The Stepping stage in transitions is when things become concrete, pragmatic and active. In other words, sh-t gets real. It’s the nuts-and-bolts of change. You set goals, create a plan, take steps to turn ideas into action, and learn what works and what doesn’t work. Stepping into action moves you towards accomplishing what you’ve dreamed of doing and being.
There’s a catch - no matter how much time you spend visioning, goal-setting and planning a course of action for your dreams, you cannot know what problems you’ll face when you finally step into action. This doesn’t mean that your dreams are misguided or that they won’t come true, simply that you will need to modify your plan, maybe many times.
The Stepping stage is when you might hear your inner Saboteur natter loudly in your ear:
“You’re fine where you were!”
“Stay safe and comfortable”
“Keep doing more research!”
“You’re too (fill in the blank) to do this”
“You can’t do this, why bother trying?”
Your Saboteur and its self-limiting beliefs will really show up to ease your anxiety when you actually take action for change. It has an important role: the Saboteur wants you to stay safe by keeping you in your comfort zone and maintaining your status quo. It functions to keep your body’s sympathetic nervous system - the fight-or-flight response - in homeostasis and in balance. Otherwise your adrenaline will rocket sky-high, your heart rate and blood pressure will increase which, over repeated exposure and time, can cause stress and possibly illness. This makes the purpose of the Saboteur critical in keeping you safe and well, but also offers a way for you to notice when change is stressing you out too much and stopping you from moving ahead.
An important role of therapists and life coaches is to bring this negative self-talk with its accompanying emotions and behaviours into awareness and understand them, then explore strategies that disengage the Saboteur. Strengthening the parasympathetic nervous system - the rest-and-digest response - brings us into the state of Flow and Flourish. It quietens our inner Saboteur, relaxes our mind, body and spirit, and energizes us to stay inspired and motivated. Creating actions that are small and doable will also help lower anxiety, maintain homeostasis and quieten your Saboteur voice(s). Learning how to get out of your own way is quite a powerful process, even transformational.
“Adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive one.”
The Stepping stage is also when you are more vulnerable to external Saboteurs, the people, things, and systems that are obstacles or are not supportive of the change you want or have to make. There are people who may feel threatened when you step into action to make changes in your life and yourself, perhaps believing that as you change you will no longer be available to them as you once were. This is a great opportunity to strengthen relationships or get clearer about expectations. Unfortunately, some relationships can end when we go through a transition.
There are many things that can present as obstacles when you step into action; competing demands, responsibilities and roles, lack of resources (money, time, energy), technological issues, weather issues, transportation issues, bureaucracy, one’s own illness or of a family member, etc. All these things that get in the way of your dream are tests of your determination, patience, self-care, and stress management. Your Saboteur needs to know what you are prioritizing, that you are okay and safe, and that you are making this choice, not your Saboteur.
There are also systemic barriers — racism, sexism, ableism, ageism, etc. — that surface when we challenge the status quo. These systemic obstacles can diminish hope and motivation, feeding the Saboteur’s self-limiting beliefs. But there are many programs and resources that provide support and assistance to achieve your goal and dream.
“In any given moment we have two options: to step forward into growth, or to step back into safety.”
12 Suggestions for Stepping into Action:
- Set inspiring, motivating goals! It can “set” you up to be motivated or set you into the ditch of procrastination. S.M.A.R.T. goals offer a helpful guideline. Consider working with a coach or mentor to help you with this one.
- Brainstorm actions steps with various levels of difficulty, such as easy, not-so-easy, challenging and really challenging action steps. Then brainstorm one of the really challenging action steps. Give yourself permission to get a bit wild with it.
- Create an action plan using tool(s) that resonate for you - lists, mindmapping, wall map, colours, stickers/post-its, etc. Schedule reviews of your action plan in your calendar.
- Socialize, network, and connect with people who support your dream. You need a supportive community to take those steps.
- Keep the action steps small, even tiny. Realize the tiny steps you didn’t know you didn’t know.
- Research - information, people, places, events, resources, ideas, organizations, programs.
- Journal your stepping process: use your journal or notebook to brainstorm, organize, prioritize, track, evaluate your steps and review. It’s an invaluable tool for your self-awareness and for future transitions.
- “Complete one action a day” - write an email, journal, plan to attend an event, read a chapter from a how-to or inspirational book, research a new idea or resource, make a phone call.
- Reflect on how you deal with failure, learn from your failures. 5 Best Books About Learning From Failing.
- Strengthen your rest-and-digest response. Take care of your mind, body and spirit to minimize your anxiety and keep yourself well. Make time for relaxation, enjoyment, pleasure, health and wellness.
- Brainstorm rewards for taking those action steps. Celebrate your steps! Celebrate making the call, extending the invitation, having the meeting or conversation, reading the fine print, whatever it is that was getting in your way. Celebrate!!
- Practice core values: Patience, Persistence and Self-Care.