The changing seasons are some of the best reminders that nothing is permanent. Just take a look out of the window… the scenery you’ll see is decidedly different to that of six months ago, and in another six months’ time, it will look different again, as the wheel of time rolls by steadily.

The Greek philosopher Heraclitus hit the nail on the head more than 2 500 years ago when he stated that “the only constant thing is change”… or something to that effect.

International best selling author and Life Coach, Martha Beck (PhD), describes the change cycle as a square, divided into quarters. The first block represents the impetus for change, or as Beck calls it, the “Death and Rebirth” square. This is where the change is initiated. Whether it is a physical death of a loved one, or an emotional death – like when you lose your job – this first step of the change cycle can be extremely traumatic.

It’s not to say that it always has to be painful, though. The change can be a wildly exciting event, like getting married or being promoted. The point is, to a greater or lesser degree, there is a sense of loss. Take Sarah, who is getting married in three weeks’ time. Yes, it is undoubtedly a tremendously exhilarating time in her life, but she has to give up a few things to obtain that ring around the finger… like her surname (although this is happening far less nowadays than only a couple of years ago). She also has to give up her status as single, available, master-of-her-own-destiny girl and forge a new identity as wife. The same goes for entering the physical and emotional rollercoaster of motherhood, being promoted… or any other significant milestone in life. Some part of the self has to die for the new-and-improved version of you to emerge.

According to Beck, the mantra for square one is: “I don’t know what the hell is going on, and that’s okay.”

The second square, according to Beck’s analogy, is the “Dreaming and Scheming” phase. This is what happens when you’ve accepted the fact that your life is changing, and start thinking what you would like out of the situation. Let’s take the example of Joe, who is struggling to deal with the fact that he’s been retrenched. After the initial shock, Joe goes through the different stages of mourning as he grieves not only the loss of income and stature but also his ability to provide for his family and his identity which he so closely associated with his job. Once the denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance (in other words, the entire cycle of grieving) is completed, he starts to make plans again and daydream about what he wants out of life…

Maybe he dreams about being an artist… or going back to university to study archaeology. The sky is the limit here. In this phase, anything is possible…

It’s also in this second square that we start to make plans how to attain those goals. It might not be a complete, fool-proof plan, the details might still be a little foggy… but the first outlines of what your future life could/would/should look like is slowly starting to emerge… a little bit like those buds and leaves in early Spring. In fact, if “Death and Rebirth” is seen as representing Winter, this square undoubtedly represents Spring.

The mantra for square two is: “There are no rules, and that’s okay.”

An interesting trend amongst people in the “Dreaming and Scheming” phase, is the physical changes that occur, like losing weight, changing your hairstyle or wardrobe, or redecorating your living room. (Actually, there are thousands of physical manifestations of change – but seeing as we don’t have all day, I’ll leave you to find a few examples of your own). We’ll return to this square a bit later…

The next step in the change cycle is what Beck calls the “Hero’s Saga”. This is where you actually have to do the work to realise those plans you dreamt up in the previous phase. Now, I consider myself as quite well-read, and I’ve never come across a story in which the hero sets out to attain some glorious goal, gets the job done (and gets the girl) and is back in time for dinner and the seven o’clock news. Oh no! Its not called a saga for nothing. There are obstacles to overcome, monsters to defeat, calls of sirens to ignore… basically, for the first three quarters of any story worth reading (or repeating) it’s a case of one step forward, two steps back.

But a hero is not a hero if s/he does not have more than a bit of tenacity. (I’ll admit, a stroke of luck also plays a part sometimes – but I believe we make our own luck… and that’s a story for another day). The point is, in this phase, we have to stop dreaming and actually do something. If the plan does not work, we refine it, or redefine our goals. This is where you knock on every door and work like a slave to get to your goal. There is a lot of to-ing and fro-ing between this square and the “Dreaming and Scheming” square as you try out your plan, find it doesn’t work, go back to the drawing board to dream and scheme and come up with a new plan…

The mantra for square three is: “This is much worse than I expected, and that’s okay.”

It might sound tedious and like a never ending uphill battle, but if you have found what it is you love, and you are doing it, the line between work and play becomes very blurred and you might end up having so much fun that you forget about the heartache you experienced in square one.

Which brings us to Beck’s fourth and final square: the “Promised Land”. This is when you get what you wanted – like the Israelites who traversed the Middle East for how long? Forty years if I’m not mistaken. (Which again shows you how hard you sometimes have to work in Square Three). Enjoy it – you’ve earned it!

But don’t get too comfortable… remember old Heraclitus? The wheel of change can turn at any minute – and you can be catapulted back into Square One before you have time to savour the sweet rewards of your journey. If you’re lucky, you might spend years in the Promised Land… but be assured, whether its through boredom with all the wealth you’ve amassed, or a personal tragedy, change will happen again.

The mantra for square four is: “Everything is changing, and that’s okay.”

Before we return to the “Dreaming and Scheming” phase, its worth noting that different aspects of your life can be in different phases of the change cycle. You might have an awesome run at work (Promised Land stuff)… while your health or personal life might be in Square One… or Two… or Three. It helps us understand the proces and have patience with ourselves if we can identify which areas of our lives we are dealing with and where that area is in terms of the change cycle.

Remember I mentioned the physical changes frequently noticed in people who are in Square Two? An interesting occurrence is how people who have a physical make-over, (whether it’s to satisfy your bossy older sister or a scissor happy hair stylist), get thrown head first into the change cycle. Linda expereinced this first hand when she lost a significant amount of weight. People started responding differently to her, which forced her to look at herself differently – which catapulted her straight into a Death and Rebirth (with the death of her shy, overweight former self). If this is happening in your life – brace yourself, baby! You’re in for one hell of an adventure!


Martha Beck, 2001, Finding Your Own North Star, United States, Piatkus.

Ηράκλειτος (Herakleitos; Heraclitus) of Ephesus (c.535 BC475 BC)

Liezl Thom is a Martha Beck certified Life Coach. If you are battling to deal with change, or are unhappy with certain aspects of your life, you can e-mail her at to set up an appointment.