05/14/2014 10:22 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

What Is Transformation?

I've been talking about transformation a lot these days. It's the theme for 2014 at Rodale. It's definitely a buzzword, and once you focus on it, you start to hear it everywhere. It's this mythic "thing" that everyone is striving for: personal transformation (physical, mental, and spiritual), strategic business transformation (evolution, renewal), or it can be something experienced, like the transformative power of rock 'n' roll.

Transformation is different than a turnaround, which is another business buzzword. A turnaround is when something isn't working, perhaps because people have gotten a little lazy or distracted, modes of operating have become outdated, and someone needs to come in and cut costs or upgrade a team--or, on the personal side, change a diet or add 1,000 extra sit-ups a week or something. Transformation is kind of the same thing, only better, more efficient and more "profitable."

Transformation is more powerful, more about metamorphosis. It's a "thorough, radical, or dramatic change"--a transition from one thing to another. It actually doesn't have to be from something bad to something good--I think we can all think of someone who was "transformed" from something good to something worse--either by pain, grief, anger, or tragedy. So think of transformation as a power that can be used for either good or ill. Of course, most people want to use it for good--to transform into something better, stronger, happier, healthier, and more successful.

Transformation takes a kind of effort--or even an effortless effort--that requires an openness to change and doing something different. You can't get to transformation by doing what you've always done before. You have to do something new. Be open to something new. Try something new. Be willing to f@*k up. In fact, definitely f@*k up once or twice. You have to be willing to "do the work," as my therapist says.

But it's also not about fixing a problem. We all spend a lot of time fixated on fixing things. I think the secret to transformation is really inventing new things: dreaming up a new dream and working toward it. And then, one day you wake up transformed, and you realize the old things you wanted to "fix" don't exist anymore. So it's less about stopping something and more about starting something. It's about identifying what you want more of, not what you need less of.

Although, sometimes to get to more, we need to do less.

What do I mean by that? We are all so busy, busy, busy doing stuff all the time. I have to smile when people say to me "Oh, you must be so busy." Often I am, but sometimes I'm not. In fact, I've been deliberately trying to not be as busy. Because what I've found is that it's in those peaceful, quiet times that the energy of transformation does its best work. Where new ideas sprout like dandelions. Where dreams are dreamt and intentions are set. And without intention, transformation becomes random and perhaps more likely to be negative instead of positive. Those quiet times enable you to set your intentions.

Think about the butterfly, for example. It has to be very, very quiet inside a cocoon in order to transform from a caterpillar into a butterfly. That quietness is not complete stillness, either--since inside that cocoon there are so many things happening.

But for humans the work of transformation begins with the decision to ACT on an idea, or a change, or a dream. Anyone can dream; but it is harder to find the courage to act on those dreams. Acting on a dream can be hard: you might fail. But you can also succeed. And at the very least, you will have directly experienced transformation.

And it is a beautiful thing.

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