in new milestone on the journey of personal change.

You have now reestablished your internal harmony on the next level. You have also successfully let go of an established, but obsolete, belief. It has been replaced with something much more empowering.

Choose personal growth

The more you experience this process the more natural it becomes. For those who embrace change, personal growth is a way of life. Never fool yourself into thinking that resisting change is the easier course; it’s not, because it robs you of the happiness and sense of purpose that you deserve. When you embrace change, you embrace life!

How do you feel about personal change?
Do you ever resist making changes to improve your life?
The lines are open!

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26 Comments

  1. Steven Aitchison August 29, 2009 Reply

    Jonathan this is a good model to live ones life by and when contemplating change of any kind. I love the feeling of stage 5 – Intention, this is where it all happens for me and it’s the most exciting part.

    • Jonathan August 30, 2009 Reply

      Hi Steve, thanks for stopping by. I was thinking that, even though we a experience change, we are rarely aware of the steps involved. Hopefully, seeing the different steps will allow some who are stuck in the process to understand 1) where they are and 2) what needs to come next.

  2. Frank J August 30, 2009 Reply

    I have always been a change champion. I believe if something is not working out, than it’s time to change it or move.

    Nice article!

    • Jonathan August 30, 2009 Reply

      Hi Frank, it’s great when change feels natural, but even those who struggle with it can make their norm with practice.

  3. Dr. Annette Colby August 30, 2009 Reply

    Dear Jonathan,

    Another great article! I especially apreciate your statement in step number 6, ” If you don’t act, nothing will change. In fact, your discomfort with the current reality will increase because you have a much greater awareness of it.”

    Change is difficult, and it doesn’t even matter what level of change we’re talking about. Change in personal habits, in career, in relationships, or on the planet. The truth is that change is extremely unnerving. Change means doing things differently and leaving familiar comforts behind. Because the unknown can be scary, we often long for change on one level yet fear it on another.

    But you’re right Jonathan…when we are ready for change it’s time to take action. Not doing so only intensifies the feelings and conflict withing–which include both the readiness to change and the resistance to doing so. Thanks again for your gentle reminder to trust ourselves, to accept ownership of this change, and to move forward in a manner that feels good and right.

    • Jonathan August 30, 2009 Reply

      Hi Annette, thanks for joining the conversation. It’s always nice to hear from you and to share in your insight.

      For those of you who don’t know Annette, I want to encourage you to visit here blog. I also highly recommend her book “Your Highest Potential,” it’s brilliant.

  4. Robin Easton August 30, 2009 Reply

    This is interesting Jonathan and sparked several thoughts, which would take too long to write here. I really enjoyed this post as I think the whole “change” issue goes much deeper than we may realize. So deep in fact that I think it’s who we ARE. Not that we don’t have lulls of just being and enjoying the changes we make, or times of stasis or regrouping, etc. But I think without change we cease to exist. There is no evolution for the individual, the species, the planet, the universe.

    I’ve grown to thrive on change. This is not to say that it can’t feel uncomfortable or even down-right scary at times, but I now equate “embracing change” with growth and my own evolution, with heightened awareness, renewed vigor, higher intelligence in myself (through fresh perspective), greater compassion and understanding of the human condition and so forth. Change is so fundamental that it almost IS Life.

    • Jonathan August 30, 2009 Reply

      I share your feelings about change Robin. Life is fluid and change is the only constant. I like to watch how the water in a stream moves. It may need to change course to go over or around rocks, but it just keeps flowing. When it stops moving we call it stagnant. I feel the same way about life without change.

      • Robin Easton August 31, 2009 Reply

        Dear Jonathan, I LOVE your comparison of water to change/life. It is one that is dear to my heart. I’ve often used it myself since realizing seeing it many years ago in the rainforest. As I was reading this I was thinking how amazing it would be if classrooms were outdoors. A teacher could not only talk about the natural world and the creatures that inhabit it (the science of it, biology, ecology, etc, but they could SO easily — right along with that — teach life skills.

        It is how I learned in the rainforest. All through school I thought I was seriously dumb. My teachers/society/grading/evaluation system had me convinced of that. But somewhere deep inside I knew I was smart, and yet nothing in my world except Nature and my parents, especially Dad, reflected otherwise. But in the rainforest learning became a holistic experience, where all aspects of learning were taught at once, not separately. I not only learned what was IN the water and what might eat me, harm me or what I might eat LOL! but I literally learned from watching the water itself. Nature effortlessly imprints herself upon us. Through water I learned exactly what you state here: when water couldn’t move it became stagnant….and that I had allow my life to flow like water or I too would become stagnant.

  5. Sibyl Chavis August 30, 2009 Reply

    Great post and insights. I am in total agreement and believe that embracing change is an important thing to become comfortable with. It is not that we change just for the sake of changing, but rather that we change because we know we are improving and moving to a better place.

    • Jonathan February 7, 2011 Reply

      Hi Sibyl, if we want positive change we need to consciously work for it. The changes that happen without conscious direction can be the exact opposite of what we really want.

  6. Stephen August 31, 2009 Reply

    Insightful thoughts here Jonathan. I’m convinced that personal change is crucial to a life well lived. None of us gets it right the first time huh? Even if we did, the world changes around us so fast we have to change to keep up. #5 and #6 are the keys for me. I loved that beautiful thought you left as a comment on my Dash article! :-)

    • Jonathan September 1, 2009 Reply

      Hey Stephen, I think you said that very well. I can’t imagine how lacking life would seem without the “crucial” change / growth aspect.

  7. Walter August 31, 2009 Reply

    For most people, personal development comes when something tragic happens in their life. Mine was not that tragic but it made me realize something that I need to find for myself. Reading good books have made me see what I miss inside myself.

    Personal development is the most important thing that happened to my life. It has given me the wisdom to see life in a different light. Now, I face life knowing that I will never be the same. :-)

    • Jonathan September 1, 2009 Reply

      Hi Walter, thanks for joining us. Very often, personal development is the result of a tragic wake up call. When something rattles our world it can motivate us to analyze our situation and make adjustments.

      Here’s my question: Why wait? We really don’t need to wait for tragedy to strike. In fact, if we make personal development a way of life we can sidestep many of the so called tragic happenings.

  8. Karim September 2, 2009 Reply

    Good one on anatomy of personel change, and it helps a lot.

    Thanks,

  9. Nea September 8, 2009 Reply

    Great article. I think most people will see major change by simply following #1…. awareness. This is where it all starts.

    • Jonathan February 7, 2011 Reply

      So true Nea, very little happens until we become aware of the need. Otherwise, we just keep doing the same thing and producing the same result.

  10. Elle May 30, 2013 Reply

    Jonathan, I think personal change is very important.

    In the past, I wouldn’t have realized that personal change was needed until a drastic event happened in my life that would kind of force me to change as a person.

    However nowadays, I spend more time reflecting on how I can change to make myself a better person and I reflect on the things I could do that could help me grow as a person.

    #3 is my favourite point – you can’t have personal change if you don’t take ownership of your own actions!

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