My very first job was teaching. I taught Biology and Geography to secondary school kids. I was a disaster! I hated it, the kids hated it and not much learning was going on. I stuck at it for 18 months, but it was clearly time for change, but I had no idea what to do and at least I had a job. Finally the day came when I could stand it no more. I decided I would rather work on a petrol pump (as we did in those days!) than carry on teaching.
Because I’d waited so long and felt so bad, the final decision was an easy one. It felt like the only way forward. Sometimes the present situation has to get bad enough before we have the energy to do something different. Especially when the present is draining confidence and creating a feeling of powerlessness.
My favourite quote from Goethe says:
The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too…
This is just what happened to me. One week after giving in my letter of resignation, I was offered a job as an unqualified Social Worker. I leapt on it, since this was much more what I wanted to do. Because I was committed, I loved every minute of it and then, during my six years of working and training, Providence put Gestalt in my path and it has driven my work ever since.
In my research for The Psychology of Success, I came across the same process time and again. I met so many people who had struggled through bad times until they were ready to take a risk and follow their hearts.
I came to see this as a time of Incubation. Those moments when you realise you are restless, that you can no longer just carry on pretending that all is well. As soon as you acknowledge that, you move into Incubation. Just like the preggie mum, you are growing something new, developing and changing along the way. And just like the preggie mum, the whole thing feels interminable.
- When will it end?
- And what will the end result look like?
- And how will I cope?
The questions go on and you just want it all to stop. You want to be sorted and to have some sense of control over your life again.
See recent blog from Psychologies Magazine for an example
So what is actually happening?
Think caterpillar to butterfly. This is the level of transformation you are making on the inside. Everything you have known and understood is coming up for grabs. You doubt yourself and others; you get excited about new things; you change your relationships and look for new jobs.
People react to incubation in different ways:
Some get really introspective. They go inside to think really hard and people around have no idea what’s happening. There is a lot of learning going on and decisions being made on a subtle level. When change does come, it’s a huge surprise to the people around them.
Others look around outside of themselves for answers. They rush to action, just so they can feel more comfortable. They try new activities, new jobs, new friends. Each step of the way they learn something new about themselves and what they actually want. When the final change comes, people around them feel really relieved that the kissing of frogs has stopped for a while.
What drives the final decision?
The final change comes in a very interesting way. The answer has always been there, we just don’t accept it, believe it, trust it. So we try to carry on as normal, because the idea of taking a risk feels too much. Finally, when life gets bad enough, we accept that we are no longer who we thought ourselves to be; we recognise that change has occurred and we finally follow our hearts.
At last we have aligned our minds to what our hearts have been telling us. Then it’s all systems go! This is a great time – we go into Drive – laser focus moves us forward and life looks entirely different.
So if you are struggling and don’t know which was to go, maybe you are in incubation. As soon as you recognise that, you will feel more positive. This is not you making a fuss or ‘faffing’ around. This is you growing and developing. Life is going to look so much better once you know who you are becoming – and the journey itself becomes interesting for its own sake
- Start writing a journal to track your thinking and your ideas – get curious about yourself.
- Be really honest with yourself. Talk with someone you trust or write it all down in your journal. You will soon start to see the patterns and learn from them.
- Find other people in the same stage and share what’s happening.
- If you are getting lost in introspective, go out and do something different. Anything new that grabs your attention. You need to get your energy moving out rather than only inwards
- If you are constantly looking outside yourself for the answer, then sit down on your own and get introspective. Follow your feelings and thoughts and see what they have to tell you.
- This might also be a good time to find a coach – someone who can help you navigate the convoluted path of incubation.
Above all, remember, you know the answer, you just haven’t been able to access it yet. And the path might not be straightforward. Like me, you may need to take different turns to find your final destination – Social Work was great for a time, but not for me ultimately. Yet it did a great job of taking me to Gestalt, which was my true ‘coming home’ experience.
And when it’s all over?
In time, it will all happen again, because this is how we develop our potential. Some people go through it just a few times in their lives; some go round the loop often. So if you have real talent and skill, you will find yourself incubating again for sure. Change is the only constant, so enjoy it when the time comes. Define it as a time of learning, rather than a failure to take immediate action and go exploring. It’s all to go for!