Navigating the 4 Stages of Change
Are you experiencing a change in your life right now?
You may or may not be aware of it, but something feels a bit uncomfortable for you. You are not alone. I help people through the process of change with ease and grace, rather than pain and resistance.
Where are you?
We are always in an evolving cycle of change and ultimately expanding as human beings. Sometimes we welcome this change with open arms and other times we resist with all of our might. It can be helpful to know which stage you’re in, so you can better understand what is going on for you. When you have a better understanding, you can have more compassion for yourself and be better equipped to work through this process of change, rather than against it.
The 4 Stages of Change
The first stage of change is dissatisfaction or what I call “feeling the gap.” There is a large gap between where you are and where you would like to be. You might not be completely clear about where you want to be. You may have the clarity that what you are experiencing now is not working for you.
It can be an uncomfortable place to be, and often I have clients come to me and label this stage as “depression” or “anxiety.” Try to frame the dissatisfaction as information signaling you to grow rather than labeling it as a permanent position – “I will always feel this way–my life never goes the way I want it to.” How you frame it can change your experience of it. If you frame it as a signal for growth, you will feel empowered, and if you focus on it from a state of helplessness, you will feel despair.
The second stage of change is exploration. In this stage, you feel dissatisfaction, but you don’t quite know what would feel better to you. Or you have a sense of what would feel better, but you don’t know how to get there.
In this stage, you explore options and “try them on” to see how it would feel or you explore options of how to get where you want to go. It’s essential to take your time in this phase to explore truly. People frequently feel uncomfortable with the lack of certainty at this point and may try to bypass this by choosing an option to get out of this stage.
Reassure yourself that you will come to an option that feels right to you, give it time. Watch our for exploring so much that you get confused and stuck in considering all the possibilities. Sometimes people fear making a change and hang out in the exploration stage as a safety zone to not take any risks. Make sure you aren’t doing this either.
Stage three is what I call an action or visualization. In this stage, you have clarity about where you want to go, and you develop a plan to get there. Again you may know where you want to go, but you’re unclear of a plan to get there, and this is something to finalize in this stage.
You may have developed somewhat of a plan in the exploration stage, and in this stage, you will clarify this plan and begin to implement it. In this stage, it is crucial to get support for you to stay on track with your implementation. Without help, the fears that surface may sidetrack you and stop you from moving forward.
You can share with a close friend or partner and ask them to be an accountability buddy to you. The other part of this stage is to spend time visualizing the positive outcome of your desired change. See it working out in the easiest, magical, and fun way. This vision can help keep you focused when your desired change is in process and not quite complete. The phrase “keep your eye on the prize” is fitting here.
The fourth stage is stepping into the new. Moving into your change can be a gradual process, or it could come more quickly (like meeting your ideal mate within weeks of this process or your dream job lands in your lap overnight). Either way, there is an adjustment phase to the new change.
There can be feelings of loss from letting go of the old, even though you were dissatisfied because it represented the familiar to you. With the new changes may come feelings of having a new identity.
Typically people feel more aliveness and vitality in this stage. You can also feel a deep sense of satisfaction that you made a change that was in alignment with your true self, and you feel on the right path with your life and doing what you came here to do.
- What stage are you in?
- How are you framing this stage?
- Are you viewing it positively, or are you stuck in resisting it?
Protecting Yourself Against Pain
If you find yourself stuck in resistance or let’s call it fear, and you are not able to move forward, you might be protecting yourself from pain. When you were little, if you experienced pain and your primary caregivers were too caught up in their world to comfort you, or they were the ones causing you pain, then you most likely developed methods to block the pain.
To feel the pain and have no way to process it or to have someone comfort, you are very overwhelming for a child. Kids will begin to block painful feelings very early on if they are in this kind of environment. The part of us that does this is an underdeveloped protective part of us that had to intervene and protect against pain.
We all have different methods of protecting against our pain. Such as overthinking, overeating, overworking, being obsessed with being perfect, over-focusing on others, daydreaming, watching TV, or reading, etc. The last two I mentioned, watching TV and reading, can either be coming from an intention to block pain and avoid, or they can be a good form of enjoyment. For example, you can watch a movie to avoid some painful feelings you are having, and you want to escape, or you want to have some enjoyment and fun by watching the video, the same activity but with different intentions.
As an adult, blocking our pain ends up getting in our way and keeps us from moving forward. The methods we use to prevent pain can also get in the way of us feeling connected to ourselves and our capacity to connect with others. Our feelings are part of us, and if we are blocking them, we’re missing a deep connection with ourselves that allows us to feel happy and content in our lives.
The truth is that as an adult, you can now process your feelings, comfort yourself or get support and guidance from those around you. You aren’t alone with your pain anymore. The protected parts need to be reassured because they are locked in the past and feel like what was happening back then is the current environment. As a result, they are tirelessly blocking your pain because they think they need to for your survival!
It can take time for these blocking mechanisms to relax and acclimate to what is truly happening. These protective parts believe that if you feel pain, then it will be overwhelming and that you might even die. Reassure your wise and resourced adult self that you can handle the pain now, and you can share with others how you are feeling. You are fully capable of feeling and processing your pain, both from the past and suffering from the present.
To help you with this, you can journal your feelings or seek the support of a trained professional to help you through your process.
If you’d like to receive some additional support, schedule a time to chat with Teena Evert
You might also like: How to Navigate Life Transitions as You Age