Discover more from The Tip Box
What is a transformative mindset?
And transformative purpose? Transformational coach Aaron Pang explains them all
I have a confession to make: I’m not into self-help or self-improvement. I go down the rabbit hole and consume the content sometimes, but in the end, it’s not for me.
But I do like writing about people who’ve made it their mission to help others improve their lives. It just so happens that a few of them are life coaches, like Aaron Pang. Aaron is a self-improvement author, transformational coach (we’ll talk about what this means later), podcast host, industry advisor at Microsoft, and father of two based in Hong Kong.
Besides, I’m now curious about these terms. And I do know that other people benefit from self-help and motivational articles, videos and sessions too, so this one’s for them (or you).
So let’s get right to it: What is a transformative mindset?
“A transformative mindset is a way of thinking that allows a person to make significant positive changes in their life and in the world around them,” says Aaron.
“It involves a willingness to challenge one’s beliefs, assumptions and habits, and to be open to new experiences and perspectives.”
It sounds familiar already. But before you jump to conclusions, Aaron explains: “A person with a transformative mindset sees obstacles as opportunities for growth and learning, and is willing to take risks and embrace change. They are not afraid of failure, but rather see it as a necessary step towards success.
“This kind of mindset is often associated with personal development and self-improvement, but it can also have a broader impact on society,” he adds.
“People with a transformative mindset may be more likely to challenge social norms and work to create positive change in their communities and the world.”
What about transformative purpose?
“Our transformative purpose gives us the energy to wake up every day and guides us to be better than yesterday,” Aaron states.
“This is not about being ideal. Focusing on the ideal sets us up for failure because we always fall short. However, everyone can improve if we see ourselves as a work in progress.
“Transformative purpose provides clarity on how we can become better, inspiring those around us to become better together,” he continues.
“If we enjoy what we do, we are happy and motivated to be good at it. It will resonate with people, and they’ll appreciate it when we actively share our passion and knowledge and add value to someone else’s life, and when our ego is no longer centred on our self-orientation.
“Opportunities will find you when you are relevant to others.”
And the connection between transformative mindset and purpose?
“Transformative purpose is your why, while transformative mindset is how you’ll get to your purpose. You apply the transformative mindset to everything you do.”
How to achieve, apply and experience transformative purpose
To make things even clearer, Aaron offers a few tips.
“First of all, finding our purpose is a lifelong journey of discovery. Here are a few things readers can do to find theirs.”
#1 Connect and understand your past
“In order to seek clarity about the person you are today, and the way that your brain is wired, you need to understand what made you who you are,” he begins.
“And when you understand how your values were formed, and why you react in certain ways, you can turn the reflective exercise into transformative opportunity.
“If there are things that bug you, you can only redefine your relationship with it once you have understood why you do certain things, so that they become less automatic, more intentional. You talk to your autopilot brain such that your thoughts, emotions and actions become more intentional.”
#2 Talk to people
“Talk to strangers who are your weak ties and dormant ties,” he urges.
“One of the things I did was I went back to people who have always been in my background and I don’t see them daily. They were able to give me very constructive feedback on the things I was blind to.”
#3 Do things that wake up your dormant inner child
“When we were children, we were curious about the world. We asked lots of questions. But there was an implicit place where we started worrying about our ego, how people perceive us. Over time, we asked less and less questions. Knowledge becomes dogma,” he ponders.
“When I reflected on the disconnect between how I taught my child and how I behaved as an adult, it pushed me to behave more like a kid again. If I didn’t know something, I would find out why. If I thought I knew something, I would share and read about it to find out what I missed, how I could be wrong. I would reach out to strangers online if I saw an inspirational story. Basically things that we were born to do.”
What a transformative mindset looks like
Aaron also emphasises the following about the transformative mindset:
#1 Life is about embracing change
#2 We are who we are because of our experiences and environment
“We can’t change the past but we can redefine our relationship with our past.”
#3 An emotional moment is our invitation to grow
#4 We are a work in progress
#5 We can change for the better or worse
“We have the conscious choice to decide.”
A transformative mindset and purpose at work
We can look into Aaron’s experiences and books for insights and examples.
Aaron had two bouts of Bell’s Palsy and work burnout from corporate life, while his then three-month-old son had a medical emergency back in 2019, “where he choked and suffocated,” Aaron describes.
If Aaron could compare himself and who he was between the time of his first book, The Asian Dad, and his recent book, Unstuck, what would he see?
“When I wrote The Asian Dad, my intention was to leave something behind for the children – a legacy for them to connect with the parent when I am not around,” he says.
“I was still overwhelmed by fear and anxiety even after finishing the book. But it was an incremental experience that paved the way for my second and third books. I found joy in writing and reflecting in solitude, and learnt to cope with discomfort.
“By reflecting, narrating and writing about my past, it helped unwire and rewire my brain. It's like finding a gem in the woods. I was lost, my thoughts were tangled and change was messy. And to untangle the invisible knots inside your head, you need to understand how they were formed in the first place.
“I think Aaron is an ageing child dressed in grown-up clothes in Unstuck,” he muses.
“Between then and now, I think the biggest difference is that I found my passion and superpower which was unknown to me: The why. When I wrote my first book, I was constantly frustrated and emotionally distracted by fear-mongering news and cancel culture. I explored my negative emotions and started making small changes to my daily habits. I started writing and shooting videos. In one video, I toured around Hong Kong and interviewed domestic helpers about how to parent their children back home. After three years, many pivots and experiments, I think I finally got a clear picture of the how and what.”
This “clear picture” shows:
#1 More of a focus
“I have spent a lot of time curating content in the last three years. Everything until this point was self-funded. I have switched gears to build a global system in order to help more people who were stuck like I once was. I am spending more time building the ecosystem now so that more people can develop a transformative mindset and get comfortable with change.”
#2 Making peace with the past
“I think my biggest challenge was not knowing how to deal with down moments. I had suicidal thoughts when I was a teenager and even as a young adult. I think the biggest challenge or lesson I have learnt over the last few years is that we can’t run away from our past. Our past made us who we are. Our past will always be a part of us. We can’t disconnect from it, and clarity comes from connecting with our past and reconnecting with it through giving it a different meaning.”
#3 Learning more about purpose
“I stopped seeing purpose as a static narrative. If change is the only constant in life, we should allow our purpose to evolve too. You can have a beautifully curated purpose, but without a transformative mindset, system and positive actions, it is unlikely you'll feel fulfilled. Fulfillment is a state of self. And it is perfectly okay not to know your purpose. When you do what you love, improve on what you know, and show up for others, it will come naturally to you.
“When writing Unstuck, I asked about 1,000 people (about having a purpose). Those who answered that they have a purpose have reported higher happiness, health and relationships. But there are also those who are not happy despite having a purpose. You don’t rise to your purpose. You fall to your mindset, system and actions.”
#4 A goal
“My transformative purpose is to help others develop a transformative mindset. I do that by writing and podcasting, and constantly challenging myself to (make) incremental improvements to reach and help more people.
“I share my own struggles to show others that vulnerability can be a strength, and that they need to create their own positive support system. People open up to me on our podcast. I have heard traumatic stories about those who lost their parents at a young age. I have heard about people trying to kill themselves, being bullied, living with domestic violence, losing a family member – you name it. One in seven of us have mental health issues. We can all do our part to have a human conversation with our loved ones, and to be kind to one another to prevent others from getting there.”
How to identify growth opportunities through the 4 As, according to Aaron:
self-Awareness • Asking questions • taking Accountability • taking Action
How do we look at our current systems and beliefs, and evaluate them to change them for the better?
“We all have 24 hours a day, and every decision we make daily is a tradeoff for something else,” Aaron says.
“When we evaluate ourselves, does our system or belief help us make good choices? Is what you are doing, spending time on, making you a better person? Are you not getting enough sleep because you spend too long on your phone, just before bedtime? Do you understand how it impacts your body beyond the common myth or anecdotes? Blue screen reduces the production of melatonin, a hormone that plays a role in sleep.
“In Unstuck, I write that our inner child can bring clarity and change because we used to be curious, asking questions all the time. Everything that happens in our body, whether mentally or physically, can be explained by science. There’s always cause and effect. But do we always have the curiosity to go beyond the symptoms of a systematic issue?
“As for belief, there are two questions to ask: How’s it serving you today? By blindly following the belief, what opportunities are you robbed of?”
Some transformative tools
Aaron equips us with what has worked for him. (But feel free to tweak them to what suits you.)
“I like to use technology intentionally and keep them at bay whenever I need to be present and do deep work. One free setting that everyone should have on their phone is the notification summary. When everyone and every brand clamours for your attention, you need to set boundaries for yourself. For me, this means turning off useless notifications and going online intentionally.
“I use tools for shallow work, like for meetings. I use time blocks for social media and writing. If something is not my forte, I lean on others to help me, e.g. editing videos. I could do it myself but it’d not be a good use of my time and doesn't help us scale the platform vision. I use a social media scheduler now instead of writing content on the fly.
“When I have an idea that pops into my head while I’m hiking, for example, I would just type the keywords in the Notes app on my phone.”
#2 Daily habits
“These drive our results,” he says.
“I repeat these things Monday to Friday: Rest. Exercise (strength two times, basketball once, hike one to two times). Read for at least 30 minutes. Write. Work. Spend time with the family. Gratitude practice in the morning and before bedtime, where I thank three things.
“I wake up between 5 and 5:30, 80 per cent of the time. Wednesday is usually my rest day. A non-negotiable ritual for me is having dinner with my wife every Thursday night. I gave way to work before, and my health, relationships and mindfulness suffered from it. I’ll never do that again.
“I have time blocks for meetings and set boundaries for when I work. When I do deep work, like writing a book, I keep distractions at bay.”
Now that we have an idea of what the terms transformative mindset and purpose mean both in theory and in practice, I still can’t help but ask…
What is a transformational coach exactly?
And what does it take to become one?
“Anyone can become a transformational or life coach, but being a coach also means you are responsible for someone’s life, well-being and decision-making,” Aaron says.
“An effective coach is genuinely interested in you, is an active listener, and can ask you exploratory questions that allow you to reflect and discover your path. A coach is not supposed to direct you to a certain path, or tell you how to live your life.
“I was certified at both SHL and Hay Group for leadership training and 1:1 executive coaching. I use my own methodology and conversations to help coachees discover their self-limiting beliefs, audit their system, and co-create incremental changes in different parts of their life. People don’t change for you. People only change for themselves.
“There are different certification programmes and one of the most popular ones in Hong Kong is ICF. It is important for coaches to demonstrate that they have also faced struggles and transformed themselves. Methodology and certifications alone cannot achieve lasting results without mindset, system and actions.”
What’s rewarding about being a transformational coach?
Aaron cites a few perks.
#1 You help others
“As a transformational coach, you have the opportunity to help people transform their lives in meaningful and profound ways. You get to be a part of their journey towards personal growth and development, and witness the positive impact that your coaching can have on their lives.”
#2 You make a difference
“By helping people achieve their goals and overcome their challenges, you are contributing to a positive change in the world, one person at a time. This can be incredibly fulfilling and meaningful work, as you know that you are making a real difference in people's lives.”
#3 There’s personal growth
“Coaching others can also be a source of personal growth and development for yourself. As you help others navigate their own challenges and obstacles, you may find that you also learn and grow as a coach and as a person.”
#4 There’s flexibility and autonomy
“Many coaches enjoy the flexibility and autonomy that come with this profession. You can often set your own schedule and work from anywhere, which can be especially appealing if you value work-life balance and the freedom to design your own career path.”