Using word transformation to make life better

Noy Pullen shares how she has been spending her time during lockdown and offers us to try a word transformation game to help us cope this this time.

“We can only overcome our fear of a future we dread with images of a future we want.”

I have been cleaning up my database from emails that date back to 2013! This has been a great opportunity during the lockdown to reflect on what Agents for Change stands for in our world. Also, to look back on all the wonderful people we have met through.

Exceptional colleague

My gratitude goes to Buyelwa, my dear colleague and great inspiration, who as you all know is a great actress, and coach in change management, working through storytelling, humour and fun.

This is the hallmark of Agents for Change: to meet through humour and share the tough stories of our lives; to carry each other; to engender in each other a real sense of hope for the future.

Buyelwa has been a support through the tough times and such fun to work with. We would go shopping in every single ‘dorpie’ we visited, through Agents for Change, to buy a little memento like beautiful indigenous beads, shoes, handbags and even dresses and jeans.

I recall when we ran out of bread in Empangeni once, I had to rush off and while at the shop I noticed the best brown jeans for a ridiculous price. They became a favourite and always reminded me of that visit.

In Ladysmith, we would buy SeShweshwe fabric and beads. Many other items in our wardrobes bring back memories of all of you.

Building a community

Hundreds of thousands of people have benefited, from Agents for Change, since 1999 when it all started. It has been for me a dream come true.

Our gratitude also goes to all the stakeholders and of course the funders who made it all possible. Diabetes SA staff, all those of you who made us so welcome in your places of work and arranged for us to meet the most courageous people working at the coalface of diabetes in hospitals, clinics, communities and their own families. These people are our cornerstone.


My son, Tim, has been an inspiration to me and Buyelwa for his fortitude during his life and to thousands as his story is read by one of the participants from Buyelwa’s book, The Diabetes Toolkit, during each course.

He always received such applause for his courage and wise words and is an inspiration. His wife, Jana, was a great support when we visited Limpopo province.

My sister, who lives in Canada, and my brother from Mtunzini have been there as co-workers. Your faith and prayer, beautiful singing, teaching my sister and me to dance and sing as part of the process have been among my most treasured memories. Life is not easy and yet the mood created by all of us during these workshops brought us new strength and courage and hope.

Word transformation game

During lockdown, we can’t do any live courses, and yet one can still ‘meet’. So, I invite you to try this Word Transformation game (below). It’s easy five step process can be used as a ‘medicine’ anywhere, early in the mornings, driving in your car, sitting in your office, whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed, scared, hopeless or alone.

This simple game proves that we are co-creators, that our artistic skills can change the whole mood of the day in minutes by our own activity. We often used to do this in Agents for Change and many people were so moved by the shift in themselves that they simply had to share their experience.

I send you this gift during our present situation wherever you are. We are united by our care for each other, honouring our individual courage to deal with whatever comes. And the healing that comes from playing.

Creative word transformation exercise1

Step 1

Think of a recent unresolved experience where you felt anger, hatred, fear, anguish, disgust doubt, etc.

Chose one word filled with negative thoughts that captures the mood of this experience.

Write the word right at the top of the page.

e.g. Frightened

Fold the page over so you cannot read the word.

Step 2

Make a sentence to describe how you feel. Write it down under the folded paper.

e.g. Fear tore through my veins dominating every moment.

Fold the page over so you cannot read the word picture.

Step 3

Choose any word from this sentence that you can use to redeem the feeling. Write it down under the folded paper.

e.g. Veins

Fold the page over so you cannot read the word.

Step 4

Use the word as part of a sentence in a positive imagination. Write it down under the folded paper.

Veins connect all life and every being to the cosmic heart, radiating out to the periphery.

Fold the page over so you cannot read the word picture.

Step 5

Read the new positive imagination and find a new word that emerges from the picture. Write it down under the folded paper


Step 6

Slowly unfold the page and review how your word journey has led you. You have created something that moves you from a difficult situation to one which brings relief, joy or peace.

From Frightened to Radiant in a matter of three minutes.

You can do this exercise anywhere, as soon as you have a new traumatic moment. It really works to change one’s attitude, calm one down or bring hope to a stressful or depressed situation.

Other examples of word transformation:
  1. Doubtful
  2. Will I have the strength to face this mountain?
  3. Mountain
  4. The view from the top of the mountain makes it all worthwhile.
  5. Gratitude


  1. Corrupt
  2. The truth is bent into distorted shapes.
  3. Shape
  4. What I shape with my hand or words form my own inner space.
  5. Sculptor


  1. Scratching
  2. The nails tore at the flesh until there were rivers of blood.
  3. Nails
  4. Nails hold paintings on walls build our world and bore the Christ.
  5. Holding


  1. Panic
  2. She ran blindly like a headless chicken, without direction.
  3. Direction
  4. The reality of the moment lighted up the direction she needed to go.
  5. Flexibility


  1. Impatient
  2. I keep pulling up the spinach plants to see how they are growing
  3. Growing
  4. Growing needs time and warmth
  5. Interest


  1. Disapproving
  2. She stands there with pursed lips, thinking, ‘How dare she do this to me?!’
  3. Dare
  4. To dare is to take all the challenges of life and celebrate its experiences
  5. Celebrate


  1. Judgmental
  2. The pompous black-cloaked judge passed sentence from his high chair.
  3. Cloak
  4. He removed his cloak and revealed his own vulnerability.
  5. Revelation


  1. Poverty
  2. She scraped out the dirt-bins searching for food
  3. Scraped
  4. Having scraped off the mud and dead leaves, the crystal shimmered in the sun
  5. Treasure


  1. Vulnerable
  2. She kept looking around to see what else could go wrong
  3. Around
  4. Around the very next corner she found the most precious flower
  5. Precious


  1. Doom
  2. There is no way out
  3. Way
  4. There are flowers all the way
  5. Flowers


  1. offered by Coen van Houten at the Centre for Social Development UK

Please contact Noy Pullen if you would like more information: [email protected] or 072 258 7132.



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