How to Be Happy in the Messy Middle
“Change is hard at the beginning, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end.” How can we be happy in the “messy middle?” Join me for today’s episode of Mindset for Life!
Hey there. Thank you for joining me. This is Bethanie Hansen of the Mindset for Life podcast at DrBCoach.Com. I’m happy you’re here. I have been an educator for 28 years now, and a coach for the last seven or eight. I’m very happy to work with you today and also talk with you about the “messy middle.”
There’s a quote by Robin Sharma: Change is hard at the beginning, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end. Well, what is that messy middle, you might be thinking?
That’s what we’re going to talk about today.
The first step toward any kind of change is awareness. And the fact that we need to change, and we know something must be different.
Perhaps it’s our lives, perhaps it’s our organization, maybe it’s our classroom. Whether you are a leader, a teacher, or a coach, you know that there are all kinds of transitions and changes that you may navigate yourself personally, professionally, and that you might lead others through.
There are so many ways to make this change, and a lot of steps involved. But once we start the change, and we step in the new direction, and we start to get people aware, we map out that journey. We accept what has to happen, and we start to prepare for this road ahead.
Now we’ve got some trouble along the way, and almost immediately, we question the direction we’re headed. We might hit a lot of roadblocks. We might hear people objecting to what we’re going to do.
The messy middle is part of change
Let’s just take the example of personal change. Have you ever changed anything personally that other people around you objected to? I have some colleagues and friends who used to wear mustaches and beard parts, I guess we call this a goatee. And some of these male friends of mine shaved off their mustache and their goatee all together. So now they look different.
My son showed up at my house this weekend, without his mustache goatee. He’s had that facial hair for probably the last five years straight. And all of a sudden, he came to my house with a naked face, he had shaved the mustache on the beard. And I’ll admit he looked years younger than himself.
He looked very different. I could see his whole face. I thought it was beautiful as his mother. But I could see that in the professional world, he probably looked very different to customers, to clients, to his co-workers. And actually, it presents a whole different persona, right?
Now that’s a somewhat superficial change. But what if your change is going to be deeper? Like, maybe you decide that it’s time to really figure out what matters most to you, and you really want to live it at work. And you want to make these changes last for yourself.
Change begins with taking stock, with awareness of the need for change
So you’re going to do some kind of a taking stock exercise, like maybe you’re going to map out your wellbeing wheel, or your wheel of life, or your professional leadership wheel, you’re going to do some kind of inventory that will help you to know what you are doing right now, and to look ahead to decide where your gap is. And once you’ve discovered the gap between where you are, and where you’d really like to be, ideally, there is some change that’s going to have to happen. I work with a lot of clients in my coaching practice where there are some major changes people decide to make.
Some of these changes actually push some people out of their lives and invite in new people.
Some of these changes invite people to change careers altogether. I remember a woman about three years ago. We did a values inventory in session number two, and then I did not see her for like a month and a half, she just seemed to just disappear. And what really happened was, she did that values inventory and immediately connected the dots for herself and realized that the profession she was pursuing, the job she was in, none of it aligned with her personal values at all.
She immediately resigned from that job and started looking for a new one. Found a new one that was even better. It was some kind of Vice President role at a new company in a new direction. And she was so pleased with herself. She got the job; she moved on. She did something she believed in. Now, not all of us are going to have that striking of a change or that clear of a career direction change. But it’s an example of what can happen when we take stock.
Like when we take stock, we can learn some things about ourselves that we take for granted. Or maybe that we just never really connected about our lives. Taking stock is the beginning of the change. Then we prepare and we start this journey.
Letting go and saying goodbye can be part of the change
Part of making a change is acknowledging what we’re losing and we’re going to let go of and say goodbye to a lot of things. One of the changes I made in my life was to move to a new state.
My husband and I decided that our children needed better opportunities. This was 11 years ago, maybe 12 years ago at this point. And we started looking around to decide where we wanted to move, we were pretty sure we would need to move to a new state from where we were at the time. So, we started visiting different places, we called this “dating” these areas. We visited some cities, we checked out some school districts, we looked at some homes we could live in. And eventually, we decided on where we live now, this city. Different house, same city.
And we made plans to change. And once we started that process, we were full steam ahead. We moved forward so quickly, we put our house on the market, we packed up everything we owned, we drove it a couple of states away, we parked it, we moved it in. And we really did not do a great job of saying goodbye.
We did not say goodbye well to our friends. We didn’t say goodbye well to the jobs we were leaving; we didn’t say goodbye well to our neighborhood. And especially we didn’t really say goodbye to our church community. Because we were so overwhelmed with the change that we didn’t do a great job of pausing to realize what we were saying goodbye to.
One of the most important parts of change is acknowledging your loss, acknowledging what you’re letting go. Because with any change, you cannot keep everything, you can’t change in a new direction and just take who you are right now and stay this way. If we’re going to go in that new direction, something about you will have to change to accommodate the new direction, the new role, the new life, whatever that is.
Saying goodbye is one of three pieces of change that’s pretty important to do, and important to think about and plan for.
Change includes the “messy middle”
And then we’ve got the middle part. And some people call this the messy middle. I like to call it the neutral zone, because it can be positive, it can be negative, it can be exciting, it can be draining.
Whoever around you is interested in brainstorming, creating options, exploring your possibilities, this is the friend you want to have with you in that messy middle. I’m one of those people who loves to think about the future, to explore the possibilities to find options and to play with ideas. And that’s one of my strengths. So, I like the messy middle of any change. I think, “Ooh, something good is coming.”
And it’s going to come even if it’s challenging. We’re going to have something new we get to deal with. So, in the messy middle, we do want to acknowledge that for other people around us, it might be painful, it might be difficult. They might be dreading the change and having difficulty acknowledging all the things they’re saying goodbye to, all the people, and all that has to change.
And so, one of the important things for us, especially if we’re in a leadership role, is to recruit people who want to join us. If we have an Ideator, or people who like to brainstorm, and dream and create and imagine the future, some of these people might be wonderful partners to join you.
Bring values with you into the change
Another thing to think about in the messy middle, is to explore your values. That is a good space to look at your values and decide what matters most to you long term, short term, and all the time. And when you can get clear on your values, then you can use these as a compass as you’re going through this middle stage of change. And keep checking your direction against that compass. And every time you take a step forward, look at your values and consider Are you staying aligned to these values?
Is there one of your values that needs to take a higher priority at this time that might slip back a few notches when you’re done with the change? Think about how you’re going to stay aligned with what is most important about you and to you. And if you’re headed in a direction that requires you to bring a lot of people with you. What are their values? What do they care about? What will they want when we all get to this new destination we’re headed towards?
So, think about having people join you, helping them want to join you, and also aligning to values.
Consider your character strengths as some of your resources
And the next thing I would recommend is thinking about your resources. So, any change as we’re letting go of things, there may be some things we want to keep about the past and some things that we can keep. Maybe we can modify some of those things, and maybe some of them will have to totally change out for something else. So, thinking about the resources we have, the resources we want and need in the future, and the resources within.
One of those resources is your set of values. But another is your character strengths. If you haven’t done your character strengths inventory to just objectively take a look, I highly recommend VIA Character Strengths. This survey will help you to see what your top five signature strengths are. And I guarantee that those will show up in your life. They probably influence your relationships, your work, the way you are every day.
They’re definitely going to influence the messy middle of your change. So think about your character strengths, and also any talents, any experiences.
Altogether, your values, your strengths, your talents, your experiences, all of these things make up who you uniquely are. And my friend, you are unique compared to anyone else on this planet. I mean that in the best way possible. You have gifts that are worth sharing with other people. And you can only give these gifts to others.
Someone else might have something in common with you or a similar background. But no one can see the world the way you do. So, your input is essential for the future. And it is needed in the change that you’re going through, or you’re going to go through.
Find ease and flow in the liminal space
In this middle space, sometimes we call these transitions liminal space. There’s a space that’s created, where you have time to think about all of these things. And then, pretty soon, it’s going to be settled, and the change will be over. And you’ll be moving in this new direction and the change won’t be happening anymore.
Now you’ll be maintaining, settling down, having a gorgeous ending that keeps going.
Now one of those changes that I went through in my life was weight loss. I know I’ve mentioned this in a lot of my podcasts. But for a long time, I was a very heavy adult. I didn’t, I did exercise, but I didn’t exercise regularly. It wasn’t that active. And I wasn’t super concerned about what I ate every day. I actually didn’t even think about it. I tried to put some healthy things on the plate. But I really wasn’t that concerned about the calories or anything like that. And something happened in my life, that was a major life change. It hit me out of nowhere, wasn’t expecting it. And I decided it was time to get it together and lose weight.
So, I embarked on this change. And I didn’t really realize what I was going to let go of. But I was going to let go of the comfort and freedom that I felt by not caring about food, like eating whatever I wanted. That was actually easy to let go of at first. And then after a long time, I kept thinking it was going to come back. And over time in the messy middle, I started to realize that the only way I could maintain weight loss was if I continued to eat that healthy way that I had to eat to get the weight loss.
And that was really discouraging. So sometimes when you’re in the middle of a change, you hit something–maybe a realization or a learning that makes you very sad and makes you wonder if you really want to go in that direction. Now I can attest to the fact that weight loss is always worth it, even though it feels hard. And it feels like my life has to change forever.
That healthy body that I’m going to have is much better than bringing illness and disease and pain and fatigue on myself without taking care of my health. So that’s something that I’m always going to want. But it’s always going to be hard for me, for some reason. It’s not interesting or exciting to me. And even though the end of the change is gorgeous. It’s very difficult to maintain some changes.
I might secretly yearn for the day when we can maintain weight loss without having to eat healthy. That would be an awesome dream. I would love to have more cheesecake, more treats. But I know that’s not a realistic fantasy. So, let’s just dismiss that one.
Manage sabotaging thoughts in the messy middle
Once we’ve looked at our resources, and we’re in this change, we also need to do one more thing. And I guess I sort of hinted at it just now, when I was talking about my weight loss experience. And that is we have to do some brain management around those thoughts that sabotage us.
We have these thoughts that are sabotaging thoughts. They may be thoughts like pleasing other people or avoiding hard things, or just plain criticizing ourselves. Maybe we’re thinking a lot about all the things that could go wrong. Or maybe we’re just trying to achieve so much that we’re going to push our own wellbeing or our own desires out of the way to achieve the next thing.
A lot of these kinds of sabotaging voices really bring upon us negativity, feelings of fear, or feelings of scarcity. Or feelings of disappointment and loss and lack. They’re not genuine but more complex because now they’re about the way we see ourselves. A lot of those sabotaging thoughts will happen at the beginning of a change.
When we’re leading other people, when we’re teaching our class, when we’re coaching people, when we’re working on our own personal life, all of those things will be influenced by sabotaging thoughts. They sound like our own thoughts. They sound like our brain is talking to us, they sound like our own voice. But actually, it’s part of our brain that just wants to maintain our comfort zone.
This part of our brain really wants to save us energy and keep us safe. So, it tells us these things that are familiar thoughts, that our brain has thought a lot. So, our brain tends to favor these very familiar thoughts. It’s not trying to lie to us, it’s not trying to hurt us. It’s just offering us thoughts that we’ve thought in the past.
With any change, one of the most important parts of change is to notice our thought habits, and to really question those thought habits. To ask a lot of clarifying questions to ourselves. When we think a thought about our direction, and we begin to doubt and we begin to get discouraged and want to give up or change directions or quit, the question we should ask is, whatever that thought is we’re having about failure or about stopping, “Is it really true?”
Or is it an old familiar thought that the brain is just bringing back, because that’s what brains do?
Is it a thought that you used to think in the past? If the answer is yes, now’s the time to put that thought on hold, challenge it, argue with your own brain. I know that might sound like a crazy idea, but it works. And when you’re in the messy middle, if you’re willing to go to battle with some of those automatic thoughts that you are having, and that you have had in the past, you’re going to win.
Develop new, empowering thoughts to feel happy in the messy middle
You’ll be able to push through those hard times in the middle, to get to the gorgeous ending of your change.
What’s it going to take for you to be even more successful in that thing you’re trying to change right now?
What might make your personal life better?
What might make your leadership better? You’re teaching better, you’re coaching better?
What’s going to really help you get excited about this direction in which you’re going?
What does being successful mean to you?
And what’s going to inspire you as you keep pushing through this messy middle right now?
I also want to ask you what you’re putting up with. What are you tolerating?
What’s missing in your life right now, while you’re pushing through this hard time? Whatever that is, make room to let it in. Maybe it will be a great companion to you while you’re suffering through this difficult liminal period. And you can get through the change and persevere, to that gorgeous ending.
Whatever road you’re on right now, I want to encourage you, because the world needs your gifts, your talents, your abilities, now more than it ever has in the past. We need you to be the best you possibly can be.
Keep moving to make the progress you planned
Don’t give up. Keep pushing through that messy middle of change. And you can find happiness as you overcome each limiting thought. As you find beauty in the liminal space. And as you help, making sure people want to join you on the way. Figuring out what gets to stay.
And what did you wish you could let go of sooner, that you’re now letting go of as part of this change?
Each one of these things will help you to be happy in that messy middle. And if you will do the middle of change a little bit happier and cultivate feelings of happiness, then you’ll be also happy at the end, not just waiting for it to be happy for you. But you’ll bring it.
You’ll bring the joy; you’ll bring the happiness, and it will be a cheerful change even though it’s challenging.
Thank you again for being here at the Mindset for Life podcast. Now is a great time to reach out for coaching. More than ever, we need strength we’re getting through changes and challenges, and that’s what coaching is all about. If now’s a great time for you, reach out. Let’s chat.
Have a wonderful week. And here’s to being the best version of you!
This episode’s theme song is “Sunshine Club,” by Ishan Dincer. Used with Permission.
Like what you read here? In this podcast, I’m sharing some core principles I’ve learned in coaching that have completely changed my life. These ideas restore personal power and bring the confidence to grow our unique traits, strengths, and attributes, to live with purpose and joy as we make each day a little better. And when we do that, we’re putting good into the world. Right here, you have the tools to take one small step. And with a personal coach, you can take it deeper, to make these changes a lasting part of your life. You can live your true purpose with joy, every day.