Six Steps for Self-Transformation
Do you feel trapped in your job? Most of us have experienced work situations in which we have felt trapped in an unsatisfying job that feels to us like a prison. What we don't realize is that in these situations either we hold the key and don't use it, or we willingly hand the key over to others – our bosses, our clients, or our colleagues, for example -- and let them be our jailers. In these situations, we lose all of our power either to the people whom we've made our jailers or because we don't acknowledge that we are our own jailers.
There are always three possibilities to resolve work situations like these – in fact, any situation in which you feel trapped. You can:
1. accept it fully;
2. change it; or
3. remove yourself from it.
In today's economy, it isn't always feasible to remove yourself from the situation by changing jobs. This leaves the choices of fully accepting your situation as it is or changing it so that you won't feel trapped anymore. In my opinion, both of these options can only be accomplished through self-transformation. Self-transformation is self-motivated change from within that increases your ability to accomplish your goals. It comes from shifting your perception, realizing that you are responsible for putting yourself in the situation in which you feel trapped and for voluntarily not using the key or for giving it to others. Self-transformation empowers you to use the key to free yourself! In other words, you'll find that by transforming yourself, you've also transformed your experience of your job!
Self-transformation involves six steps.
Step 1: Decide that you want to transform yourself and commit to the process.
Motivation is a key to self-transformation. We tend to resist change because change is scary. It means giving up familiar ways and entering unknown territory. Even if the old ways are painful and produce less-than-stellar results, we stick with them because we know we can exist with that pain and the frustration. It is familiar pain, and consciously or unconsciously we fear that unfamiliar pain will be worse. Generally, we make the decision to transform ourselves only when something in our lives is going so badly that we don't want to put up with it anymore.
I mentioned that self-transformation requires a shift in perception. Instead of blaming external circumstances for your dissatisfaction, you need to look within. Acknowledge that something you're doing is contributing to the experiences you don't like and that you want to change to produce better results. This means recognizing that if you want your present to be different from your past, you have to be different from how you've been up to now. Self-transformation is a challenging process and it can be accomplished!
Step 2: Look at your past and identify the dysfunctional patterns that have been determining your actions and experiences up to now.
This requires learning how your mind works.
Essentially the mind hasn't changed much since the early days of hunting and gathering; it still operates just like our ancestors' minds did millions of years ago: It interprets everything that happens and, based on those interpretations, it invents tactics intended to help you survive. It doesn't matter whether you're facing an important meeting or a woolly mammoth from prehistoric times, your mind is always looking for ways to survive what it perceives as a threat to survival. A “threat to survival” may just be another's person's comment that the mind interprets as an insult. The mind bases its survival strategies on what it believes worked in past situations. It does this automatically, without conscious awareness. As a shorthand, I refer to the automatic workings of the mind as our machinery and to the mental "software" that determines our responses as our programming.
To transform yourself, you must become aware of your individual programming, the voice in your head that wants to tell you how to act and react to everything you encounter. The process of self-transformation requires you to monitor that voice constantly -- to realize that the voice isn't you; it's just your machinery and advisor; it's not your boss. Self-transformation requires learning to question its perceptions and interpretations. When your mind is acting automatically—as it does most of the time—it can give you good or bad advice.
Self-transformation requires letting go of patters of acting and thinking that come from your past. This means looking at your past to see how it has influenced the way you have acted up to now.
For example, Lyle is a businessman who generally has issues with his bosses. Reflecting on his past, he realized there was a link between fighting with his bosses and fighting with his father. Growing up, Lyle saw his father as authoritarian, arbitrary, and critical. He felt his father never acknowledged, heard, or saw him. He felt that the only way he could get what he wanted was through confrontation.
Lyle eventually came to recognize that fighting with his boss was just old programming running on automatic pilot hurting his career and making him feel trapped in his job. He was reacting to his bosses as if they were his father.
Jennifer is a businesswoman who never had friends at work. Reflecting on her past she saw that her "shyness" began as a child when her father kept being transferred from location to location. She found making friends difficult. Looking back, Jennifer realized that because she was acting on automatic pilot and letting her programming run her behavior with her colleagues at work, she was duplicating her childhood pattern of not making friends.
Step 3: Identify your old Organizing Principles.
All of us have conscious and unconscious beliefs that we hold as facts instead of realizing that they are only perceptions based on feelings. These beliefs, which come from your past experiences, have been dictating how you act. I call these mistaken beliefs that we hold as facts our Organizing Principles.
These were Lyle's Organizing Principles:
•Men in authority positions are arbitrary and like to exercise power for its own sake. They don't deserve my respect.
•I have to fight to be seen and heard.
•If I compromise, I'm weak (and I won't survive).
Jennifer's Organizing Principles:
•People won't like me because I'm shy and they already have friends.
•It's not worth the effort of trying to make friends because I'll just lose them anyway and it's painful.
Step 4: Create new Guiding Principles.
Next, you must replace your old dysfunctional principles with new positive principles that will bring you from the past, into the present, which will open you up to the possibility of getting what you want -- new and more fulfilling experiences at work! I call these new principles Guiding Principles.
Lyle's new Guiding Principles might be
•Men in authority positions may be right and may deserve respect.
•I can be heard and seen with positive self-expression and without confrontation.
•It's a sign of strength and maturity when I choose to reach a compromise.
Jennifer's new Guiding Principles might be
•People want friends; I'm valuable so they will like me.
•New friends enrich my life.
•It's more painful to be lonely than to risk rejection or loss.
Step 5: Interrupt your mental machinery by observing your old Organizing Principles and instead of acting automatically on old Organizing Principles, consciously substitute your new Guiding Principles.
Feeling defensive, upset, angry, anxious, or frustrated is a clue that the voice in your head is reacting to situation based on your old Organizing Principles. When any of these feelings come up, know that you have a choice to stop reacting automatically and instead choose to use new Guiding Principles.
For example Lyle's can remind himself to actually listen to what his boss is saying instead of reacting as if he needs to fight and Jennifer can ask colleagues to join her for lunch even if she feels nervous and uncomfortable. She can consciously remind herself that having the relationships she wants are worth taking a risk.
Step 6: Live fearlessly.
Self-transformation comes from being courageous. You have to let go of past conditioning and proceed into unknown territory, facing fears and not giving in to them. Living fearlessly doesn't mean you won't have fears; it means acknowledging your fears and moving ahead anyway! Instead of letting your fears keep you in the past, you'll move into the present, where anything is possible. This is the essence of self-transformation.
Steven J. Fogel is a principal and cofounder of Westwood Financial Corp. and the author of My Mind Is Not Always My Friend: A Guide for How to Not Get in Your Own Way (Peppertree Press, 2010) and The Yes-I-Can Guide to Mastering Real Estate (Times Books-Random House).