Mountain Stream Coaching in words with M stylized as mountains and S stylized as stream
Yellow highway "Start Life Design Here" sign with clouds and blue sky

In this article, I propose a seven-stage life design process. The first four stages—Awakening, Commitment, Assessment, and Bedrock & Vision—culminate with having your bedrock and vision in place. The remaining stages—Planning, Execution, and Review—address living a life by design that is solidly built on that bedrock and is advancing toward your vision.

The bedrock includes your Core Values, your Why, your Purpose, your Mission, and your Personal Brand. Over time, these bedrock components solidify in a good way. Barring the occasional life earthquake, they remain fixed for years. You confidently stand on these as your unique gift to the world. Done well, you know who you are, why you are here, who you serve, and how you create value. All leading to a fulfilling and meaningful life well lived, by design.

Refer to the bullet points in the figure below for some more key points for each stage in the life design process. Also see Deciphering Life Design: A Glossary of Key Terms.

Chevrons for each stage in the life design process. Bullet point description below the chevrons.

The chevrons in the diagram show clear lines between stages, and each stage comes after the one before it in a straight line. In the real world, the life design process is more fluid, overlapping, and iterative.

The two-headed arrow notes the particularly fluid relationship among Stage 2 (Commitment), Stage 3 (Assessment), and Stage 4 (Foundation). For example, someone might begin working with their Purpose after having only completed a core values exercise. After having a draft Purpose from Stage 4, this person might go back to Stage 3 and complete additional assessments for strengths and personality.

There is a defined loop from Stage 7 (Review) back to Stage 5 (Planning). Each daily, weekly, or longer planning cycle is informed by prior work.

Below I cover the first stage, Awakening, in more detail. To keep articles to a manageable length, I’ll cover the remaining stages in separate articles. Now available:

Stage 1: Awakening

This stage is about recognizing a problem (or seeing an opportunity) that calls for some changes in one’s life. In this stage, someone awakens to acknowledge that their life could be better; however, they have not yet committed to doing the work to make it so.

Triggers

Triggers for recognizing a need for change typically fall into one of four categories:

  1. We are hit by a sudden setback or tragedy. For example, a negative performance review at work, an unexpected job loss, or a serious injury or illness.
  2. We are “stuck” in a period of long-term suffering. For example, not feeling a sense of belonging or meaning in our work, or dissatisfaction with our physical health as in being overweight and out of shape.
  3. We are facing a significant milestone. For example, a change in marital status, the birth of a child, a job change, retirement, a significant birthday, or just the turning over of the New Year.
  4. We have a general sense that as good as life is, it could still be better—going from good to great.

Alignment With Change Models

Referring to my previous article on change models, the Awakening Stage aligns with the following stages in change models from others:

  • Martha Beck’s Dissolving (death and rebirth) Square One stage (reference)
  • Joanne Lipman’s Struggle stage (reference)
  • William Bridge’s Ending stage (reference)
  • Kurt Lewin’s Unfreeze stage, substituting individual for organization (reference)
  • Diane Stober and Anthony Grant’s Awareness stage in ACE Cycle of Change (reference)
  • The Awareness and Desire elements in the ADKAR model (reference)
  • The Contemplation stage in the Transtheoretical Model (TTM) (reference)
 

In the Awakening Stage, individuals will often describe their problem or opportunity as if confined to a single life area. For example, ‘Work and Career’ or ‘Family’ (refer to my What Is Life Design? article for a list of eleven life areas). In such cases, typically in Stage 3 (Assessment), a further Awakening occurs and the individual comes to recognize that several areas of their life are calling out for attention.

Resistance

There are many reasons why someone might have difficulty moving on to the Commitment Stage. Some common reasons are:

  • Fear of change. Even for what promises to be a positive change, there may be an attachment to the status quo. Sometimes this is expressed as “better the devil you know.”
  • Concerns regarding emotions and feelings work—including avoidance of anything that might be seen as “touchy-feely” or require revisiting painful memories.
  • Past failure. Previous attempts at self-improvement that didn’t yield the desired results can discourage individuals from trying again.
  • Low self-esteem. Individuals with low self-esteem might doubt their ability to succeed in life design or believe they don’t deserve a positive change in their lives.
  • Perfectionism. When someone is afraid of making any mistake, their fear can prevent them from acting.
  • Procrastination. “I’ll start next week or next month.” Usually underneath procrastination is one or more of the previous bullet points.
  • Concerns regarding the anticipated time commitment and need to focus. This can appear as a sense of overwhelm, as in “This is too daunting for me to take on right now.”
  • Concerns regarding financial commitment; for example, out-of-pocket costs for therapy or life coaching.
  • Lack of anticipated support or active discouragement from family and/or friend groups.

Motivation

To overcome any reluctance in committing to a life design journey, either increase motivation and/or decrease the perceived cost. Some tactics to consider:

  • Get clear on what is driving the reluctance. Is it one or more of the bullet points above, or is it something else? Use reflective techniques such as journaling or working with a coach (itself a jump to commitment) to understand the driver(s). Then brainstorm ways to overcome the source of the reluctance. This could involve some of the next bullet points.
  • Focus on one small first step. Read the other articles in this series and some references to learn more about life design; however, instead of allowing this to create overwhelm, make the first commitment to do something small. For example, one small step would be to jump into Stage 3 (Assessment) and complete just the VIA Character Strengths assessment. Including some time for reflection, this is less than a one-hour commitment. After completing this one assessment, you can evaluate whether to continue the life design journey.
  • Increase your understanding of the benefits of undertaking a life design journey. Anticipate a future article from me on this. A preview of one point is knowing that the most frequent regret that the elderly share at the end of life is “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me” (Joanne Lipman). Commit to not being another data point for this revelation.
  • Look at examples (case studies) of how others have embraced life design with success. Again, I might write an article just on this.
  • Adjust your mindset. I already wrote an article on beneficial mindsets for life design. To overcome any reluctance to start a life design journey, I further emphasize embracing a mindset of openness, experimentation, positivity, and self-compassion.
  • Jump ahead to Stage 4 and focus on creating an initial life vision prior to investing in values, purpose, or mission. This isn’t the recommended order; however, an exciting vision can motivate commitment to the journey.
  • Surrender to your higher power. Make a leap of faith.
 

Not recommended as a proactive strategy; however, the transition to commitment may involve the experience of “hitting bottom,” when the pain of continuing with the status quo becomes greater than the fear of change or other reluctance.

One way or another, you move fully into Stage 2 (Commitment).

Over to You

Have you ever had reluctance to invest in a journey of self-discovery and self-improvement? If so, what was holding you back, and how did you overcome the resistance?

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