Welcome to the first in a series on Transformation Keys, a weekly series on thoughts you can use to transform the quality and experience of life for yourself, your friends and family, and possibly even the larger community.
Borrowing a bit from President Kennedy, we are entering a time when change will become increasingly focused not on what the government can do for you, but what you can do for yourself, your neighbor, and your community. These articles will focus squarely on the process of personal transformation and what you can do to make a difference in your life and to the world around you.
What is Transformation? Dictionary.com defines transformation as:
"A marked change, as in appearance or character, usually for the better; A qualitative change; a change in form, appearance, nature, or character; the process or result of changing from one appearance, state, or phase to another"
Transformation, then, is a complete change in how you think, live and interact with others. Personal transformation changes the quality of life you experience on a daily basis, and the quality of living you bring to your interactions with others.
There are numerous keys to personal transformation and I have chosen to start with Gratitude. Ordinarily, I would introduce this powerful concept after having laid a strong foundation in advance. However, given the stressful times in which we live and the apparent instability, unreliability, and fear wracked nature of our social and economic systems, it seems to me that the counterintuitive notion of Gratitude is needed right here, right now, for each and every one of us.
So why Gratitude?
Gratitude is a kind of seed that survives even the most devastating of circumstances, one that can germinate with the slightest amount of care. And when the gratitude seed germinates, the grateful typically experience an expansion of well being - emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
The seed typically sprouts in small ways, and yet the observant amongst us will notice that the tiniest sprout slowly grows into something more substantial. Gratitude is not just a seed, but also a form of nourishment that enables us to find our way out of difficult circumstances, to find choices that others might miss, and to craft an improved life experience.
This may require a very different way of thinking, but it is not so difficult, really. The difference is one of perspective and awareness. It is one that is subtle, yet profound in the same moment.
The cynical will dismiss the power of this simple notion, most often because it is apparently all too simplistic. It is so much easier to notice how empty the glass might be rather than the small drops that might eventually fill that same rather empty glass.
Having lived through several family bankruptcies, including a stint of living in my car, I have some idea of just how difficult it can be to find the droplets of gratitude amidst the torrent of apparent negativity.
And, yet, this simple notion of gratitude has been transformative in my life and I suspect that you might be able to find some value as well.
No matter how terrible the circumstance, whether it might be the kind of horrific experience Viktor Frankl endured at the hands of the Nazis, or the anguish of having lost a home, a job or a loved one, you can always discover a portion of something positive upon which a better future can be imagined or built.
W Mitchell speaks and writes of his transformation that involved a disfiguring motorcycle accident and a subsequent paralyzing airplane crash. In his book, It's Not What Happens To You, It's What You Do About It, he writes, "Before I was paralyzed there were 10,000 things I could do. Now there are 9,000. I can either dwell on the 1,000 I've lost or focus on the 9,000 I have left."
Gratitude is the internal awareness that despite external circumstances, I am still OK. With expanded awareness and the affirmation of gratitude, you may find an amazing ability to grow in the face of overwhelming difficulty, to make the proverbial lemonade from the lemons life seems to have left at your doorstep.
So why not try that oldest of clichés, count your blessings? A friend just lost her house in the Tea fire in Santa Barbara. What could she possibly have to be grateful for? She might consider her life as a good start! And then there are the friends who have rallied to her support. What comes next remains to be seen. However, starting with the Attitude of Gratitude certainly won't hurt!
And why not? A focus on gratitude may enable you to find new choices, opportunities in the midst of the calamity, an ability to exert a form of control that may not have been previously apparent. Viktor Frankl wrote that he learned the power of freedom and choice in a concentration camp! W Mitchell writes that he discovered even greater powers of creativity and accomplishment after being burned and then paralyzed.
So what do you have to be grateful for? How about making a simple list and seeing where it might lead you? As you discover even the smallest of blessings, how might you build on them? How could the small blessings become a foundation for something even larger?
We will continue this theme next week, looking at yet another key to personal transformation. For the moment, try going to bed each night with at least one thought about something that occurred this day for which you can be truly grateful. You may surprise yourself at what you can discover.
I'd love to hear from you. Please do leave a comment here or drop me an email at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.
If you want more information on how you can apply this kind of reframing to your life and to your job, about a few simple steps that may wind up transforming your life, please download a free chapter from my book, Workarounds That Work. You'll be glad you did.
Russell Bishop is an educational psychologist, author, executive coach and management consultant based in Santa Barbara, Calif. You can learn more about my work by visiting my website at www.RussellBishop.com. You can contact me by e-mail at Russell (at) russellbishop.com.