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You Look Different: The Things That Actually Change Us

by Elizabeth Graff 

15 April 2019



Learning to dance with abandon.

When I was 19, I fell madly in love with a dilapidated house. The outside was yellowing and the porch was crowded with squeaky, rusting furniture. A black walnut tree towered in the backyard, and the walnuts that it dropped every fall made the soil toxic to all but the heartiest of vegetables. We grew our own food; I ate a lot of kale that year. Inside, the house was filled with constant laughter and music. Dirty dishes and frisbees (several housemates preferred frisbees to plates) piled in the sink. Forgotten tomes (feminist and environmentalist manifestos from the seventies) piled on the living room bookshelves. Oh, college.


Image

That year, I learned how to cook. I learned to dance with abandon. I learned how to feel comfortable in my own skin. I could tell you about the things I learned in my classes. But if we’re being honest, living communally in Farmhouse with 16 other people probably changed me more than anything I learned in a classroom that year.


The things that actually change us.

Despite the time, effort and (at times) financial resources we invest in changing ourselves, it’s sometimes questionable whether we really have. So, it’s worth asking: What actually changes us? What are the catalysts that lead to the types of changes that really matter: changes in how we see ourselves and others, how we behave and make choices, how we experience life? And what makes those changes last?

According to psychologist Jeffrey Kottler, author of Change: What Really Leads To Personal Transformation, the science-backed answers aren’t 100% in. But we do know some things. For example, we know that most life-changing experiences happen outside of formal learning environments. These experiences usually put us in our stretch zones and involve:

  • Emotional Arousal — We feel vulnerable, yet are willing to try something new.
  • Active Learning — We are personally involved, not passive recipients of experience.
  • Social Support — We are surrounded by people who support the changes that we’re trying to make.

Kottler sums it up this way:

“When you are most uncomfortable, most out of your element, most confused and anxious, that is when the real action begins. You are forced to rely on resources that you never knew you had. You are required to solve problems in new ways.”

And later:

“When we are in a strange environment, when we can’t get our needs met in usual ways, when we are in unchartered [sic] territory, we are forced to access new and different resources within ourselves… It is when we are highly emotionally aroused that we are most vulnerable to our fears but also most willing to try something new.”

It seems that there is a recipe to follow:

Emotional Arousal + Active Learning + Social Support = Transformative, Lasting Change


The things that actually changed me.

Curious to see how this squared with my own experience, I decided to do an experiment, which you might also like to try. I listed out the top experiences that I felt changed me. Then, I looked for patterns.

Ignoring the one book that turned me into a vegetarian-leaning pescetarian for five years, the vast majority of the experiences on my list do fit the mold that Kottler laid out. In addition, I noticed: about half were painful and about half were pleasant; the majority were not easy, changed me for the better and were things that I chose or had agency in (vs. happened to me); and 100% of the items on my list involved others.


The things that actually changed you.

What about you? What experiences have changed you the most? Is there a change you’ve been wanting to make in your life?

At interstory, we’re building a community of people who grab life by the horns. Will you join us?

interstory is a virtual, global community for people who are passionate about growing what matters to them. Whether that means growing their careers, their relationships or some other aspect of their lives, our job is to support the members of our community in pursuing their passions by providing them with coaching, powerful tools and a community of cheerleaders. We encourage each other to make the types of changes that lead to transformation.

In a future blog post, we’ll cover the science of habit formation. In the meantime, if you’re curious to learn more about change, you might want to check out the following books:

Change: What Really Leads to Lasting Personal Transformation by Jeffrey Kottler

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath


Get better at life, together.

Join interstory today.

Learn More

Learning to dance with abandon.

When I was 19, I fell madly in love with a dilapidated house. The outside was yellowing and the porch was crowded with squeaky, rusting furniture. A black walnut tree towered in the backyard, and the walnuts that it dropped every fall made the soil toxic to all but the heartiest of vegetables. We grew our own food; I ate a lot of kale that year. Inside, the house was filled with constant laughter and music. Dirty dishes and frisbees (several housemates preferred frisbees to plates) piled in the sink. Forgotten tomes (feminist and environmentalist manifestos from the seventies) piled on the living room bookshelves. Oh, college.


Image

That year, I learned how to cook. I learned to dance with abandon. I learned how to feel comfortable in my own skin. I could tell you about the things I learned in my classes. But if we’re being honest, living communally in Farmhouse with 16 other people probably changed me more than anything I learned in a classroom that year.


The things that actually change us.

Despite the time, effort and (at times) financial resources we invest in changing ourselves, it’s sometimes questionable whether we really have. So, it’s worth asking: What actually changes us? What are the catalysts that lead to the types of changes that really matter: changes in how we see ourselves and others, how we behave and make choices, how we experience life? And what makes those changes last?

According to psychologist Jeffrey Kottler, author of Change: What Really Leads To Personal Transformation, the science-backed answers aren’t 100% in. But we do know some things. For example, we know that most life-changing experiences happen outside of formal learning environments. These experiences usually put us in our stretch zones and involve:

  • Emotional Arousal — We feel vulnerable, yet are willing to try something new.
  • Active Learning — We are personally involved, not passive recipients of experience.
  • Social Support — We are surrounded by people who support the changes that we’re trying to make.

Kottler sums it up this way:

“When you are most uncomfortable, most out of your element, most confused and anxious, that is when the real action begins. You are forced to rely on resources that you never knew you had. You are required to solve problems in new ways.”

And later:

“When we are in a strange environment, when we can’t get our needs met in usual ways, when we are in unchartered [sic] territory, we are forced to access new and different resources within ourselves… It is when we are highly emotionally aroused that we are most vulnerable to our fears but also most willing to try something new.”

It seems that there is a recipe to follow:

Emotional Arousal + Active Learning + Social Support = Transformative, Lasting Change


The things that actually changed me.

Curious to see how this squared with my own experience, I decided to do an experiment, which you might also like to try. I listed out the top experiences that I felt changed me. Then, I looked for patterns.

Ignoring the one book that turned me into a vegetarian-leaning pescetarian for five years, the vast majority of the experiences on my list do fit the mold that Kottler laid out. In addition, I noticed: about half were painful and about half were pleasant; the majority were not easy, changed me for the better and were things that I chose or had agency in (vs. happened to me); and 100% of the items on my list involved others.


The things that actually changed you.

What about you? What experiences have changed you the most? Is there a change you’ve been wanting to make in your life?

At interstory, we’re building a community of people who grab life by the horns. Will you join us?

interstory is a virtual, global community for people who are passionate about growing what matters to them. Whether that means growing their careers, their relationships or some other aspect of their lives, our job is to support the members of our community in pursuing their passions by providing them with coaching, powerful tools and a community of cheerleaders. We encourage each other to make the types of changes that lead to transformation.

In a future blog post, we’ll cover the science of habit formation. In the meantime, if you’re curious to learn more about change, you might want to check out the following books:

Change: What Really Leads to Lasting Personal Transformation by Jeffrey Kottler

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip and Dan Heath


Get better at life, together.

Join our community today.

Learn More