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Chances are if you reflect back on your life there have been at least a few life-changing, defining moments. A defining moment is a moment when everything changes—for the worse, or for the better
Can you think of any moment or moments in your life when you knew something had fundamentally shifted for you? When you knew that you would never be quite the same?
These defining moments don’t have to be dramatic, disruptive, or upsetting. They can positive, powerful, and enlightening.
For example, a defining moment for me that I talk about often is the time I spent working with the homeless. During that time I discovered my calling as an educator, coach and writer. I knew from that experience on that I would always be doing this kind of work—working with people in that very real, deep, honest way.
My first yoga class was a defining moment, as I met myself on a level I didn’t even know existed.
Another defining moment was my first trip overseas, backpacking with friends. That awakened in me a wanderlust, and I vowed the travel would forever be a significant part of my life.
What have been some of the defining moments of your life?
These defining moments are also known as paradigm shifts. A paradigm is a construct of the world, of life. It is a map of the way we see things.
While there may be similarities, a paradigm, our paradigms, are unique to each of us. They are filters resulting from everything we’ve been taught (good or bad), our experiences, our beliefs, and our attitudes about things. Everything is filtered through our own unique lens—or paradigm.
This is how some people get stuck in a perspective. They get stuck in their own assumptions about the way things are.
A paradigm shift, which can also be called a defining moment, happens when our construct of the world, the very lens through which we perceive and experience reality, shifts…changes, usually as a result of new information that comes in.
With a paradigm shift, we don’t have to work hard to change our habits or change our minds. It happens effortlessly by our new understanding and awareness.
The entire landscape changes. Our view of the world and our place in it changes.
When this happens, our behavior organically shifts.
It’s not something we have to work at, necessarily, because we have been changed on the inside by some new information that came.
This is how personal development works, and why self-improvement can be so life-changing.
As Einstein said, “A mind, once stretched, never returns to its original dimensions.”
Our minds are literally changed by the new awareness and understanding that we have.
So if you want to change your life, rather than focusing on changing your habits, focus on changing your mind with new information, elevating the way you see and perceive the world.
As I always tell my students who are trying really hard to change some habit or aspect of their life, instead of focusing on what you don’t want, focus on what you want. Focus on your own personal growth and development, keep evolving yourself, and those things that no longer serve you…that are no longer in alignment with this more expansive version of yourself, will fall away with grace and ease.
Like my coaching client who wanted to quit smoking. Instead of focusing on her smoking, we focused on the life she wanted to be living. When she did quit smoking, she said it was surprisingly easy. It just no longer fit for her.
Another student put it this way, “Smoking quit me.”
And that’s what happens when you have a paradigm shift. In these two cases, smoking no longer fit into their view of themselves and their lives.
I have seen people’s lives change in an instant. A paradigm shift can happen at any moment.
This is what Oprah was referring to when she popularized the phrase, the “AHA moment.”
I sometimes refer to this as a face-palm, “I could have had a V-8” moment. That moment when you realize something that was right in front of your eyes all the time, but you couldn’t see it because it wasn’t a part of your paradigm yet.
Here are 3 AHA Moments that, once you have them, will forever change your view of yourself and of the world you live in. I’ve witnessed the moment these paradigm shifts have happened for people, and knew when I saw the light of awareness turn on in their eyes that their experience was about to change forever.
The reason I often talk about my time spent working with the homeless is because that experience taught me so much, especially how to be non-judgmental and compassionate. When I learned not to let my mind narrow in judgment and I allowed myself to truly listen to their stories I was always humbled, realizing if I had their exact same life experiences—their same parents, childhood, education and belief-system, I could be where they are, too.
When I stopped being judgmental and started to truly listen, I organically became more compassionate. I realized everybody has a story, including me, and we’re all doing the best we can with our current level of awareness and understanding in a situation.
This realization, born of a new paradigm based on non-judgment and compassion, changed my life. It helped me love and accept myself more, as well as others, and I started to experience a deeper connection with everyone around me. I no longer carried a deep-seated belief that there was something wrong with me, and I no longer felt lonely even when I was in a room full of people—which was something I experienced at times before my work with the homeless. I now felt at peace with myself, accepted others, and felt deeper love and connection than I ever thought possible.
When we eliminate the learned habits of judging ourselves and others, and replace it with compassion, love and acceptance, our whole world opens up.
This one single AHA moment, that one single paradigm shift, forever changed the way I see the world around me, and myself.
I realized that judgment is the single greatest cause of separation in our minds, from us and the world around us. And it doesn’t make us more safe. It simply makes us more lonely.
This could be the single most important gift my work with the homeless gave me, and this realization could change your life, too.
2. Every choice we make is a vote for the life we want.
Most people move through their lives seemingly oblivious of the fact that our lives are a product of, the sum total of, the choices that we make.
We are “at cause” in our lives, meaning every action causes a reaction. Every cause has an effect. Every choice leads to a result.
Unfortunately, another popular learned habit in our culture is thinking, acting, and behaving like a victim. Many blame life for where they are, rather than taking any kind of responsibility.
Of course, things do happen in life that we didn’t choose; a car accident, miscarriage, cancer, the loss of a loved one…
But we do get to choose what we make those experiences mean.
Gary Zukav, author of The Seat of the Soul, wrote that we are strengthened or weakened by the choices that we make.
Every choice—from what we eat, to the activities we engage in, to the people we surround ourselves with—are either moving us in the direction of the life we say we want to create, or they are moving us further away from it.
If you say you want to lose weight, be healthy, feel and look good, but you eat donuts for breakfast, fast food for lunch, and then binge on fried foods and sweet desserts…obviously, those choices aren’t in alignment with what you say you want, and are moving you further away from the life you want to live.
We all too often forget that we have the power of choice. Even our language is a great indicator of how much responsibility we are willing to take in our lives. We say things like “I can’t”, and then feel helpless. Or here’s another one that, while it sounds more positive, often ends up setting us up for failure: “I’ll try”. But as Yoda said, “there is no try, only do.”
Because here’s the rub: NOBODY ELSE CAN DO IT FOR YOU.
So the next time you find yourself thinking or saying, “I can’t”, stop and ask yourself, is that true? Really contemplate that assumption. When you stop to challenge that belief you’ll feel something shift inside you as you begin to realize of course I can.
Remember, you are at cause in your life, and every choice is a vote for the life you want.
When I choose to do this—remembering that I am not a victim and I do have the power to choose and create my life, I immediately feel more positive, proactive, and powerful.
That switch from “I can’t” to “of course I can” is a paradigm shift that has the power to change your life. One choice at a time.
3. Life is conspiring to bring out the best in you.
This one ties into #2 and the power of choice. As I wrote about in my book and teach my students often: “Life is a co-creation.” We tell Life what we want, and Life gives us what we need in order to become the person who can create that.
If we say we want to learn to be more patient, Life doesn’t just wave a magic want and make us more patient. Instead, it’s going to put us in situations, over and over again, that give us the chance to cultivate that patience. Remember, we have free will. We have the power to choose. Instead of waiting for more patience to magically happen for us, we are going to have to choose it.
And as soon as you step into the YOU you say you want to be, the opportunities will keep coming until you do…until you get it.
It’s not going to happen to you. You are going to have to choose it.
Once you do, the same constant bombardment and frustrations cease, or at least they seem to, because they no longer have the same effect on you. And when you’ve really grown into that version of yourself you said you wanted, in this case to be more patient, Life doesn’t feel the need to keep sending you those lessons anymore.
When our neighbors moved in with three loud and constantly barking dogs, for example, it was a source of major irritation for me. I marveled at “how can they let their dogs bark incessantly like that, all night long?!”
After a couple of weeks of letting that situation push my buttons, I decided to imagine the dogs, and their owners, wrapped in love and light. I let every bark remind me of how much I love dogs (I have 3 myself), rather than focusing on the bark. Ironically, weeks later I realized the barking had stopped at some point, and I hadn’t even noticed. Apparently, those neighbors had moved on. Problem solved. But by then I had already chosen to be at peace with the situation. I guess Life figured that lesson had been learned.
Know that Life is always conspiring to bring out the best in us, whenever I or my students are feeling particularly challenged, I like to ask the question, “What is Life asking of you in this situation? What part of you are you being invited to develop?”
This helps shift the paradigm from feeling like a victim of life and our circumstances, to one of being a curious student looking for the gift hidden in every situation.
These 3 AHA moments (as simple as they may seem) have the ability to change your life. That’s what makes it an AHA moment. Because so often that shift that we needed was right there in front of our eyes. We just couldn’t see it yet.