How Daily, Incremental Changes Build into Real Transformation
by Brandon Ferdig
We like to think of transformation as an event, an instant and drastic change like morphing into a werewolf.
After all, why wouldn’t we?
Near-death experiences, the birth of a child, hitting a bottom: these are dramatic, attention-getting, and memorable.
But reality is almost always not like this.
Unlike a sudden mutation, changes to a person's character, mind, heart, or soul often happen over long periods of time, sometimes without us even realizing it—like hair growth. Change is a process, not a event.
One day, we recognize the change. Or someone else does.
Maybe they ask, “When did you become so mature (or wise or compassionate or upbeat)?” We have to think about it, because we’re honestly not sure ourselves.
We slowly matured. We learned, gradually. We made better choices, little ones. The progressive changes added up to significant transformation. If transformation were an investment strategy, it would be about “going long.” It's like putting away $50 a week, then looking into the bank account to see how large it has grown.
I offer a little change—a practice—that makes a big difference:
Increase your self-awareness by checking-in with yourself regularly to make sure you’re on track to be the better you.
There are many methods for improving your character, but all are impeded by a common hurdle. So for the purposes of this article, I want to address that which we need to cut out: a default state of mind that runs amok, leading us toward unhealthy (or at least unproductive) places if we don’t exercise a little discipline.
Practicing self-awareness helps us recognize the default state of mind, the noise of worry and daily stress.
Self-awareness is nothing more than simply checking-in with ourselves regularly. A check-in allows us to slow our minds from a run to a walk. Check ins reduce the desire to distract ourselves with noise, a merry-go-round of destructive thinking that sends us into a spiraling mess.
Though this practice will at first feel uncomfortable (after all, it’s work to stay present), doing so will eventually make you more serene. It will clear space in your heart for the virtues we strive for: courtesy, gratitude, and loving gestures and thoughts.
There are a number of little tricks that reduce the distractions and change the default state we gravitate toward:
- Use less electronics before sleep.
- Wake up 15 minutes earlier to meditate.
- Turn off the radio in the car.
- Read or watch less news.
Sure, take your comforts and enjoy some relaxation; everyone likes a time-out for themselves! But by regularly checking in with yourself, you’ll know when your free time is deserved and when it's simply part of a funk that keeps you from improving.
Morning meditation is especially important, because taking just fifteen minutes is the difference between finding time to be present in the moment versus chasing after the loud buzzing we get caught up in.
Find time and make time to be calm, aware, and ready to bat away the incessant little mosquitoes of thoughts buzzing like static interference on the soft classical soundtrack of your true being. We've all got them.
The practice to find peace in the moment takes discipline, both in terms of creating a habit to extend an effort and also in terms of raising the bar to demand more from yourself.
But don’t fret. You’ve proven you’re up to the task.
Take brushing your teeth. I’m betting you don’t wait until you have a cavity to do it, either. You just do it. You’ve raised your hygienic bar. It just feels wrong to not brush your teeth—even if your teeth are perfectly healthy.
Just the same, we need to raise the bar of our spiritual upkeep to achieve slow-but-sure transformation. Don’t wait for substantial negative consequences because you didn't raise the bar for yourself. Do the actions necessary despite an immediate reward. Put that fifty bucks away each day.
A regular, conscious choice to let go of unnecessary worry builds up over time. The worry, noise, and agitation of everyday stress are like clouds to your sunshine, your real existence. Walking in that sunshine of self-awareness is real transformation, real change. But it takes time to walk through the night to finally see the sun begin to rise. Believe me, the dawn will come. The sun will break the horizon.
It only takes little, daily, incremental changes to finally see the light, and more importantly, to walk in it.