Want to Make a Change? Start Here: How to Give Yourself Permission to Change

As a kid, you needed a couple of things to succeed in school. Along with the right textbooks and good study habits was the all-important permission slip signed by a parent or guardian. That official authorization was your golden ticket to attend school trips, sporting events, and participate in extracurricular activities. Without it, you were limited or lost.

These days, as a grown-up, you don’t often have to obtain that kind of consent to do your own thing. But when it comes to getting unstuck or making a big professional or personal change, actively giving yourself permission is crucial. The act of doing so ensures that all parts of you are aligned with desired behaviors and beliefs.

What It Means to Give Yourself Permission

Instead of asking someone else if it’s okay to proceed, authorizing your own course of action means that you trust yourself to make the right decisions. You’re taking ownership of the process. It cements your belief in yourself, which increases your self-assurance and effectiveness.

When it comes down to it, granting yourself permission is about empowerment. It demonstrates your complete commitment to getting unstuck. It’s akin to taking a pledge, or an oath of sorts, to consciously move forward in a positive manner and take charge. You’re jumping into the driver’s seat, and you’re confident in your ability to plan ahead and make decisions that will help you reach your destination.

Empowering yourself in this manner can create greater fulfillment and self-esteem. In fact, a 2005 study out of Hong Kong found a link between empowerment and life satisfaction. Over a six-month-period, researchers randomly sampled members of one hundred self-help groups that supported individuals who were either chronically ill, faced a physical or mental disability, were dealing with mental illness, or were part of other vulnerable populations. Participants completed a structured questionnaire on the same day their groups met. Researchers found that individuals who embraced personal empowerment experienced greater life satisfaction.

There’s a lot at risk when you don’t green-light this process. Not putting your stake in the ground can limit your agency. Because so many of us are used to receiving permission from others throughout our lives—parents, teachers, bosses, and more—people who want to change can still become trapped in a pattern of waiting for others to approve their actions. And although a support system will help you achieve your goals, other people cannot lead your transformation. Only you can.

Just ask Moe Mitchell, a co-host of the nationally syndicated radio program The Bert Show, and a successful comedian and musical artist. As he explained to me when being interviewed for my book Free and Clear: Get Unstuck and Live the Life You Want, giving himself permission to take a different path changed the trajectory of his life.

Growing up, like many men in his generation, Moe was taught to keep his feelings in, put his head down, and not show any vulnerability. He dreamed about being a songwriter, so he moved back to New York in his early twenties to try to make things happen after college. He worked every job he could: fast food, retail, marketing; and he was even a paralegal for a while. But he struggled financially, trying to live on his own in such an expensive city. At one point, Moe became temporarily homeless, living out of his car for a week because he was too ashamed to ask his grandmother, who lived nearby, for help.

“That was my true rock bottom,” he said. “It’s a dark place to be, because you can’t really see too far outside of it and believe it is the worst things are ever going to be. But you can come out of that as a brand-new person. All I had was my faith and belief in myself. I deliberately let go of my pride and told the universe I was open to what’s next. Then doors began to open, slowly but surely.”

Moe got a job working at a radio station as a mail carrier, having no clue that, three years later, he would become a radio personality himself. He tried comedy on the side, turning open-mic nights into viral videos. He kept trying to come up with a viral-video concept based on what he thought others wanted to see, but nothing was working. Then he stopped trying so hard and gave himself permission to just be. His grandmother had instilled a love for astrology in him, and one day while sitting with friends, Mitchell cracked everyone up by making fun of their astrological signs. He decided to make a video poking fun at Scorpios, and it broke a hundred thousand views. The rest of his hilarious zodiac-sign videos were even bigger hits online.

“Everything changed the moment I stopped trying to do what I thought people wanted me to do and simply did what was already in my heart,” said Moe. “It was there the entire time. All I had to do was be myself.”

That success led to Moe being recruited to join the cast of The Bert Show. He moved a thousand miles away from home, joining a broadcast format that required openness and vulnerability in front of an audience of millions. Moe has authentically shared personal challenges on the air that resonate deeply with his listeners, like being physically abused as a child by his father, the systemic racism he has faced being Black, and personal setbacks with relationships—all of which has had a ripple effect in encouraging others to give themselves permission to be more authentic.

“Moving to Atlanta with no family and no friends, to do a job I’ve never done in an industry I didn’t know, was one of the scariest things I’d ever had to do,” Moe said. “I was afraid, and that’s exactly why I did it. Giving myself permission to be the real me turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my life.”

Ready to make a big change? Here are two tips for getting started:

1. Practice giving yourself permission.

If you’ve been doing and thinking things a certain way for a while, it’s often more effective to practice giving yourself permission to change in small ways.

Maybe you’ve gotten in the habit of having lunch with your significant other’s family every Sunday, come rain or come shine. It’s expected, and you resent it. You’d like to occasionally travel out of town or be more spontaneous on Sundays. One time you turned down an opportunity to catch up with an overseas friend you hadn’t seen in years who happened to be in town. Yikes!

But when you started to question it, your inner critic popped in with the thoughts, The in-laws won’t like me anymore if I make waves, and I’ll let my partner down if I do something for myself. You accused yourself of being thoughtless or selfish. As a result, you’ve never brought up the possibility of skipping a Sunday to your partner and are feeling a whole lot of simmering resentment.

Give yourself permission to discuss the Sunday lunch with your partner and redesign your participation terms. You allow yourself to say that, sometimes, you need to do something else on Sundays instead. The next time you need time for yourself, give yourself permission to bow out of lunch.

Perhaps no one will mind at all. Or perhaps people will question you. In that case, protect your decision and do not waver from it. Remind yourself that you’ve attended hundreds of Sunday lunches, and that it’s not selfish to take an occasional afternoon for yourself. Life changes, and so do our own needs.

2. Create a permission slip.

When you write something down that makes it official. So I advocate creating your own permission slip to grant yourself permission to change. Yes, I’ve made it easy by creating this template that allows you to fill in the blanks with your details and desired intentions. Download your own permission slip here.

Let me know if it makes a difference for you!

How have you given yourself permission to change? What were the results?

Leave a Comment