A Research Paper By Valentina Mallardo, Transformational Coach, AUSTRALIA
Navigating Transformation. The Journey of Becoming and the Power of Honoring One’s Seasons, in Life and Coaching.
The inspiration for this work came from two things. The desire to put into words a significant piece of my transformation journey. Writing, a bit like saying things out loud, help to give shape and meaning to our experiences and to become more aware of our trajectories. And, a significant event that occurred before deciding to enroll in the coaching school, one of those things you do not pay much attention to at the start, but later you realize the impact that had on you and, in this case, on my journey to become a coach.
In the following pages, I am going to talk about how learning to swim at the age of thirty-six became one of the most transformative experiences of my life and something that had a huge impact on my journey of becoming a coach and the person I wanted to be. In doing so, I begin by first providing the details of the background story and its implications, I then describe the transformation process by using my coaching model –Coaching Journeysas a framework to guide the reader. This work aims to retrace the steps of a transformative journey through the coach’s lenses and, to shine a light on how letting go, taking small steps, and trusting one’s inner guide can support clients (and coaches)to embrace their journey of transformation and to honor the fruits that come with each season.
Like every story of transformation, there have been few shifts in perspective, the most significant has been going from feeling a victim of past events and beliefs to being the creator of my present reality. If you are curious and want to know more about it, I have written a coaching power tool, called Victim vs Creator.
To be honest, I don’t know how I managed to reach my age without knowing how to swim, I must admit I had become pretty good at creating structures around me that could keep me safe and comfortable with my disability all these years. It’s amusing looking back now at myself, going through my teenagehood right to my thirties, carefully avoiding pools and boat parties and any possible gathering that involved being in the water with other people. Instead of joining and enjoying anyway as perhaps many would do, I was not showing up at all. Yes, I was afraid of the water, but I was even more afraid at the thought of people’s opinion of me.
But let me go back a bit. When did this all start?
It began with child Val, age five or six going to the pool with her old sister. I was taking classes with other kids of my age but one day not sure how I found myself almost drowning in the fifty-meter pool. I still remember that day, the strong smell of chlorine, the density of the water, and the emotions running through my body, from excitement to panic to fear to embarrassment. The swim instructor got even more scared, after rescuing me she started screaming and shaking her arms and body. She could not self-regulate. The whole pool stopped, my ears were ringing, my heart racing and all I could see were faces staring at me. I never went back.
The story, like every story, has other details and developments of course. Coaching teaches us to stay away from the story and indeed the story here is not the point. The relationship with it and the impact that had on me is. And somehow through the years, those feelings and thoughts have formed a very strong belief in me, something like: “because of that day at the pool, I will never swim and even if I try, people will laugh at me”.Dr. Joe Dispenza, researcher, and lecturer in the field of neuroscience, neuroplasticity, and epigenetics states “wherever you are placing your attention is where you are placing your energy” to say that wherever we give attention to, expands in our mind, and becomes matter in our existence. I had given so much attention and energy through the years to that belief that of course, it felt true, it had become a part of who I thought I was and although it was limiting me in many ways, it felt familiar, so I kept that program running unconsciously for a long while.
So right there a limiting belief was established. Now I am going to describe not only how I managed to unpack it piece by piece, but also how what seemed to be an unfortunate childhood event and a formed negative self-perception turned out to be powerful learning in my journey of transformation down the track.
Before moving through, I feel to mention that a couple of events were the real catalysts for change, the first was an art therapy class where I had to draw intuitively abstract shapes while talking over facetime with the artist about general life matters. It made no sense to me, but I did as said. After forty-five minutes, the artist asked to show her the drawing which was revealing a not-so-linear connection with water. I believe this was my version of “call to the adventure” that Joseph Campbell talks about in his well-known monomyth. Deep inside I knew this was a message for me, so I trusted my gut and decided to enroll in the swim school. The second was a powerful coaching relationship I was drawn to invest myself into, which greatly supported me in the process and that had and still has a positive ripple effect in my life.
First say to yourself what you would be, and then do what you have to do. – Epictetus
You Are Here | Start as You Are
Here I was, enrolling in swim school at age of thirty-six. My destination was clear – I wanted to learn how to swim and be confident around water. By now you should have an idea of how important this was for me and what impact could have had in my life learning how to swim and overcome that belief. I did not know how I would have done it; how many hours would have been necessary to get myself up and swimming, the only thing I knew at that point was that I was committed to going on a mission and start. Unlikely many situations in the past, this time though I was not worried about having the best conditions and “feeling prepared” with the perfect set of swimsuits, goggles, and caps. I just showed up at the pool as I was that morning. Enrolled me in, bought the most comfortable and affordable gears and here I was taking the first step. The journey began.
Get Real | Becoming Aware of Current Reality
This was about testing the waters, literally and figurately. The real deal. I was a bit nervous, but no matter the stories I kept telling myself through the years. I had taken the first step and now I was there in that pool, for real, thirty years later facing my fears.
- Was it scary like I thought it would be, was I not capable to do it?
- Would the other students have laughed at me?
- Oh, wait, what was the fear about in the first place?
Big thoughts were spinning in my head and the only way to find out was to start. Everything seems bigger from the “outside”. Through coaching clients and my own experience as a client, I have come to realize that often the monster(or whatever that thing looks like) is scarier and bigger in our thoughts than itis in flesh. And that when we start to unpack it piece by piece, day by day, it loses its power over us. We start to familiarize ourselves with it and the clearer we see it, the less scary it becomes. But we need to take that first step.
After a few classes, yes, I was more aware of my mental limitations and of the skills I still had to learn, but I was also amazed to discover that what I was feeling and doing wasn’t as hard and scary as I had pictured in mind. I also realized that there were students much older or younger than me and no one was judging anyone, this permitted me to release self-judgment and surrender to the experience.
Transformation Coaching Relationship
In a coaching relationship helping the client to get to know their reality is not only a way for them to create greater awareness of their current structures and systems and how these are affecting them but, it is also a powerful tool to help them deconstruct the “monsters” in their mind that keep them shrinking and staying in their comfort zones. By giving these “things” a name, they become visible, and clients can discern what is true from what is a fabricated thought of their mind. They may start having fun and laugh about their monsters, weird entities, voices, ghosts, or, using Michael Singer’s words in his book Untethered Soul – the roommates. I believe valuable work on this topic has also been done by Shirzad Chamine with the Saboteurs. (link below). The coach’s open presence, curiosity, and non-judgment toward what is coming up in the session are fundamental to creating trust in the relationship and allowing clients to lean freely into their stories and start unpacking them. Coaches’ way of simply being in the session is contagious.
This phase alone has been a great inner resource in the early stages of the coaching program. I had procrastinated my enrolment for nearly a year, in the attempt of being “really” ready for it (ready meant many things at that time, now I know it was ready to be “seen” and being vulnerable), I had envisioned so many worse cases scenario in my mind – there were other little voices at play at the time: who are you to be a coach and isn’t this too late for your age? Thanks to this very anecdote of starting the swim school and to coaching, I was able to keep it real, naming the things I was most afraid of and telling myself, just show up as you are and do your best. And thank me – I did. And it’s a priceless insight I am taking with me in the process of establishing my profession as a transformational coach.
Trust and Release | Trust Your Inner Guide and Let Go of What No Longer Serves You
The moment you decide to change, get ready to be uncomfortable- Dr. Joe Dispenza
The journey at this point got sticky. Like every beginner learning something new, I soon felt awkward, inadequate, and a bit impatient. You should know, I had another voice growing up which has been very loyal to me for decades: “Val – you are not coordinated, dancing, swimming, singing are not for you”. Learning the strokes wasn’t too bad, it was tiring but fun, but getting the right coordination between arms, legs, and breath with that little voice in my head, ahhhh that felt heroic. But Rome wasn’t built in a day[i]so I kept going back, class after class. This mantra wasn’t the only thing that supported me in the process. Letting go of the voices and any expectation or outcome and, trusting the process and its timing were the real heroes at this point of the story and the ones that moved me from the shores of disempowerment and fear to an island of creation and possibilities.
The Caterpillar Transforming Into a Butterfly
Coaches help clients to identify the nature of their disempowering thoughts and limiting structures, and how these are making them feel and behave in their current systems. They assist clients in gaining clarity on what they want to do with what they are discovering. While certainly becoming aware is the first step to change and transformation, acceptance and letting go of what no longer serves us are fundamentals to move toward our goals and dreams and act as our most authentic selves. That said, the process of releasing old and familiar patterns can be daunting and, one that may require time, space, patience, and several trial and error. I believe that coaches are to remind themselves that clients are humans just like everyone, and we all go through our seasons. It’s not the coach’s role to rush the journey. The client is the only captain and he or she remains the one that dictates the pace and direction of the boat. Trust is key in this phase. Trust in the client, in yourself as a coach, and in the process, to use the words of amazing ICA Trainer, MCC, and Mentor, Rossella Pin.
Nature provides beautiful examples of how important it is to honor and trust the natural evolution of things, one of the most fascinating and perhaps well-known examples, is the process of the caterpillar transforming into a butterfly. How fatal can be trying to help the butterfly emerge from its chrysalis and expand its wings?
Reflections on Letting Go:
The caterpillar-butterfly metamorphosis is also a reminder for coaches and clients, that change although uncomfortable and sometimes painful is a natural process and a necessary one for evolution to occur. Just like nature teaches through the seasons, we too go through cycles of death and rebirth. Parts of ourselves, long-standing habits, and beliefs we have been carrying need to go to make space for something greater and more aligned with who we are becoming. And since change is one of the most constant things in life, the more we hold onto old ways of being and thinking, relationships, jobs, and things that no longer serve us, the more painful it becomes. When we resist this natural ebb and flow of life, when we force things to happen instead of turning inward and asking ourselves if this is really what we want and need right now, when we rush to the next thing and the next instead of taking time, giving ourselves space and become present and grateful with who we are now, when we want to be anywhere for everyone instead of setting healthy boundaries or rest through our “winters”, things stop to flow. We feel stuck, powerless victims of our circumstances.
The Panta Rhei – attributed to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus in the late 6th century BC, is another beautiful concept about change, that I have embraced in my life and that claims:
Everything flows. “Everything around us is changing just like fresh waters are ever flowing, renewing the stream. But Heraclitus did not simply say that the universe is moving and changing. He also said that we are changing with it. It is not just that you cannot step twice into the same river because the river is constantly changing. Even if the river remained static, there would never be two moments where you would be the same”[ii].
Reframe and Flow | Shift Your Perspective and Move
After three months of consistent practice at the pool, I started to become more confident and got good at swimming. Yay! Physically practicing in the water wasn’t the only thing that made this change possible though. What made its magic along with patience and trust for the process, were: the loving-kindness I was treating my body and mind all along, showing up every Tuesday at the pool, the deliberate and consistent action to choose more positive and empowering thoughts when triggers surfaced, reaching out for external support such as coaching, breathwork, and meditation. Only then, I was finally able to surrender to the flow, get out of my head and back into the body and become one with the movements.
Suddenly I was no longer “seeing” and perceiving myself as a victim of a past story. I could barely hear the voices. I felt immense gratitude in my heart for the valuable things I had learned along the journey, and for opening myself to the new. Now I could see possibilities in front of me and I am not talking about the Olympics. In the process, I had become aware of my strengths and passions I forgot I had, but also of the story’s side effects. That thought “you will never swim because of what happened to you”, had subtly spread its tentacles in other areas of my life throughout the years, and although not apparent, had an impact on the way I was engaging in relationships and decisions making. It had always been there but now I could see it. Now I could do something about it.
“So now, that you see and know all these things about you, what are you going to do?”
A question I have often asked myself in the process of becoming my authentic self, as well as my clients over the past year. Awareness makes you free. It gives you the power to choose, given that you take it. The end of the swimming school marked a new beginning, the start of the coaching program but deep inside, it wasn’t just the start of an exciting path. It was a declaration of freedom, love, and trust for me and life. It was seeing me and that whole story through different lenses. The lenses of a powerful creator. Now things got moving.
The Journey of Transformation
A shift in perspective is a catalyst moment in the journey of transformation, it can mean different things to different people, but it is often described as liberating, enlightening, and empowering. It may occur as a huge light bolt or “aha” moment – a sudden insight or discovery during a single session but also and, more commonly, can be delivered in breadcrumbs along the journey as it was for me with swimming. Often the magic happens in-between the sessions. Coaches invite clients to see beyond their stories, to reframe their thoughts and inner dialogue, to check and acknowledge their feelings, to celebrate how far they have come, what are they learning about themselves. “What do you see now and what are you going to do with all that you know?” are simple but very powerful questions if asked at the right time. It’s important to allow clients the natural space they need to process the shift, feel, and see the changes occurring in their minds and hearts. Reframing also means supporting clients in finding new words and meanings to what has emerged, designing action steps and further reflections that are aligned with their values and passions so that things start of Flow again and this time, in a direction that is true to who they are becoming. Flow is defined as a smooth uninterrupted movement or progress(Merriam -Webster).
Nurture | Practice Who You Want to Become
As for the swim school, also enrolling in the coaching program was not just about taking that first step into a new reality. What made it real and led me (and many others!) to the end of the program and out into the world helping other people, was the repetition of small, often invisible steps, taken deliberately and consistently one day after the other. What seemed a bunch of colorful blocked spots in my Google calendar is today the tangible proof of a road traveled and a reached destination. There were peaks and valleys, bumps in the road. Some days felt like an emotional roller coaster, others like a tsunami of happiness. New friends were made, and communities bonded. The mixed emotions during the observed coaching, coordinating sessions with peers in different time zones,late-night classes, supporting fellow coaches in their journey. Expressing your truth in a class, feeling a bit silly, and doing it anyway. Being anxious in participating in group mentor coaching and coaching in front of a large group, do it anyway. All this made me in many ways. It is not just about the destination after all. In moments of doubt or stress, my own experience with swimming came to the rescue and helped me to let go of limiting beliefs coming up and release (self) judgment. When I felt stagnant or anxious, I went back to the water, and it helped me to regain a fresh perspective and burst my self-trust and creativity.
Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you wish to become. No single instance will transform your beliefs, but as the votes build up, so does the evidence of your new identity.― James Clear, Atomic Habits
Fundamental Phase Within a Coaching Journey
Coaches partner with clients to integrate new awareness and learning into their everyday life and behaviors. They support them in taking ownership of their choices and designing actions and reflections, which are in alignment with who they are at the core, their values, motivations, and systems. This is a fundamental phase within a coaching journey and one that can determine the success or the failure of a person’s plans. Coaches invite clients to consider and recognize supports, inner and outer resources, and potential barriers while promoting the client’s autonomy. There is no doubt that both the coach and the client, have each their responsibility for the relationship to work, however, coaches must support clients to hold themselves accountable throughout the process and specifically within the action planning stages[iii]. They are to remain flexible and help clients to build or strengthen their trust in themselves. By modeling a coaching mindset[iv], coaches inspire clients to be resourceful and powerful creators of their own experience.
Reflections on the Power of Small Steps:
The desire to get somewhere or stick a note on our fridge is not the only thing required to reach a destination or bring change in our life. Psychology studies have shown that ninety-five percent of who we are by age 35, which includes reflexive emotional reactions that define our personalities therefore our behaviors, is a product of our unconscious/subconscious program[v].
So, what can help someone change their behavior and establish a new habit?
Presence, starting small, repetition, and commitment. We become what we practice (every day).
Meaning and purpose are important. Aligning with our core values is crucial. Having a strategy or creating a vision board can be extremely powerful, understanding our resources and barriers is paramount to getting us started. But what eventually get us to the other side is the collection of those often-tiny tangible and intangible steps we take forward and within, the trust in ourselves and the process, the responsibility we take, the things we do, say, and embody because of that responsibility, the promises we keep honoring. Thanks, to neuroplasticity, we now know that we are not victims of our past, that our brains keep changing and restructuring themselves in adult age, and, that we can enhance this process through simple daily activities (learning a new skill, exercise, meditation, etc.). We truly have the extraordinary power within us to rewrite our programs and change the trajectories of our lives and I believe that all starts with becoming present and aware of our reality and that coaching can have a great impact on those who are ready to break the habit of being themselves.
Personal Transformation Journey
The purpose of this work was to shine a light on the power of letting go, honoring one’s seasons, and taking small steps both in life and in coaching. It was also a way to look back and retrace a personal transformation journey through more empowered lenses and, hopefully, provide inspiration to the ones on their journey of becoming and to remind them to not rush the process, to trust their seasons, and keep showing up on their path, one step at a time!
Pausing and looking back, I now know how powerful this can be, the process of reviewing yourself and your experiences, and reflecting on how they made you different, what has changed in your reality, and what are you choosing to bring with you in your future. It’s an essential tool in coaching to help the client crystalize a newfound awareness or experience so they can use it to move forward and create change in their lives.
The Journey as an ICA Student
The journey as an ICA student is about to end, the one as a student of life I suppose never will. Another destination has arisen on the horizon, and I am getting prepared to embark on a new journey of discoveries and expansion. I feel abundant in experiences, knowledge, and resources. I took my time to pause and smell the roses along the way, I stopped and celebrated myself- something I did not know how to do before coaching. I appreciate all the amazing souls I have crossed paths with and who have supported me in the past months. My heart is full of gratitude for them that have made this journey – my journey to become a coach and thankful to myself for taking that first step forward and following my inner guide.
[i]Heywood, John; Sharman, Julian "The Proverbs of John Heywood: Being the "Proverbes" of that Author Printed ... - John Heywood - Google Books"
[ii]Panta Rhei Heraclitus
[iii]Accountability Module – ICA Learnsite
Code of ethics
[v] Dr. Joe Dispenza. Breaking the Habit of being yourself