The Change Cycle – Life Coaching Basics Part 2 of 4

So if you’re reading this, that means you’re curious enough about life coaching to see what more I might have to say about it (hopefully you’ve read Part 1 of this series on “Life Coaching Basics”). Keep your eyes, ears and heart open, and see if what I’m about to show you resonates with your soul.

When I first saw this model of change presented by a Martha Beck life coach, something clicked inside me. Big time. The key word for me was “CYCLE”, as in cyclical and constant. I had always thought that changes were simply jarring or inconvenient events along a linear path, and that someday, if I just found the RIGHT changes to make, I would no longer need to keep changing. Yes, this after making two major career shifts and multiple geographical moves within the past decade of my life. I somehow still believed that there would be an END to the change, if I would just get it “right”, and that I had somehow failed because I was feeling a sneaky suspicion that it was time for yet ANOTHER change.

“Just when the caterpillar thought the world had come to an end, it became a butterfly.”

Sitting there in the workshop, I was holding on tightly to what I had created, afraid to let go because of what it would mean to all the other people in my life, who were so delighted with the image I projected and what I was providing. I felt so much guilt for not being able to share in that same delight, and, most of all, not knowing how to say what I knew to be true for me. The truth was not always a neatly tied package, ready to be presented to others. The truth was sometimes full of uncertainty. But I did not feel safe – and did not have the skills at the time – to stand in my own uncertainty and proclaim it as my truth. It led to all kinds of messy stuff that brought me the lessons I am able to share with you today. I struggled, I stumbled, I took out my pent-up anger and deeply held secrets on many people in my life. I confused a lot of people. I might have even scared some.

But once I embraced this model and actually allowed myself to go through some of these squares, everything indeed began to change.

Square One – Death and Rebirth

Mantra for Square One: “I don’t know what the hell is going on, and it’s OK.”

This model for change is a central metaphor for Martha Beck’s life coaching model, and one which I find to be useful in my own work. It starts with a catalytic event in our lives – a crisis (some external circumstance we didn’t ask for), a choice (an internal shift we decide to make), or an opportunity (an invitation to change provided by an external source). Any time one of these types of events happens in our lives, we are plunged into Square One, like it or not. We are like caterpillars, lazily munching away on our leaves and getting bigger and rounder each day, but then someone or something suggests, “It’s time for you to make a cocoon.”

Imagining what it must be like for a caterpillar to voluntarily sign up to weave a coffin for itself is beyond what any of us humans are taught to prepare for. But something enables the caterpillar to muster up the courage – and vision – to withdraw from the world it knows, and to imagine a future that is totally different. One with bright beautiful colors, a completely different shape, and the ability to fly.

The price the caterpillar must pay for this vision? Willingness to let go of everything it once knew to be true.

An article Martha once wrote in O Magazine revealed to me something I did not know about caterpillars becoming butterflies. Once the caterpillar goes inside the cocoon, it does not simply grow wings on its caterpillar body. It completely dissolves. Into SOUP. It becomes a gooey, unrecognizable pool of liquid, from which the DNA then reorganizes cells into the form of a butterfly. The caterpillar not only has to succumb to the darkness and warmth of the cocoon – leaving behind its earthly existence – but it has to lose its form completely, in order to make the journey to life as a butterfly.

Square One is a time of grieving and dissolving of old identities and beliefs, letting go of what we thought we needed, or what we know we no longer need, or what we have outgrown. The pain we experience is temporary, but the suffering caused by holding on to our ideas of how things “should” be, can be more prolonged and more painful if we do not go through the Square One process.

The work in Square One is internal and subtle, which is why it’s underrecognized in our culture. We don’t see examples of Square One coping in advertising, on television, or in stories of our media superstars. Yet it’s probably the most important piece of work for transformation. Indigenous cultures often had rite-of-passage rituals in which elders would help adolescents re-enact the journey of transformation so that they would not fear it as they entered adulthood. We, as modern people, have lost a connection with this essential part of our human journey, and it’s up to us to teach ourselves, with the help of those who have survived changes we feel too fearful to face on our own.

Square Two: Dreaming and Scheming

Mantra for Square Two: “There are no rules, and it’s OK.”

Once the grieving and dissolving process has run its course, the mind is clear to envision a brand new future. The catch? You can’t force the transition from Square One to Square Two. Another reason why this model isn’t hyped up in the press. There’s no “quick fix” or “formula” to get you through…it’s just allowing a process to occur, and doing the work. Sometimes the work is actually allowing yourself to do nothing! Or to do less. A sure sign of moving into Square Two is  a completely different hairstyle, or a new wardrobe. The essential self is feeling free to play and experiment again, and is sending signals outward to create a new social self to match.

Square Two is a lot like music improvisation. Now that the judgments have been dissolved in Square One, there is room to create. And play. And dream. And see what happens. Some of the ideas will actually land with a big “YES!” and become worthy of wholehearted pursuit. They may seem like “Wildly Improbable Goals”. These are the ones to pay greatest attention to. Even though so many of us are taught from a young age to discount or ignore our deepest desires, this is one of the ways our essential self communicates through us. Listen deeply while you’re in Square Two, and you’ll hear the sound of your own soul singing.

Square Three: The Hero’s Saga

Mantra for Square Three: “This is much harder than I expected, and it’s OK.”

So you thought this was all going to be easy? Here’s where your commitment to your essential self is tested. It’s where courage and determination meet. Once you’ve freed your mind to imagine the seemingly impossible but strangely appetizing vision of your best life, it’s time to take action.

Did you know that as soon as the butterfly cuts open the cocoon, its wings are folded and wet, and it needs to struggle to break free from the cocoon, periodically stopping to rest and then gathering strength again before it’s able to take flight? Did you know that if you try to do what you think is “helpful” to the butterfly, by removing the cocoon before the butterfly has struggled with it, the butterfly will die? Interesting, huh?

This is where the “hero” part comes in. You become your own hero by taking your own steps, making your own “mistakes” (which are really the golden nuggets of learning), and experimenting with different steps toward your Wildly Improbable Goal until you’re flying on your own. It’s really a matter of the old-fashioned ingredients of practice, perseverance, and learning through trial-and-error, all while facing your fears and doing it anyway.

The keys here are tiny steps (much tinier than you think), celebrating your progress (more often than you think), expecting to make “mistakes” (more than you might imagine), and enjoying the process more than the applause you’re expecting get after your final performance. This is because the truth revealed in Square Three is that we must set Wildly Improbable Goals for ourselves, identify the smallest steps we can possibly take each day toward those goals, and then remain unattached to the outcome. Along the way, we’ll learn more about ourselves, perhaps revise our final vision, and encounter more situations that will require letting go of our tightly held beliefs about the way things “should” be, so that we open ourselves to the beauty of what is. Right here. Right now.

Square Four: The Promised Land

Mantra for Square Four: “Everything is changing, and it’s OK.”

I’ve resisted this concept the most out of the three squares, and I still wonder why. Maybe it’s because I felt so betrayed at having held on to the idea of there being a so-called “Promised Land”, which I then realized I had mistaken for the shallow vision constructed by the ego. “The Promised Land” for the ego is defined by material things, and often instructs you to accumulate as much stuff as possible (or climb to the highest summit) and hang on to it for dear life until it’s taken away from you, either by someone competing for the same position, or by the untimely arrival of your own death.

Maybe it’s a matter of reframing the “promised” land as something other than “being done” or “arriving”. The promised land, as experienced by your essential self or soul, is a feeling of peace, joy, and freedom that is indescribable in words. I believe we can move through many promised lands in our lifetimes. We may have even missed several opportunities to visit our promised lands because we were too busy wondering when we were going to get there.

For me, it’s best to think of Square Four not as any kind of destination or endpoint, but as simply a new set of wings to take me to the next level. The feeling of soaring freedom and the joy of seeing my whole life from the vantage point of an eagle are reminders to keep taking those tiny steps that gave me my wings in the first place.

Having survived and thrived through many trips around the Change Cycle, I also know that another Catalytic Event is just around the corner. Instead of dreading change, I now look forward to the adventure, I treasure each and every moment in each Square, knowing that I’m gaining skills – and letting go of old beliefs – that help me be a gentler guide for myself, and others, each time around.

Next in this series: “The Language of the Essential Self – Part 3 of 4

Photo credits (used under a Creative Commons license):
Square 1: Brenda Anderson http://www.flickr.com/people/curiouskiwi/
Square 2: http://www.flickr.com/people/taniwha/
Square 3: Jessica Bayne http://www.flickr.com/people/jessicasays/
Square 4: Harald Hoyer http://www.flickr.com/people/hhoyer/

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