Riding The Change Cycle

From August of 2010 to August of 2011, I lost my right breast, my father and my mother; it was a bad year. However, this year of life-altering changes afforded me an invaluable perspective that I’m not sure I could have gained any other way; I learned how to ride the Change Cycle. Martha Beck, the best selling author and columnist, life coach extraordinaire, frequent contributor on OWN, the Oprah Winfrey Network and for O, the Oprah Magazine, my teacher and inspiration, illustrates the Change Cycle in her book, Finding Your Own North Star. She compares the Change Cycle to the life cycle of a butterfly, starting with a caterpillar and ending with a butterfly. The basic premise of the Change Cycle is, “just when you think you have it all figured out, everything changes, and that’s okay.” As parents, we know that our children will grow and change, but no one tells us that our expectations and perceptions need to change as well. We can’t support our children in their growth if we are afraid of change ourselves.

The Change Cycle is a handy illustration of a pattern of growth that exists in nature, and if we can adopt an attitude of acceptance, instead of fear, we can teach our kids to prosper during the changes that life is perpetually throwing at us. The beauty part of understanding and working with the Change Cycle in your everyday parenting life is that you can pattern what acceptance of new ideas and situations looks like for your kid. That way when they discover that the girl/sport/guy/instrument they were banking on to make them happy doesn’t pan out, this is what we do instead of giving up. The four squares of the Change Cycle are:

  1. Square One: Death and Rebirth. This is where the caterpillar enters the chrysalis to begin its’ transformation to a butterfly. If you’ve had a major life change, like divorce, death or your child moving to college, and you have no idea where to go or what to do, then you’re in Square One. Most of my clients are in Square One when they hire me. The mantra for Square One is, “I don’t know what the hell is going on, and that’s okay.” I used to chant this when things seemed darkest, and it really was comforting. The trick in Square One is that you must dissolve your old identity before you can adapt to a new one, like the caterpillar dissolves into goo before he begins to take on the new butterfly DNA. This dissolving is accompanied by grief…sometimes, a lot of grief…for me boatloads of grief. Trying to avoid the grief will ensure that you never move out of Square One. But embracing the grief by scheduling time to let it wash over you (it will come in waves of about 90 seconds each) will allow it to eventually dissipate and allow you to move to Square Two.
  2. Square Two: Dreaming and Scheming. Once you have grieved the loss of whatever illusions you brought into Square One, you can begin dreaming about who you will become at the end of the Change Cycle. If you can’t dream it, you can’t be it. This is my favorite square, and I return to it often as a respite from the reality of Square Three. The parenting book I’m writing was born in Square Two. The mantra for this square is, “There are no rules, and that’s okay.” This is the Square where the caterpillar dreams of becoming a butterfly. In this square new ideas will pop into your head at a moment’s notice; I carry a notebook or my iPhone to record these ideas for future Square Three use. Square One and Square Two both take place internally; to the outside world, you look much the same. Square Three and Four are external, in that the outside world can see the changes or the results of the changes, a new job, spouse, or house, and perhaps a new look to go with said job, partner or abode. You will know that it’s time to move forward when you feel compelled to act.
  3. Square Three: The Hero’s Saga. Once you’ve grieved the loss of your old life, then dreamed up a new one, Square Three is how to reach your new vision…one tiny turtle step at a time. A turtle step is the tiniest, most ridiculously easy step you can take that makes you feel joyful. For instance, if you are completely stuck and you have a proposal due next week, a turtle step might be turning on the computer (if you’re really stuck) or working on the proposal for 15 minutes; then walk away and give yourself a reward. The rewards can be a new song on iTunes, 10 minutes surfing the net, or a bubble bath, but you must reward yourself. This is how I wrote the first draft of my book…15 minutes at a time. Square Three is a tough square, in that it involves trying and failing over and over again. Think about Hercules and all that Augean horse poo; being a Hero is messy. The mantra for Square Three is, “This is much harder than I expected, and that’s okay.” Within Square Three, you will fail and return to Square One many times, each time getting a little bit closer to your new life. When you put together enough turtle steps to reach your goal, then you are ready for Square Four.
  4. Square Four: The Promised Land. Square Four is a wonderful place where small adjustments will keep you sailing along; Square Two and Three are the squares where big shifts happen. Square Two shifts are internal (dreaming a new life) and Square Three shifts are external (making that new life happen), but Square One and Four are about tiny little changes. Trying to make big shifts in Square One will result in overwhelm, and big alterations in Square Four will send you right back to Square One. Because it feels so safe, it’s tempting to live in Square Four all the time. However, if you choose to do that, you won’t grow. You will stay in your own story about how change is too difficult and scary. I know people who stay in Square Four all of their lives, talking about how their lives will be better when they get a new job, boyfriend, or lose weight, thinking that change must come from outside themselves; when all the while, the only lasting change comes from within. And because they don’t know how to change, they stay in Square Four, where they are safe but unfulfilled. Or worse, they try to prevent their child from changing, because the thought of Square One is too scary for them. This situation leads to a clinging parent and a rebellious child. The mantra for Square Four is, “Change is coming and that’s okay.”

To begin to surf the Change Cycle you must take stock of where you really are right now, as opposed to where you think you should be. I became queen of the Change Cycle because of my aforementioned bad year, and it was the best thing that ever happened to me. I learned that the Change Cycle introduces the most important lesson for bringing more joy into your life…acceptance. If you can accept that there’s a reason you are where you are, then you can begin to hunt for the lesson that lives within your circumstances. This acceptance will make you more peaceful, in that you are in charge of how you react to circumstances that are beyond your control, and it will ultimately allow you to move forward to the next square. Because true happiness is not a destination, it’s the ability to navigate the journey with a light and happy heart.

Please tell me about your experiences with the Change Cycle in the comments below.

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