Imagine waking up one morning and finding yourself in a completely unfamiliar world. You’d likely feel disoriented, unsure and more than a little freaked out.
When we’re undergoing a major life change, we often get that same disorientation, overwhelm and uncertainty. We just want to ‘go back’ to the way things were. But somewhere deep inside we know not changing isn’t always possible or isn’t a good idea even if it was. Sometimes change is thrust on us – ready or not. Even when we’ve chosen the new path we’re going to be stretching our identity into a new shape – that’s just how it is. Often, it’s not small adjustments we have to make, often it’s full-on transformation.
Okay, you’re a stranger in a strange land, but now imagine you’ve got a map and a compass to show you the way.
Harvard PhD and author Martha Beck developed a psychological methodology for how to navigate the ups and downs of life. This concept is foundational in the coach training I received from her. She calls this process the Change Cycle. It has four, consistent and predictable phases to it. Like the four seasons these ‘cycles’ will recur many times over our lives. Each time we pass through the cycle we gain deeper wisdom and maturity, thereby preparing us for the next go-round.
These phases happen after any major change catalyst ( like falling in love or breaking up, getting or losing a job, having children or emptying the nest, etc.) The strategies for how to handle it depend on which phase you’re in. Each phase will happen more or less in order. The time it takes to move through each phase will be unique for each person.
Here’s the scoop…
Square 1: (Death and Rebirth)
The first phase feels like a death because our old identity no longer fits. As much as we may not like it, we sense our metamorphosis has begun. We’ll want to fight to keep the status quo but if we do it only prolongs our discomfort. Regardless of whether we chose it, or the catalytic event lands on us without warning, it is a wrench to our sense of self. The ripening of our being takes some getting used to on our way to rebirth.
What to do. Get still and quiet. We need those fallow months of Winter to prepare for the rebirth of Spring. Take the time to fully feel what you feel. Rather than focusing on an unknowable future reassess where you are right now. Meditate so your gut knowing can rise to the surface of your awareness. Spend time in nature. Avoid getting ‘busy’ trying to distract yourself from the discomfort. This is not the time to make any far-reaching decisions. Letting go of an identity can feel like losing a cherished friend so let yourself grieve the loss. Look for comfort in ways that put you firmly into your body by doing physical activities like exercise or getting a massage. Find small comforts that make you feel safe. Sometimes a cozy blanket, cup of tea and the time to journal out your feelings helps the process along. Find a wise friend, coach or therapist to help you sort out the inevitable conflicting feelings along the way. The more you allow yourself to feel what you feel, the faster you’ll move out of this phase and into the next.
Square 2: (Dreaming and Scheming)
This phase is like the tender, new shoots of Spring after the hard winter you’ve just been through. You’ll know you’re beginning to heal when images spontaneously sprout in your mind’s eye of how life could be different or better. Create a clear picture of what you want to do next and who you want to evolve into. Eventually you’ll begin to scheme how you can make it real. A clear indicator you’ve moved into this phase is when you decide to change your look, your clothes or your surroundings because they no longer reflect who you are.
What to do; This is a delicate time. Give yourself full permission to dream. Daydream about exciting new possibilities. Resist spending time on outdated cultural fears that tell you why it can’t or won’t work. Those kinds of thoughts can kill the dream before it’s even started. If the fears and judgements begin to take hold reach out to your trusted someone to keep you buoyed up. Break out of your state by doing something life affirming. Allow those tender dream-shoots to take root by creating a vision board of the things you’d love to have, do or experience. It’s not uncommon for manifestation magic to appear when we have the courage to dream a new dream. Eliminate any rules and go for it.
Square 3: Re-forming (aka The Hero’s Saga)
This is where the rubber meets the road. It’s the nitty-gritty of putting those dreams into the real world. This phase often demands nailing down logistics and practicalities. It requires growing our reserves of perseverance, tenacity and inner resilience. Just to complicate things, friends and family will begin noticing that you’re serious about this whole transformation thing. It’s not uncommon for them to be uncomfortable with your changing nature. They may even demand you ‘change back’. This added stress can bring on an attack of self-doubt.
What to do; After the glow of Square 2 all this practicality can feel like an uphill climb. It’s not as much fun as Square 2 but the work can be deeply meaningful. ‘What the hell was I thinking?’ is a common refrain on the hard days. It’s not knowing if the work, time and effort on a seemingly impossible goal will produce a future harvest. Revisit your vision board and journaling highlights from your Dreaming and Scheming days so you remember why you wanted to do this in the first place. The right mindset is critical. Square 3 will clarify who your people really are and those that are not on board will most likely drift away. The good news is you’ll also attract like-minded others who want to take the journey with you. Spend extra time with them instead of the old crowd. Resist people-pleasing, especially the wrong people, and undermining the hard-won gains you’ve made. On those tough days, remind yourself that maybe you’re not there yet – but you will be.
Square 4: Full Flight (aka The Promised Land)
Finally! It’s the big, payoff for doing your inner transformational work. Your new identity is feeling like home now. It’s time to rejoice in all this good work.
What to do; Spend time in gratitude for having navigated this dramatic and difficult change. Take time to savor that you not only came out the other side but are much better for it. No big moves are needed now. Instead it’s about fine tuning what’s already working. Make life even more pleasurable and further reduce any stress.
Keep in mind that change will inevitably come to visit you again. But remember too that next time you’ll have much more confidence in your ability to get through it. You’ll know on a gut level that if you did it once, you can do it again.
Content provided by Women Belong member Tari Heap