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The 5 stages of personal transformation

The transformational process that converts a caterpillar into a butterfly.
The transformational process that converts a caterpillar into a butterfly.

At certain points in our adult lives, many of us go through personal transformations that can change us to the very core of our being. Although the end results of such transformations can be wonderful and awe inspiring to behold, the actual process of transformation can be very uncomfortable. The discomfort that often comes with profound personal change is probably a big reason why many of us avoid it even when it becomes evident that it is necessary for further growth.

Many of us ignore our inner promptings for change because change is usually difficult. Some of the ultra disciplined amongst us are actually capable of implementing positive life changes in an organized way well before things get out of hand. For the less disciplined majority however, things usually end up getting a bit more messy. In this article, we will detail the different stages of a “messy” personal transformation because it is probably the form that most of us can relate to. Besides, it is a heck of a lot less boring to talk about the “messy stuff” than the cleaner route taken by the ultra disciplined.

  1. Stage 1: Inner Prompting

  2. In the preliminary stages of personal transformation, there is an inner prompting that calls you to move in a specific direction. It might be a prompting to get more vegetables into your diet, to start meditating regularly, or to start exercising again. This inner prompting usually surfaces well before things get super difficult, and often takes the form of a calm but persistent voice that arises from within. This is usually the fork in the road where the disciplined action oriented few go one way, and the rest of us go the other.

    Very few of us actually follow through on this inner prompting for a few reasons some of which are listed below:

    1. Stress and other impurities from our daily lives can drown out our inner promptings to the point where we can’t hear them
    2. Some of us might hear the inner promptings loud and clear but fail to follow through because of emotions such as fear
    3. Most of us ignore this inner prompting because we humans tend to be lazy in the absence of something that forces us to act

    As inconvenient as it might be to follow this preliminary inner prompting, it can be 100 times more painful in the long run if we don’t.

  3. Stage 2: Denial

  4. This is the stage of personal transformation in which we can see physical evidence in the outer world of a need to change. An example of this would be an athlete who starts to suffer a lot of little niggling injuries which at the root are due to a lack of high quality nutrition. Even though our athlete may know this at some deep level, it is likely that at this stage, he isn’t quite ready to implement the required change. So he goes on rationalizing away the injuries… “I just need more work on my flexibility”… “I just need to drink more water”…. “My proprioception must be a bit off so I should do more balance ball exercises” and so on. Note that even though there is nothing wrong with our athlete’s suggested solutions, they all conveniently avoid the root of the problem. As a result of this, his injuries may become a recurring theme that severely limits his performance, eventually leading to something more catastrophic.

  5. Stage 3: Defcon 1 situation

  6. If we continually deny obvious outward signs that tell us we need to change, things can eventually get really bad. This is what I playfully refer to as the “Defcon 1 situation”. Defcon 1 is a military term that can be loosely translated to “shit just hit the fan” and in this case, there is no way that you can sustainably ignore the work that you need to do. In the case of our athlete who ignores his need for a better diet, the niggling injuries and occasional migraines could morph into a torn anterior cruciate ligament, a severed achilles tendon, or some other serious injury that keeps manifesting until he pays attention to the root cause. This can be the darkest and most depressing part of personal transformation because all your past excuses all of a sudden stop working, and you are now forced to face the grim reality of your situation. That being said, this stage is a necessary turning point for most of us that sets us on the right course to redemption.

  7. Stage 4: Acceptance/Hard Work

  8. When we get to this stage, we can now clearly see the grim reality of what we need to do to heal the self inflicted wounds we may have suffered due to inaction. In addition, we now know that there is no getting around the work that needs to be done because none of the tricks we’ve tried in the past work anymore. We must now stand up to our challenges and conquer them or wallow in perpetual misery. This is the point where our hypothetical athlete realizes that he needs to clean up his diet and enlists the help of that friend of his who always seems to have great eating habits and robust health.

  9. Stage 5: Phoenix Rising

  10. So you’ve stuck to it and done the hard work for a few years. You haven’t shirked your responsibility even though it may have been super difficult at times. Through your struggles and trials, you’ve now morphed into the ultimate badass. People look up to you now. Folks who used to taunt you can sense that there is something different about you that’s best not to mess with. As a result, there is a lot less friction all across your life. You now know exactly who you are and who you aren’t without a sliver of a doubt. You scoff at the idea of conforming just for the sake of being accepted and embrace your true self which has been there all along. The Phoenix has now risen from the ashes in all its magical glory and a new breed of fantastic people replace your old friends in your inner circle.

    In our athlete’s story, this is the turning point where having consistently consumed his salads and vegetable smoothies for years, he is now back to fighting shape and running rings around people who are a decade younger than he is. Taking a hard look inwards and diligently doing the required work instead of running from it, restored him to his fighting best.

I can say from experience that going through a personal transformation can be brutal. During a personal transformation, you have to somehow maintain your sanity while in the process of doing a mountain of work. If you are going through a personal transformation as you read this, I really do sympathize with you because I have been there before and can still intermittently taste the pain. Keep going though, because there is light at the end of the tunnel. All of us here at are rooting for you.
Without Wax
Oyolu B.C. Ph.D.
Go see and/or buy some cool art on the ETSY store!

2 thoughts on “The 5 stages of personal transformation

  1. I have started using a technique called motivational interviewing at work……. it is similar to this, success is achieved by what I call ” the light bulb coming on in the individuals head” You have to want it personally to achieve it.

    1. Hello there! There is a lot of truth to what you are saying, but I also think that an element of consistency in working on the change you would like to see in your life is critical. Having a light bulb moment is the first indispensable step, but without the will to carry it forward on a day to day basis for years, you’d be hard pressed to make lasting change. Thanks so much for stopping by and for sharing your insightful thoughts. Hope all is well. 🙂

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