Transitions in Life
Updated: Jun 6, 2018
Why does self-doubt show up during change?
We all go through transitions in our lives and deal with them in our own unique way. Regardless of who you are, I can guarantee one certainty, the transition will be met with a mix of emotions, thoughts and inner voices. Some helpful and some toxic!
Firstly, let’s clarify what I mean by a “transition”. Essentially, I’m talking about significant changes in our lives, a key milestone on your journey that altered your course. Some examples of common transitions in life are changing jobs, marriage, becoming a parent, redundancy, leaving a relationship, moving to a new home, retirement, all of which I’ve experienced or witnessed and had very different experiences of each. Some of these transitions you can see coming and some just slap you in the face without warning.
I want to tell you the story of how I got engaged to my beautiful wife. In 2012, we both packed in our jobs and decided to travel for 6 months. We were scheduled to leave in April and I knew I was going to propose to her at some point on our travels. So, in January, I went and bought the perfect ring. Long story short, we had an amazing time travelling and after a couple of aborted plans to propose, I finally did it, she said “yes” and life was awesome!
When we returned to the UK and settled back into work, something totally unexpected happened. My fiancée started reading books for women about transitioning into becoming a wife. From the outside, she looked a little lost, confused and scared at times. Now, although I was definitely there for her and gave her the space she needed, I was in turmoil on the inside. I mean, I’d asked her to spend the rest of her life with me, we’re not even planning the wedding yet and she’s already reading books about how to cope with being married?! I couldn’t help but take it personally and couldn’t understand why she was in so much conflict. It was too much, I was hurting and a little frustrated, as I felt she was deciding whether I was “good enough” for her so I approached her about it.
My wife has the composure of an enlightened monk (at times), and simply said something along the lines of “you’ve known you were going to propose to me for over a year. You’ve had time to process what life will be like once we’re married. I had no idea you were going to propose. I definitely love you and want to marry you and I just need some time and guidance to process what you’ve already had the chance to do”.
Talk about a perspective change! I’d never once considered things from that angle. I was asking her to change her life (for the better, obviously) and just expecting it to be an easy thing to do.
So why am I sharing this particular story? To be honest, at first I had no clue! I knew it was a serious transition that a lot of us go through, but I couldn’t put my finger on what I was trying to say, so I left the article, spent some time with my wife and then the paragraphs came.
Getting married is one of the biggest, happiest milestones in our lives and is a result of two people being in love…..and still…… those inner voices of doubt and self-sabotage show up. I’ve literally just asked my wife what sort of things were being said in her head when she was reading the guidance books (and we had a good laugh about it). In the words of my wife, it was the fact that the decision would affect her for the rest of her life, which scared her. She admits that she was a bit of a “commitment-phobe” and was struggling to process this. What I got from this discussion was that there was something about giving up aspects of her previous life, her freedom. If only I was a coach when we we’re going through this, I could have shown her how awesome her life would be with me! 😜
Anyway, what I’m getting at is that even if the transition in your life is one that you know will be amazing, you’re still going to have your voices of self-sabotage that bring doubt. Now, with big transitions like engagements, marriage or becoming a parent, there’s plenty of time in the build-up to really tie yourself in knots by listening to those negative voices. However, they also show up as snap emotions or reactions, particularly when our values get trampled on.
Let me give you example. Another major transition in my life was becoming a Dad. What a crazy time that was and still is. Every day changes and the only way you can survive some days is if you are totally present and have no attachment to what shows up that day. Easier said than done! For example, I can sometimes take it personally if my son wants Mummy and not me. I can get annoyed if he doesn’t eat the cottage pie I’ve spent an hour making, whilst multi-tasking trying to entertain him, stop him turning on taps, putting his head down the toilet, picking the dog’s nose, turning on the washing machine, having a meltdown or any of the other wonderful things he gets up to in the space of five minutes!
As a parent, I was getting increasingly worried and sad about my inability to tolerate all the above. I had been made redundant, my wife and I did a role swap where she worked full time and I worked part time, along with Daddy day care. Talk about a whole load of transitions happening at one time! Oh, and we also found out we had baby number two on the way the day after I was made redundant, no pressure!
Anyway, back to the point. I had some great coaching recently that made me realise my emotional reactions were showing up as a result of some of my values being squashed. As a result, instant negative voices coupled with strong emotions erupted. Take the example of my son Jack wanting his Mummy over me. This is a typical situation for Dad’s and generally we just suck it up as that maternal bond is so much stronger between Mum and baby. But for me, I’d stepped into a role of a part time stay at home Dad, where I was actually with him more than his Mum… but he still wanted Mummy! The negative voices kicked in coupled with instant emotions of sadness and anger. “He doesn’t want you!”, “You’re not as good as Mummy!”, “You can’t comfort him!”, “He doesn’t love you!”….. which is all nonsense by the way. One thing I’ve learned about kids is they say and act exactly the same way when they’re with the other parent.
So, going back to the coaching I had, my coach got me to revisit my value system. One of my values is titled “family” and that encompasses a string of values such as love, support and respect. By Jack wanting his Mum instead of me, I was feeling unloved and totally disrespected. Now I appreciate the irony of me talking about an under two year old disrespecting me, but I wasn’t self-aware at the time. I was running purely on whatever emotion showed up and to make matters worse, I got into a negative feedback loop. I started reflecting on the fact that I was feeling angry and sad and that….. well….. made me even more angry and sad about being angry and sad in the first place! In other words,
“why can’t I myself together and be the happy, easy going person I see myself as?!”
Being more self-aware of my values helped in terms of understanding why certain emotions or negative talk shows up, but it didn’t stop them. What was worse, now some days I could handle anything that was thrown at me (e.g. sweet potato mash from my son’s rejected dinner or a conflict at work) and some days I simply couldn’t. Even my wife had started to highlight that she was struggling to deal with my high and low days. That was not only a wakeup call, but also put the pressure on, as I really couldn’t grasp what was going on inside me.
This was all happening around the time I was going through my training to be a coach. Every month I was meeting up with twenty-four amazing trainee coaches. A big part of this training is coaching each other on real topics in our lives. In this type of environment, you build unbreakable relationships, as you not only see people transform into amazing coaches, but you also have the privilege of coaching them through some of their biggest subjects in life. Many of my coach friends were seeing that I was “off my game” and that I wasn’t the energetic, compassionate, intense coach they had come to know and lean on.
I was called out by one of the head coaches to be client in a demonstration, which came at exactly the right time for me. Long story short, I was struggling with several transitions in my life (redundancy, being a stay at home Dad, having another baby on the way, stepping into the role of coach). I was plagued with self-sabotage, to the point that I was frozen from taking action. My coach left me with a simple enquiry to go away and reflect on:
“What are you scared of giving up to enable you to move forward?”
That evening I sat with that question for a long time. I didn’t really understand it at first. I then went through a storm of emotions and thoughts for about 3 hours, determined to come out the other side with clarity. What was I scared of? Then something ironic happened. I knew there was a good chance that I might be asked, in front of the group, how I got on with this enquiry. Despite my group being the most awesome, non-judgemental family on the planet, a little voice said:
“What will they think of me?!”
It then all fell in to place for me. All my transitions, negative feelings and inability to take action have come from that one massive, constant self-sabotaging question. My happiness has always been determined by the opinions of others. To some extent, I’ve spent a majority of my time being a “yes-man”, because I want to be liked and I don’t want to rock the boat. Yes, there have been plenty of times when I’ve stood up for myself when my values have been ignored by people. However, those times have always come as a massive build-up of unhappiness and frustration first.
So, the penny that dropped for me on my last day of the coaching course was that;
“I need to let go of what people think of me”
If I honour that simple revelation, suddenly, it’s impossible NOT to take action with anything. I had been worried about what people would think about me becoming a coach. I had been worried that my son thought of me as a bad Dad, because he preferred his Mum. I had been worried about many things in my life, because of the perception of others.
If I could shake that one thought, I would truly be free to be and do what I want. Again, easier said than done, but the point is, I now know what freezes me and stops me taking action and being myself. It’s about me becoming less attached about outcomes, so that I can unapologetically be myself in all walks of life.
Let’s revisit the “issue” I was having around Dad duties. The days where I can show up with no attachment to Jack’s actions, or put simply, show up with just love for him and being in that moment with him, things are pretty amazing and everything he does seems hilarious (even if he is launching the sweet potato cottage pie that I made across the room). Of course, every parent has their limits as there’s only so many tantrums you can take about “Peppa Pig" before you give in, put them in front of the TV and take a breath for yourself!
Those days that I show up for Jack are easy, as I’m not listening to the negative voices, in fact I can’t even hear them at times. However, these voices of self-sabotage will sadly always be present in our lives. They will either come back or show up with a different subject. EVERY human being has them. You want to know why? Because they are part of you, they are your bodies way of preventing change. Your brain determines change as danger, so it will manifest voices to convince you that the status quo is right and safe.
So how can we deal with them? If the negative voices or self-talk keep showing up, become louder, freeze you from action and basically frustrate the balls off you, confront them! Actually give them some airtime and see what they want to say. It doesn’t mean what they say is true, that’s up to you to decide. By actually taking the time to hear what they say, rather than suppressing them, they will lose their impact. There’s nothing more empowering than giving yourself a safe space to let these voices blurt, then simply thank them for their opinions and then completely disregard them. By giving them a chance to have their say, they will lose their power. You’ll probably be really surprised to find they don’t actually have that much to say, especially when you give them a time limit of say, 30 seconds to rant. They will become flustered and stumble over their words.
You’ll eventually realise that it’s the supressing of these voices that gives them their power. You create them into some kind of monster that you don’t want to confront. However, if you learn to give them a few seconds to have their say, you will kill the monster whilst it’s still tiny. In fact, I’ve found that listening to them gives me a clear idea of what I need to do next, usually the exact opposite! For example, if the voice is saying “you shouldn’t have that discussion at work about the pay rise you want, because they’ll probably think you’re not worth it”. This is telling me that I should have that conversation, because I want to honour letting go of what they think of me. If I have the conversation and it results in no pay rise, no drama, I know where I stand. There will be learning from having that experience and I’ve stepped up and taken action. If I get the pay rise, high fives all round, because I am worth the money!
So, let me try to pull this all together and summarise. This article is about transitions in life and how we respond to them. Maybe it should have been titled around self-sabotage, but that’s an inner voice of mine talking (and it doesn’t have anything else to say on the subject 😜). Milestones in our lives will always come with uncertainty. This uncertainty relinquishes our control and takes us out our comfort zone. This gives our self-sabotaging voices the microphone, because they are trying to keep us “safe”. It’s up to you to decide whether their version of a safe life, is the one that you want!
Thanks for reading,
If you struggle with these types of questions or want to make a change in your life but don’t know how, the chances are you’re ready for coaching. If you want to know more about me, my approach and background, feel free to contact me through my website www.clearwatercoach.com and I’ll be happy to chat to you.
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