AAA of Transformational Change
About two years ago a question started nagging at me, “What’s different in people’s thinking, circumstances, situations, etc. when they finally make transformational and sustainable changes? Something’s different, I thought, when people look at things like significant, permanent weight loss, entering into – or leaving – relationships, starting businesses, changing careers, etc., but I wasn’t sure exactly what it was. As a result, I decided to find out. For nearly two years now, I’ve asked hundreds of people to describe the process, the series of events, the insights they reported when they actually, finally made the decision to change in a transformational way. Most started with responses like “I’m not sure – I just felt it was time to do it” – but as I dug more deeply, a trend emerged.
When correlating the data from their stories, there appears to be a three-step process involved most often when change becomes transformational AND sustainable. The keys words here are transformational and sustainable – we can seem to change in a transformational way, but in reality we’re pretending or acting. We’ll “act” like we’ve transformed, but we really haven’t. When the circumstances that caused us to change aren’t present any longer (i.e., things are back to “normal”), we’ll just snap back to our old patterns. No change. This, I believe, is why so many diets don’t work – our activities change (for a while) but the transformation isn’t sustainable because our underlying triggers aren’t addressed in a sustainable way.
I have a saying, “Change is hard – until we decide it isn’t…” In other words, we tend to resist, to deflect, to delay and to increase the difficulty related to change – because we haven’t (yet) decided to make it easy, or simple, or straightforward. It’s the power in the CHOICE that makes the difference related to whether change is hard or not. Certainly, the energy behind resistance to change can grow when changes are transformational versus incremental. After all, getting a new version of an iPhone isn’t “that” big a deal – but dumping your PC for a Mac can be, well, life-threatening for some.
Incremental change can be quite difficult for some – but for most of us, it’s just part of the deal. Anyway, there’s something different when change is both transformational and sustainable, and I think I’ve narrowed down to these three steps: 1) ALLOW, 2) ACCEPT and 3) APPRECIATE
Have you heard the statement before, “This will never work…” Me too. And I usually hear someone say this well in advance of any proposed change. It’s as if they have checked their crystal ball and it has convinced them of CERTAIN failure – with no evidence at all, except their feelings about it. That’s what I call “suffering in advance.” “I can’t lose weight.” “I’ll never be in a satisfying, joyful relationship.” “I can’t afford to find a better job…” All of those are examples of this kind of suffering.
Taking a slightly different tack, have you heard the saying, “Be careful what you ask for because that’s what you’ll likely get…”? Again, me too. There’s a hidden negative in that saying – the notion that you need to be “careful.” I’ve changed the statement – to me it’s about getting CLEAR about what you’re asking for. That way, there’s nothing to fear! In both cases – stopping the suffering in advance related to “this will never work” or substituting the words “get clear” instead of “be careful” – what we’ve done is to consciously ALLOW a change to come forward.
We’ve removed our biases, our limited beliefs, etc., and we’ve opened ourselves up to receive. It’s like the story attributed to Abraham Lincoln, “If I have four hours to chop down a tree, I’m going to spend three hours sharpening my axe!” Allowing a change to come forward means the energy around the change is different as a result – like having a well-prepared garden plot before we plant our seeds. Soil that has been cleared of rocks, sticks, weeds, and is full of nutrients is FAR more likely to create great results. Allow. Those who have made transformational and sustainable change reached the point in their change process where they (finally) allowed the change to be possible. Sometimes the impetus includes an “or else” clause, “Lose 50 pounds or your high blood pressure will give you a stroke” – but sometimes the “allow” step is more positive, more joy-filled, “Will you marry me?” is such an example. In either case, however, until we allow change to be a possibility, we will not allow it to happen.
The “Accept” step can often be the death blow to transformational, sustainable change – particularly when the transformation means a developing a new worldview, or fundamentally examining our beliefs and making the resulting changes to our behaviors. We may finally “allow” change to be a possibility – but the change possibility that “comes through” isn’t what we want, or expect. For some, discovering your son or daughter is gay, or learning that a lifetime of bad eating habits has lead to a diagnosis of type two diabetes can be such moments. When we don’t accept the change that presents itself, we enter a pattern of denial. “No, that can’t be true,” is a typical response, and the longer we stay in a place where we’re denying the needed change, the more likely the change will never be accepted. One strategy to help to stay out of denial is to consciously live in the “tension of opposites” (the good and the bad) – to simply accept that what is, is. Continuing the agricultural metaphor for a moment, occasionally an unexpected “plant” (outcome) comes from the seeds we’ve planted. Acceptance means that we don’t pull the weeds too soon – we need to accept all dimensions of the change without rushing to fix anything too soon. There may be a better, different answer available to us if we are simply in the mode of acceptance instead of operating in the posture of judgment or problem solver. This can be excruciatingly difficult for some personality types – we’ve become a species of problem solvers instead of farmers – where you need to take the good with the bad, learn from both, and then move forward to handle things as they are. Follow the words in the Beatles hit, “Let it Be.” There will be an answer, let it be. “I need to accept the change – okay, let me accept it!”
The final stage the three step process I’ve observed, appreciate, reminds me to reflect positively on my willingness to allow and then receive the benefits of a change. It also helps me to celebrate my successes in this “small, right-now, right-here” moment of change. I love the word appreciate – it may be my favorite word of all. Why? Because it has two meanings – both of which are positive: 1) to see the value in; and 2) to increase the value of. And – in working with 1,000s of individuals in the world of transformational change, I’ve come to discover that few things POWER successful change better than enjoyment, of celebration, and positive energy. Small successes fuel big successes, and the momentum of the overall change effort continues to build.
When we’ve done a good job with Allow and Accept, Appreciate represents a bountiful crop – we reap what we sow! Prepare well. Sow well. Reap well. Pretty simple, don’t you think? So – say it with me. Allow… Accept… Appreciate… Allow… Accept… Appreciate… Doesn’t that make you feel more calm, more confident and more focused? I find myself saying these three words over and over when I’m the midst of a transformational change – and when I do, my results skyrocket. I encourage those with whom I work to do the same thing – and their results shoot forward too! Allow (let yourself) be open to new ideas, Accept the benefits from these new ideas eagerly and openly, (see them, touch them, feel them, etc.) and finally, Appreciate the results you’re creating by becoming GOOD at change (celebrate, congratulate).
What have you got to lose – except a whole pile of worry, fear and negative energy? Give it a try. You’ll like it. About the Author: Robert S. Tipton is a high-energy, innovative, and insightful transformational change architect, leadership facilitator, keynote speaker, and author who is passionate about helping individuals, groups and entire organizations reach for and achieve exceptional results. He lives in the Denver, Colorado USA area, and enjoys assisting clients in the government, utility, healthcare and education industries across the world. For more information, please visit My website