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Life is full of surprises. Some are great (marriage, babies, new opportunities) and some are not great (separation, redundancy, ill health, loss of a loved one) but all of them require adjustment to a new reality, and often a new sense of ourselves. Even navigating through happy changes, a person starts off as single, then becomes part of a couple, become a spouse and/or a parent. All new identities, new ways of seeing ourselves and being seen. Some we just leap into fearlessly and some are accompanied by some degree of trepidation.
Less happy changes involve loss, which often need to be mourned. While the phases of grief are well known: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance (Kübler-Ross, 1969), having a recognised model for it can help normalise the turbulence experienced in the transformation process. In our society, certain losses, like death and illness tend to elicit more social acknowledgement and therefor support than others, like divorce and retirement.
Martha Beck (2001) suggests there are three phases to making changes once a catalyst for change has hit your life:
Birth and rebirth
Especially if the change is significant, there can be a strong resistance to change and there is a temptation to treat it as “just a blip”. An example of this is seen in unhealthy relationships where poor behaviour gets hidden or excused rather than facing the upheaval required to make significant changes.
A lot of the resistance is tied up with identity and the requirement to change the way we see ourselves. The person in an unhealthy relationship may have many negative associations with being single, not being able to maintain a relationship, etc
Change is only possible when there is an acceptance that the old status quo is unsustainable and needs to be dissolved in order to be reformed into something new and improved. There may be a need for time to mourn the loss of the old sense of self. And to get comfortable with what might seem to be uncomfortable and ill fitting at first.
Dreaming and scheming
In order to move forward, we need a sense of what the future could look like. Having a compelling vision is a great motivator for many people and helps them summon the energy required to make a leap into the unfamiliar.
This phase can take the most time. As you start to take action, reality invariably intrudes and, depending on the scale of the change, the journey could be very choppy and challenging. At some points, adjustments (in either the vision or the implementation) will have to be made. Some options that seemed so promising may turn out to be less fruitful and unexpected opportunities will present themselves. Tenacity and flexibility are key in this phase, as well as the need to keep the origin vision in mind, in order to not lose hope and confidence.
Success! The transition is completed
Time to celebrate and really soak up the sense of achievement!
But be careful about assuming you can rest on your laurels. One certainty in life is that everything changes so make sure you are keeping an eye out for new catalysts (good and bad) that will herald a new transition. But the great news is now you understand how it works and what to expect, which will help you get through it again. Do bear in mind, there are all sorts of experts who can help you through these difficult times and asking for support could well help make the journey less of an upheaval.
In terms of getting support through a transition, I can only speak from a coaching perspective. A coach can:
If you feel like you are struggling with some kind of transition, it's important to get some support where you need it. Culturally we are often reluctant to ask for help but, when you do, it's such a relief to be able to talk it through with some one else. Even the process of hearing yourself talking about it allows you to think about it differently. And most people find that a problem shared is a problem halved. And if it isn't, there are many professionally trained people, myself included, who would be able to help.
Beck, M, Finding Your Own North Star, 2001
Kübler-Ross, E, On Death and Dying, 1969
The concept of coaching has been around since the early 1800s, when it was used at Oxford University as a way of describing a tutor who “carried” a student through an exam (Wikipedia). Since then, it’s had a mixed reputation. It’s well established and respected in sport, where it’s acknowledged to give the edge in football, baseball, tennis, especially at the professional level. But often carries negative associations when it is mentioned in a workplace context. At best, it implies wasteful indulgence, along the lines of the original Oxford usage (“why can’t he or she figure that out for him/herself?”) and at worst it signals total incompetence (when HR are asked to coach an under-performer). So people tend to think coaching is for other people, not them.
People often confuse coaching and mentoring. They expect a coach to have a thorough understanding of the topic they are coaching on so that they can pass on handy tips. Timothy Gallwey, (Inner Game of Tennis, 1974) a semi-professional tennis player turned legendary coach, discovered that getting his students to concentrate on actions and not tasks (asking them to say ‘bounce’ when the ball bounced, for example) which allowed them to silence their unhelpful thoughts which led to them make amazing improvements in their performance. His methods were so impactful that he ended up coaching other sports that he was unfamiliar with, like skiing as well as performance coaching in large corporations in the US. He was surprised to find that the most successful coaches were often the ones who knew the least about the subject they were coaching.
Coaching, teaching, mentoring. They are very different tools for very different outcomes. Teaching is very appropriate where the learner doesn’t have enough knowledge to make an improvement on their own. Mentoring can be very helpful in giving information that might take a long time to be acquired naturally. Coaching facilitates insight which leads to improved performance, be that thinking or concentration or doing. Essentially, coaching is what you need when you have a sense of what you want (or in some cases, no longer want) but realise that something is getting in the way of achieving that.
At its simplest, coaching is a framework to help you make a plan to achieve a specific goal, be that getting a promotion, losing a stone or improving your serve. Sometimes, you can achieve that on your own. Coaching will help when you can’t. It’s for the times when you can’t figure out how to get something done. It works for a number of reasons:
I’ll leave you with a great definition of coaching, by John Whitmore, who is one of the key figures in modern coaching: “The coach is not a problem solver, a teacher, an advisor, an instructor, or even an expert; he or she is a sounding board, facilitator who...raises awareness and responsibility."
If you want to know more, send a message or call 07976 913709 and lets start talking!
25 years experience in helping teams build user centred products and services, now helping digital colleagues find their happy path at work