Making Big Life Shifts: It's Not That Scary After You Learn a Few Lessons From Those Who Have Done It

Every big change in our lives starts from within. Every transformation begins with an internal change, shift or intention before it manifests itself in our external reality -- like starting a relationship, getting married, becoming a parent, pursuing a career or following a calling.

Some changes and transformations that we desire don't happen easily. Like diets we'd like to get on (and stay on) in order to improve our health, or addictions we know we need to quit, or careers we want to switch in order to free up time to spend with those we love.

For those transformations, we often need an external trigger. Something to whip us out from the spinning platforms of the proverbial carousels of our lives, which we've allowed to become the safe, familiar, pretty and closed cycle that keeps us stuck.

We often hear stories of such changes being triggered by traumatic events: switching to a healthy diet after an illness, starting recovery after hitting the rock bottom, or prioritizing how we spend our time after losing a loved one.

But why wait for such painful triggers?

Why not use the gentle ones available to us all the time?

For example, Thanksgiving is a great external opportunity for evaluating where we are, where we want to be, how much we have grown, and what we are holding on to that we still need to let go. The heightened presence of gratitude in the air can be a great "force field" to use when we confront ourselves and our goals. Because instead of disappointing and berating ourselves for our failures, we have the opportunity to shift into examining our lives from the perspective of gratitude.

Then there is the turn of the calendar year. Throwing out the old calendar and replacing it with a shiny new one can serve as a great external trigger. We start fresh, with lots of white space to fill with the pictures and words we want to see as a part of our story. But the coolest part of 'starting fresh' is that we don't need to wait till January 1st to use this external trigger -- we can start right now.

Stories of those who have made significant shifts in their lives can help us in this process.

Over the past year I've interviewed 32 guests on my show Waking Up in America about turning points in various aspects of their lives.

Many of them had CLEAR life-altering events that caused them to change their behaviors and thought patterns. For some it was a SERIES of external triggers that finally awoke them, while for a few they were able to listen to that WHISPER deep within their soul and avoid a loud wake-up call.

Here are some of the things they learned and what we can apply to our own lives. (For the full list, visit

1. "Everything is dependent upon our ability to sit with discomfort. And not numb it, and not reject it and not use it to hurt other people... but just sit with pain. Everything beautiful comes from there." -- Glennon Melton

I learned from Glennon Melton that it's only when we are able to sit with discomfort that we can understand WHY and WHAT we need to shift in our lives in order to move out of it.

2. Change requires risk, and with any risk comes the possibility of failure. Fear of failure and humiliation keeps us inactive.
Four "ordinary Moms" shifted from passively waiting to stepping into their power to help with the hunger in Croatian schools. In just a few months they secured over a half million lunches and moved the government to address this problem.

3. Having a bigger picture and a bigger "why" can trigger a shift into a life with joy and purpose. Helping others helps us to get out of our old patterns and gain a new perspective on life.
Brittain Kovac became debt-free, motivated by her desire to build homes in Jamaica. Steve Reiner shifted from his unhealthy lifestyle into a life with purpose when he started volunteering at halfway houses and addiction recovery centers.

4. When we develop one thing we really love and start identifying with it, we lose the sense of who we are apart from that passion. When we become successful in that identity, it's easy to get stuck.
Lucinda Ruh, the "Queen of Spin" loved her career but needed to make a shift and be Lucinda first, not just "the fastest spinner" or "the figure skater." Former NFL running back Tim Worley sabotaged his career because he didn't know who he was outside of his identity as a athlete.

5. "Growing food and being around an abundant place full of flowers and scents and life and butterflies and bees, and birds... helps us heal." -- Jeremy Lekich
Nature transforms constantly. It's a great teacher of how to make shifts and embrace change. When Jeremy Lekich realized how much happier and connected he was in nature, he left a promising career path and now teaches others to connect with nature and grow food.

6. When we find ourselves trapped and realize we are controlling nothing in the cycle... the only thing we can change in the cycle is ourselves.
One of the most powerful realizations is that the only way to affect the world around us, and change the situations we are in, is by making a change within ourselves. Podiatric surgeon Dr. Cary Gannon started by removing toxins from her life -- what she ate, what she thought, and what she felt -- and then created her toxin-free nail polish product line.

7. "I figured if I could just hear people talk about their divine journey, their transformations, that I could draft off of those and it would somehow heal me." -- Daniel Epstein
When we share our experiences with each other, when we listen to the stories of fellow journeyers, we learn about ourselves. This is what helped Daniel Epstein to transform his life.

8. Self-care is important. "And more than nutrition are words and thoughts and feelings... 'cause each one of those have a chemical reaction, hormonal reaction in our body." -- Robin Mizaur
When we are not well, we aren't able to transform our lives. Like in nature, we stay dormant until it's safe to proceed. When Robin Mizaur lost her son in a tragic accident, it was the support of family and friends and her own self-care that helped her heal.

Waking Up in America is a weekly TV show and blog inspiring and empowering audiences to live with joy and purpose. Check out our entire Season at or on my HuffPost blog.