Transformation vs. Change

Seasonal cycleTransformation seems to be the word of the year. Everything is transforming, everybody is transforming. It used to be good enough to change, but not anymore. You’ve got to transform.

Well, I am a degree carrying expert in transformation. And because I have a PhD in Transformative Learning and Change, people always ask me the difference between the two and what it means to have an advanced degree in the study of them.
I love this topic.

The two words are often used interchangeably and they are certainly related; yet they are quite different. In fact, on the outside, depending on what it is, transformation and change may look exactly alike. The real difference between the two lies on the inside.

CHANGE can be incremental and it can be subtle or it can be huge, but it must be consciously sustained. The set point for change is before the change occurred. Change is maintained with thought, effort and persistence.

TRANSFORMATION on the other hand, is always big because it requires a shift so drastic that a new set point is created. Transformation is a shift in consciousness. Transformation creates a new set point. In fact, transformation creates a new reality.

Let me give you an example: I am a vegetarian. I became a vegetarian about 25 years ago. Something happened the day I decided to never again eat meat. I had a shift in my consciousness. Since that day, I have never desired to eat meat and the thought of it is a little repulsive to me. Now, I don’t care if other people eat it and I have no desire to try to convince anyone that my vegetarian diet is a better lifestyle. In fact, I constantly struggle with my weight (that’s another blog), so I would not be one to provide nutritional or diet advice. Becoming a vegetarian was a spiritual shift for me. I was transformed when I became a vegetarian.
Food pyramid for vegetarians. Isolated on a white background.
There are many people who don’t eat meat, but struggle with the idea of not eating it. They may have decided for health reasons that a vegetarian diet is healthier or they may have decided that they do not like the way animals are farmed; yet they crave meat and desire it when they see it on the table, but have the willpower to resist. These people changed their behavior to become vegetarian.

On the outside both the transformation to being a vegetarian and the change to being a vegetarian look exactly the same, but internally they are very different. For the transformed vegetarian the diet is a part of their core being, they could not imagine it any other way.

Is one better than the other?

Probably not, but that’s hard to say. We are able to change our behaviors, but transformation goes beyond that conscious and persistent struggle to maintain a new state. Transformation is a shift that happens at the core and creates a new existence. Transformation is not something that you can control, it may or may not happen. You can decide to change and work toward that in a consistent way. In the process, transformation may occur.

life cycle european tree frogThe image to the left is the life cycle of a frog. I love using the frog analogy to discuss transformation. A frog transforms by nature. The tadpole is born into murky shallow water. In order to survive the tadpole must stay in the shallow water. If the tadpole ventures into deep water it will likely drown, yet if it is taken out of the water it will suffocate. As the tadpole develops legs it begins to develop lungs and must rise to the surface of the water to get some air. This process continues as the tadpole becomes a froglet and then a frog. The frog can go into the murky water, it can go on land, and it can go in deep water; but the frog can never stay in the murky shallow waters where it was born or it will die. It must leave its old environment to survive. Although the frog can return to the murky waters, it cannot and does not want to live there.

When humans transform, we often have to leave our old environments, old habits, old friends, and other old relationships. With true transformation we may be able to visit those people, places, or things but we cannot stay there or like the frog our new existence is threatened.

Whether it is sustained change or transformation it really does not matter as long as it is a move toward a healthier, more positive, and more fulfilling life.

With Achieve n 5! sustained five minutes a day actions often lead to transformation, and when worked, it always leads to significant change.

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Transformation vs. Change — 11 Comments

  1. yes, all too often it is dangerous for one’s change/transformation to (re)visit the old people places and/or things; many conscious (& far more insidiously- sub & unconscious) factors exist therein, threatening (as it were) to pull one back away from their desired progression…

    • So true Jenifer, in the early stages of change, it is important to remove temptations whether those are people, things, food, environments, or something else.

  2. A very interesting article for the future.Peter Senge’s book on “the Dance of change” , Peter Drucker’s book “The Adventures of a Bystander” & Charles Handy’s books “The age of unreason & “the empty Raincoat’ amplify these two aspects.Lifelong Learning on an “Action Learning” mode is the way to go for the future.

  3. I love this topic, too…thanks for writing about it.

    In fiction writing, the difference between “universal” characters and “individual” (usually leading) characters, is that the individual characters are fundamentally *changed* by the process of resolving whatever conflict the story imposes on them. I guess the “universal” characters, who are unchanged by the process, represent the alternative to transformation.

    Since each of us *writes* our own story, I like to think our real-life, daily challenge is to distinguish between “conflicts” that are a waste of time and energy, and those that represent transformative opportunities.

    • Hi Anne, It’s good to see you.The word transformation is used so much these days. But, the real transformative experiences are often preceded by disorienting dilemmas – those times when we have to figure out what just happened, why it happened and what does it mean. It’s the things that shake our belief systems that offer an opportunity for us to be transformed.

  4. I agree. Change could be something as simple as changing your shoes. But transformation means you are forever different, a new consciousness, becoming a new version of yourself. I teach workshops on how to Live Your Passion and that is the goal, transformation, not just change.

    • Stacie, I think the goal is almost always transformation; but as I see it sometimes sustained change is sufficient and it is really all that we can control. Because transformation is a deeper process, on the outside they may look the same. Transformation happens on the inside. For Example: the person who stops smoking. The result is the same whether it is a change or transformation. The difference is, for the person who has changed their behavior to being a nonsmoker, it may constantly struggle to not smoke; whereas the person who has truly transformed has no thought of smoking and the idea of smoking is now like some distant memory that may feel like it belongs to someone else.

  5. Excellent article Lesa and one of the most clearly described definitions of the difference between change and transformation I have found. I will definitely use it in my own work (attributed to you of course) 😉 Thanks again for posting!

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