Life can feel confusing and scary when one chapter ends. Understanding what to expect and learning strategies on how to refocus your life will help you shine as you start your next chapter.
Have you ever noticed that life feels a lot like a television episode?
Looking back, life events play out like a series of episodes with beginnings, middles, and ends.
The times when you feel most unfocused — even lost — are when you’re in the midst of a transition from an ending to a new beginning.
Let’s talk about the practical steps you can take to refocus and move forward when it feels like your life has gone off the rails.
Unfocused? That’s because your life is about to change.
Think about the beginning of a marriage, a family, a job, or a term in office. These sorts of things (beginnings) stand out very clearly in our memories.
Then recall your last days of formal education, the ending of a relationship, or moving from a home. Endings are often equally clear.
Indeed, when a chapter in life ends, it leads to the beginning of another. But what gets murky is that period in the middle.
Margaret Atwood describes it well:
“When you are in the middle of a story it isn’t a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood.”
In between two stages of life, you find yourself on shaky ground, looking for ways to refocus. It’s natural to feel confused, uncertain, and afraid of the unknown.
You might feel alone in your struggle to refocus your life, but in fact, most people experience this at some point in their lives.
Managing change as you discover a new focus
William Bridges refers to this time of lost focus as the Neutral Zone of the Transition Model, and it looks like this:
When life guides you in a new direction, it brings tremendous opportunities for change and growth. But with that, comes new territory. In between, it takes time to find your way.
Imagine wandering the woods and discovering a new place for the first time. At first, it can feel scary, dangerous, confusing, and difficult to navigate.
It might take a little time, but as we explore, we learn and discover a path. Suddenly, you may come across unimaginably beautiful places that inspire you. You may run into strangers who can guide you along the way.
Through exploring, you find new pathways that lead you out of the darkness to where you need to go.
Life works a lot like that during a transition. The Williams Bridge’s Transition Model refers to it as the Transition or Neutral Zone. When you refocus your life to a new direction, it means ending one phase and transitioning to a new one.
At first, you may feel the “dark roaring” emotions of frustration, denial, loss, or resistance. However, with the right strategies to refocus your life, unstable emotions evolve into feelings of accomplishment, energy, and relief — eventually boosting your motivation and fuelling new successes.
Let’s take a look at what to expect during unsteady transitions and how to refocus your life towards a successful new chapter.
Feeling empowered in the middle
When you try to refocus your life, it often feels like a “U” pattern in which things start high, then fall into a slump.
The “midlife crisis” is a prime example. There is ample evidence that well-being tends to drop during middle age. People experience higher levels of satisfaction early in life. Then, happiness drops in the middle, before rising again towards age 50.
You may not hold the middle very highly — most of us don’t, because it doesn’t feel good.
Remember that although that middle point can feel awful, it also provides the opportunity for growth and achievement. It’s a necessary step in the process of creating the life you want.
The emotions that arise in the Neutral Zone — sadness, anger, frustration — can drive us into action.
Daniel Pink speaks about this in his book “When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing”. He explains how a midpoint can often stimulate an important awakening. Such awakenings trigger emotions that propel you into a more promising trajectory to finish strong.
Understanding the emotions you experience, you can refocus negative feelings into a source of empowerment.
10 Strategies to refocus your life in the neutral zone
When you’re in the Neutral Zone, you may be tempted to flail around, blow up your life, or just give up. The good news is, you don’t have to do any of that!
There are plenty of strategies and practical steps you can take to navigate through this transitional period and refocus your life with renewed energy.
1. Explore your options
So what can you do when you feel like you’ve lost your focus or direction? One thing to do is engage in what I call a natural brain activity two-step.
Our brains undergo two types of thought processes that occur naturally, but we often don’t use them as astutely we could.
- Divergent Thinking: The first step is to stop and dump all of your ideas for what to do next. Divergent thinking means getting creative and exploring all the options in front of you. Get every possible option, no matter how unlikely, out on the table by writing them down, listing them in a spreadsheet, or drawing a mind map.
- Convergent Thinking: This step uses your analytical mind to choose the best available option. Since you’ve done the creative work, you can switch to assessing the value of each idea. Take a look at everything you’ve uncovered, and pick the one or two options that suggest the best steps to move forward.
When things feel unclear and out of focus during a transition, learning provides a powerful tool to point you where you need to go.
Spend time with audiobooks, podcasts, Ted Talks, classes, and books to fuel your creativity and come up with ideas to help you flow through the Neutral Zone.
3. Don’t give up
The Neutral Zone feels uncomfortable, and, therefore, people often want to rush through to the next chapter. But you need to trust the timing of your life.
Persist, even when things feel uncertain or difficult. Allow things to take their course, whether it means two, five, ten years… however long it takes to learn who you are becoming.
Self-care becomes especially important during periods of struggle. Give yourself time to rest and recover between bursts of activity and effort on your journey.
Nurture yourself with enough sleep, nutritious foods, and relaxing activities so you have the strength and energy to tackle the transition.
5. Take risks
The biggest risk you can ever take is not taking one at all. You can’t achieve your goals by playing it safe.
Have the courage to stick your neck out a bit and take risks to pursue the life of your dreams.
6. Get creative
Creative pursuits will help you brain stay sharp and give you a chance to express difficult emotions through productive outlets. It will also help develop your divergent thinking.
Whether you love to draw, enjoy journaling, or take a pottery class, find a way to refocus by channeling your emotions and ideas through creative outlets.
7. Seize the best parts of your day
Would you call yourself a morning person? Perhaps you’d say more of a night owl. Each person has a period of the day in which they have the most energy and feel full of focus. After this point, our mood and energy levels can drop.
So ask yourself when your energy levels run the highest and optimize that period of the day for working toward new goals and making decisions on how to refocus.
8. Speak with a coach or mentor
Another thing to do when you feel like you’ve lost direction and focus — talk with a coach. Find someone to support you to find clarity.
Sometimes we can’t decipher our thoughts until a coach facilitates us to hear ourselves.
9. Take a deep breath
The middle marks a great time to stop, take a few deep breaths, and use mBIT techniques to learn what your inner voice tells you.
Listen to your three brains — head, heart, and gut. Be your own guru so you can find your truth and live it. You can learn more about accessing your inner voice in my TedXTalk.
10. Accept uncertainty: Discovering versus knowing
You don’t need to know everything right now. When life feels out of focus, allow yourself the opportunity to discover.
Having to know it all will keep you stuck in a stagnant place. Open your heart and your mind to explore new avenues, grow, and experiment. This will guide you successfully through to the next chapter.
Refocus your story, one day at a time
Remember that when you feel lost, you’re in the middle of a story: the story of your life. Consider it your purpose and privilege to complete the story in any way you choose.
There will be surprises, both positive and negative, but you can control how you choose to move forward and where you place your focus.
Sometimes just that thought alone provides comfort enough to walk through the darkness and shattered glass.
Persist, and you will find your way!