Someone I know recently came to me with this vow: “I want to change my life!” Her life was messed up. Work was going badly and several projects had gone down the drain. She had also lost some important relationships through betrayal of trust.
In her desperation she had sought help from gods of every form. Prayers were said to the Christian God. Black magic was invoked by a Malay bomoh. Scientific cures were sought from a qualified counsellor. This person was serious about wanting to change her life.
As I watched this friend’s struggle, I realised I was witnessing a personal transformation before my very eyes. Since real-life examples are more helpful than theories, I thought I’d write down my observations. So here it is: the anatomy of a life change, based on a true story.
Stage 1: Awakening
When a person says “I want to change my life”, there is usually a pretty big trigger event. This could be losing a job, a business, a life partner, or a close friend. While things have been going downhill for a while, there is one thing that finally snaps us out of our denial that anything is wrong, and makes us realise “Gosh, I really screwed up.”
Stage 2: Anger and blame
This friend of mine blamed her parents for a miserable childhood, her business associates for bailing out on her, her friends for not being there when she needed them. Eventually she turned the pointing finger inward and finally took responsibility for bringing her troubles upon herself.
Stage 3: Acknowledge weakness
Being a very strong and proud person, it took a lot of effort for this person to talk about her imperfections. She admitted that she had not been honest, had let down people who trusted and counted on her, and was hypocritical in her earlier exhortations to others to behave morally while she was secretly breaking all her own rules.
Stage 4: Ask forgiveness
Having acknowledged her specific weaknesses and faults, she was able to verbalise her regret and write to those she had hurt. She described how depressed she felt, how much she needed her friends’ support, and asked for their forgiveness. She also said that she was working on forgiving herself.
Stage 5: Accept help
With her burden of guilt lightened, she started taking concrete steps to change. One thing she did right was to reach out to any friend who would extend a helping hand. Hers was no small-scale self-help effort. She went all out to spread the word that she wanted help. And she was surprised and encouraged by how kind and generous people were.
Stage 6: Bury the past
Instead of dwelling on events of the past, my friend taught herself to let go. When people asked her what had happened, she simply said she didn’t want to talk about the past anymore. When the people she had hurt accused her for what she had done, she said she was sorry but she was no longer that person, and asked them to give her a chance to regain their trust.
Stage 7: Focus on the present
Everyday, she reminded herself of the kind of person she wanted to be. She affirmed that she was fundamentally still a good person. She focused on the life she wanted – a life of peace and joy, of helping other people and making the world a better place. She kept this vision of the new “ME” topmost in her mind as often as she could.
Stage 8: Keep working at it
Last I heard, she is still working hard at being a better person. Like many of us, she will never attain perfection, and personal improvement will be a lifelong process. She still faces temptations to revert to her old way of being, but she is at least conscious of these temptations and better equipped to turn away. She’s a trooper.
I have learnt so much from watching this person. In a way, we are all her. Some of us have already been through the stages above. Some of us will probably start the cycle all over again at some point.
The most beautiful part of this story is that while my friend thought she was darkness and evil personified, she was actually bringing light and hope to all of us. She showed us that when a person really wants to change her life, she can indeed change it.