The 5 stages of visceral change

I've written before about dangerous books, the kind of books that change our world view and can lead us down a path of change which, like all paths worth treading, is often a turbulent one.

While not as often, it also happens with articles found online. It recently happened again, with a fantastic article on Creative Review, "Why talented creatives are leaving your agency", that was sent to me. It's an insightful view of how agencies are perceived versus startups, specially considering the aspirations of young talents. I recommend you take a few minutes of your day to read it, then re-read it, then come back.

This got me thinking. This type of dangerous books and articles — basically, dangerous world views —, if powerful enough, often start an internal, profoundly visceral reaction, as we often face when it comes to grief. In fact, it's quite a grief of its type, since it represents a loss as well — a loss of our current beliefs, of our current selves, of our purpose. Even if just for a while.

The Kübler-Ross model, commonly known as the five stages of grief, is composed in order, even if not exclusively, of: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. I believe the same happens when it comes to the kind of visceral change that erupts from within our very souls, once we contact with truly dangerous world views. Our very own 5 stages of visceral change, if you will.

These 5 stages, according to my personal experience, are: daydream, deliberation, despair, moderation and focus. Each comes with their own set of questions (which I've learned are much more important than mantras — more on that later). But what do they mean exactly?

Daydream — we've just finished contacting with a dangerous world view. All is bright, all is clear in our mind. We know what to do, we know where we should go, we have just seen the light. The vision is in our head, the world in our hand. The main questions: is this real? Is this possible? Can this really exist for me? Answers are typically optimistic.

Deliberation — the dream is set, but no dream is accomplished without proper planning, so it's time to define next steps. The main questions: what comes next? What can I change now? What can I change in a month? In six months, a year? Should I quit my job? Should I have a backup plan? Answers are typically ambiguous, because everything starts depending on how big a leap of faith we are willing to take. The next stage quickly arrives like a punch in the stomach.

Despair — daydream and deliberation don't make up for the fact that dangers now feel increasingly real. Freezing is the typical reaction, followed by a sense of hopelessness. "I'm not quite sure I can do this." Anger settles and all our energy is focused on it. The main questions: what if it goes wrong? What if I regret this? What if I can't pay my bills? What if I'm rushing this? Should I wait for a better opportunity? Answers cease to exist because they beget more questions. There doesn't seem to be a way out. This is all we can think of. Until one day we just stop and naturally acknowledge...

Moderation — we become aware and increasingly objective of what all this means. The present suddenly doesn't look so violent. The future doesn't look so scary. We measure pros and cons but always take two steps back before we do so. The main questions: how can I learn from all this? What can I change to make the present better? The answers don't come until we realize we need to...

Focus — the dangerous world view stops endangering our present, and starts empowering it. All the energy dedicated to despair has now turned into concentration. A strong sense of sacrifice takes place. Anger turns into will, fear turns into fuel. The main question: how does what I have now help me achieve what I want tomorrow? Answers come fragmented, as little strokes of insight that hit us when we least expect it. And that's ok.

The Creative Review article struck a chord with me because it made me question a lot of things we currently do at agencies. Most importantly, it helped me see some of the things that really need to change if we're to make stuff that truly matters. Right now you could say I'm in a transitional stage, from Moderation to Focus.

As with the Kübler-Ross model, not everyone goes through all stages. Some may even go through stages I haven't considered here. But this is the typical reaction which has been guiding every contact I had with a dangerous world view so far (I'd love to hear about yours). Ultimately, I believe going through all 5 stages has created a more solid understanding of what surrounds me and how to manage visceral change.

Biggie said that we can't change the world unless we first change ourselves. But before we focus on what to change, we should understand why and how change operates within us in the first place.