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Last Updated on January 14, 2022

Understanding the 5 Stages of Life Can Help Navigate Hard Times

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Understanding the 5 Stages of Life Can Help Navigate Hard Times

Most of us are aware that we go through many different stages as we progress through life. In my work with clients and my own life, I have learned that rather than experiencing these stages just once, we actually experience them again and again throughout our human life cycle.

These stages I’ll explain in a bit, but being able to identify which of these five stages we are in (in each area of our lives) is extremely important for our development. The biggest reason is so we can avoid a mistake that many people make—trying to skip the most important and challenging ones such as stages #1 and #2.

By understanding these stages and our journey through them, we learn how to give ourselves what we really need when we need it. As a result, you’ll be able to overcome any challenge that life throws at you.

Life Stage #1: Exploration

“Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.” – Jennifer Lee

The first stage in the human life cycle of anything is Exploration. This stage is all about learning, being open, and making new discoveries that we will need later. These desires are reinforced by our toddler years where everything is so new and wonderful to us.

In addition to being about starting something new, the Exploration Stage can also be a time of recovery after a transition or loss.

Also in our toddler years, we are more open and curious about the world and our surroundings. When we are in the Exploration Stage in any area of our lives, it is important to be open to inspiration, insight, and information that comes from unexpected sources.

In our younger years, that information is simpler, but it forms the building blocks for the things that we learn in early childhood, as a young adult, when we’re in our middle age and beyond.

Because this stage is the building foundation of our understanding, rushing this stage is detrimental to us. If we rush the Exploration Stage, we can miss receiving important information or the opportunity to attain the clarity and wisdom we need later. As a result, our future creations may lack depth or staying power.

Suggestions for Support

“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.”― Plutarch

If you are in the Exploration Stage in some area of your life, it’s important to think back to general behaviour in our toddler years. Pay attention, listen, get curious, and give yourself plenty of space and time to learn and explore.

Anything that can facilitate those things is a great benefit to you.

It can help to keep a journal or a log to help you remember what you are learning, so you can access it later.

This stage requires a lot of self-care, acceptance, and compassion too.

You might feel led to take a course, study, read self-help books or listen to podcasts. Feel free to explore and use that to seek answers.

You may also benefit from professional help, such as that of a teacher, coach, specialist, expert, mentor, support group, physician, or therapist. After all, 97% of people who have a mentor consider them as valuable [1]

Indulge in these things as they can guide you to a deeper understanding of that area and of this stage of the human cycle you’re in.

During the Exploration Stage, it can be important to request understanding from loved ones, and to be willing to learn from those with more experience than yourself.

The key in all of this is learning. Take the time you need to expose yourself to new ideas and a wide variety of perspectives. Study, soak up information and get inspired.

Life Stage #2: Integration

“Integration is a basic law of life; when we resist it, disintegration is the natural result, both inside and outside of us.” – Norman Cousins

After we have received information, we may start to feel a sense of closing down, just a bit. This is often what people describe as limbo or the chrysalis stage.

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The Integration Stage is a progression from one thing to the next. As such, you can experience at any point in the human life cycle: early childhood, young adult, middle adulthood, and in your middle age.

It’s understandable though because old patterns are breaking apart and new ones are being created.

We are in-between things. From new discoveries, and potential revelations, we are shaking our lives mentally speaking.

And these shocks can be even larger in our middle age and middle adulthood, where we are typically set in our ways and have firm beliefs. To have those things be questioned and entertain the thoughts that we might be wrong about something or someone is disruptive is nothing short of disruptive.

There are tonnes of examples of this that we’re faced with. We may have completed one level of education but are not yet an expert in that particular field.

We may have birthed our first child but are still figuring out our own parenting style.

Or maybe you’re taking it upon yourself to do homeschooling and are learning the ropes of the job.

When we are in an Integration Stage in some area of our lives, we may feel more tired than usual. It’s common for this stage including misjudgements about ourselves, or feelings of inadequacy. Things like:

  • Thinking maybe we’re not good enough to do what needs to be done;
  • That we’re stuck or lazy;
  • Or not realizing how much work we are doing under the surface.

All of these things are understandable. Many people associate this stage with being in limbo as I said before because this is where things aren’t progressing.

Everything feels stalled and you’re not making progress. It can feel like there are more problems coming up and not enough solutions to handle them.

That, or they feel things aren’t progressing when they actually are.

It can help to remember that Integration is a very powerful process in the art of transformation. When we fully integrate our ideas, we become a powerhouse, strong, and ready for what comes our way.

When we skip this step, we are often not grounded or resilient in the way we need to be to truly succeed.

Suggestions for Support

“Either integration or degradation.”― Abhijit Naskar

If you are in the Integration Stage in some area of your life, it is important to strengthen yourself mentally, physically, and emotionally. Furthermore, you need to acknowledge how much you achieved in the previous stage of Exploration.

Strengthening activities can include self-care basics like drinking water, resting, exercising, meditating, and spending time relaxing with family members and friends. Drinking water is especially important as a lack of water can affect our mood, memory, and brain performance. [2]

Those are good starts because as new information is gathered, your unconsciousness is still working in the background. It’s still processing and working. It’s creating new ideas and avenues for you that will someday pop into your head.

You also might benefit from joining a program or a group where you can safely practice skills learned and process your new ideas. Integration requires being humble enough to acknowledge what you don’t yet know, that you’ve made mistakes and that you are flawed but willing to grow. This is on top of having the courage to experiment with what you have recently learned.

Another way to look at this is that the Exploration Stage is gathering information and the Integration Stage is about applying that information.

It’s not out of the question for this stage including time finding new ways to apply what you are learning and doing your own activities that you find relaxing beyond what I mentioned above.

Life Stage #3: Creation

“Instead of worrying about what you cannot control, shift your energy to what you can create.”― Roy T. Bennett

After we have integrated new ideas through practice and experimentation, our energy starts to pick up again. We are ready for action.

The Creation Stage of the human requires a huge output of energy, which usually happens privately.

In a relationship, this is the “in-love” stage when a couple often can’t get enough of each other. They don’t socialize much with others but instead are building the foundation of their relationship and defining who they are as a couple.

In our personal or professional lives, we may have a huge outpouring of energy or an urge to declutter, redecorate, write, make art, create something new, or redesign an aspect of our business, life, or home.

In the area of health, we may experience lots of motivation, suddenly feeling able to start and stick to a new diet or exercise program. We start to get really excited about making something new happen. We are energized and aligned.

When we give our creative process the space and respect it deserves, it can feel as if it is happening through us rather than something we need to work hard to make happen.

It’s for these reasons why so many people wish to get through those early stages. As people, we shy away from the tough or difficult aspects of our lives and live for the good things.

But as I pointed out, those early stages are monumental in leveraging this stage to the fullest. If you skip those stages, getting habits to stick will be tougher and your creation will never come to fruition.

Suggestions for Support

“The only freedom you truly have is in your mind, so use it.”― M.T. Dismuke

Creation is so much fun that the tendency is to skip steps #1 and #2 and rush into it, pretending we are in a Creation Stage when we are not. It’s understandable given our fast-paced society and that the early stages make us seem like we’re lazy or unproductive.

After all, when has the idea of waiting and not doing something fun and exciting and life-fulfilling been something exciting?

I get that, but it is important to be honest with ourselves about whether or not we are truly ready to devote our full energy to producing something new.

As I mentioned in Exploration and Integration, skipping over these steps means jumping in with a narrow picture. You’re bound to make more mistakes, get frustrated and give up if you skip over them and jump right to this part.

In other cases, rushing ahead can get us to be saying things but never having the drive to commit to something. We become hypocrites to ourselves.

On the other hand, if you are truly in a Creative Stage, it’s important to make space for it. The huge rush and outpour of a true full-on Creation Stage doesn’t last forever and is often all-consuming.

It is a very important, precious, and sacred time. Your creations are vulnerable right now and need time and space to become whatever it is they are becoming.

Now is not time to launch publicly or share what is happening to you too broadly. Protect yourself against self-doubt and self-criticism, or anyone who is jealous or may not have your best interests at heart.

Negativity can drain your all-important energy and damage the creative process. If you do share, share only with those whom you truly trust.

The Creative Stage usually requires lots of time, attention, focus, and energy. It’s almost impossible to be in a Creation Stage of all areas of our lives. Creation takes so much energy, different areas of our lives need to take turns in order to accommodate this.

When you are in this stage, it can help to make a plan so nothing too important falls through the cracks in other areas of your life.

  • Ask for understanding from loved ones.
  • Get your friends to understand where you are at or what you’re doing in a general sense.
  • Eat healthily and ensure you’re getting the right nutrients in your body.

Showing devotion in other areas that aren’t at this stage yet is still important.

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So long as that devotion doesn’t pull you away from your main focus and goal is what is most important.

Another way to look at this is to lower your standards and simplify. Let go of things that aren’t important. Make sure things that are essential – like self-care, paying bills, caring for children, health, and core relationships – can be done in a way that also allows you space to create.

You might want to delegate, outsource, or pause things that detract from your creative flow. Consider scheduling smaller, focused time slots for quality time with your partner, kids, or activities that are important but to which you can’t currently give as much energy as you would like to or typically do.

Regardless of the stage of the human life cycle you’re in, you want to make space for creative output when at this stage. At the same time, you also want to be making sure the rest of your life remains healthy and safely intact.

Life Stage #4: Sharing

“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”― Mother Teresa

The Sharing Stage is when we come out of the chrysalis and begin sharing our creations. This stage including feelings of relief, further excitement, and the opportunity to see how your creation goes.

In relationships, this stage is when couples start going on double dates or bringing their partner home to meet the family. Or, they commit in some larger way like moving in together, getting engaged, or getting married. The relationship is strong enough to share more publicly.

In the area of health, perhaps after months of losing weight, running privately, or working out with a small group, we may be ready to compete, run a race, or post our workouts on social media.

With creative pursuits or a business, we may share products with a small group of people at first, have a small art show, or publish our book. We may launch our business or new product.

When the time is right to share, it happens easily and effortlessly. It feels right. It is as if there is an open flow between us and whoever is ready to receive the gift of our creation.

All in all, sharing is about establishing a connection with people at large through the things that we create. How it impacts people and the significance will vary of course, but sharing provides a sense of wonder and progression and can inspire others in the process.

Suggestions for Support

“It takes a lot of courage to show your dreams to someone else.”― Erma Bombeck

New creations are vulnerable and sharing them takes a lot of courage. Along with all of those feelings of excitement, there can still be self-doubt lingering.

People might not like it or fully understand what you wanted to share. There is also the potential for rejection or things not going exactly how you planned.

Those feelings are all well-founded and in those situations, it can be helpful to view the relationship, course, book, business, or new home as an entity unto itself.

With that in mind, it’s worth asking yourself questions.

Is it ready to emerge in some other way or is it still incubating? Sharing too early can cause something that could have succeeded to crumble because it’s just not ready for public scrutiny. Timing is essential and excitement can cloud that timing.

With everything that’s happened, is it appropriate to wait a little longer? Delayed gratification and exercising patience can be very powerful tools. Especially when timing on sharing something is important.

Delayed gratification or getting the sense of approval or rush of success can be put on a halt for a little longer if it means gathering more information, making new discoveries and all-around strengthening your creation. Never discount it and trust what you believe deep down. Don’t feel ashamed if you decide to wait a little longer.

In fact, a study that expanded from the famous Marshmellow Experiment found that more kids were likely to succeed in the experiment if there was cooperation involved. [3]

While delaying is fine, do remember that sometimes the delays can be out of fear or worry that our creation is not good enough. This too is understandable, but rather than wallowing in those emotions, consider it as a reason to exercise more caution. Delayed gratification is one thing, but it’s important to also go slowly, use discernment, and remember that sharing is about keeping your own flow going.

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If you think it doesn’t help, then it’s fine to keep it to yourself for a little longer.

Sharing is all about being generous to yourself and others. It is about letting the positive energy of your good health, business, home, family, relationship, or product benefit others in some way.

As you begin sharing and emerging in the outer world, pace yourself and stay in tune with your energy. Go slow, find your pace, take a day off when you need it. Protect yourself emotionally and practically.

Remember, we can never please everyone. As you start to share, accept any defeat, negative feedback, or closed doors as increasing the possibility that other doors will open, so your true tribe (or audience, partner, customer, friend, reader, etc.) can find you.

And above all else, have fun! The Sharing Stage is when we give back to benefit others, and that always feels good.

Life Stage #5: Letting Go (or Auto-Pilot)

“Accept yourself, love yourself, and keep moving forward. If you want to fly, you have to give up what weighs you down.”― Roy T. Bennett

In everything we create and experience, there is a moment when we let go.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that whatever it is we are letting go of is ending. It may simply mean that certain aspects of our lives need to go on autopilot, or it is time for them to evolve into another form.

Letting go is a natural phase in life. If we don’t let go of something when it is time to do so, we can experience a drain on our energy and resources that will impede our growth.

On the other hand, if we let go too soon, we may experience new crises that take extra time and energy to repair.

Letting go is often about automation. We no longer have to be hypervigilant to make sure things go perfectly. We don’t have to direct our creation as much as we once did.

This stage can also be about releasing something like a habit, pattern, or commitment that served a purpose in our lives for some time, but is no longer in our best interest.

The Letting Go Stage is often a time of loss or cleaning out. As we let go of what no longer serves us, we make space for new, positive energies that are more aligned with what we really need.

Letting go also happens when something has gone through its life cycle and needs to come to a natural end.

Suggestions for Support

“No matter how much suffering you went through, you never wanted to let go of those memories.”― Haruki Murakami

Letting go is a time for extreme self-care. Consider getting professional support to help you delegate roles and automate functions, perhaps a professional organizer, clutter coach, or technology.

Now may also be the time to get help from a therapist, life coach, healer, recovery program, or support group to help you grieve, heal, emotionally detach, release control, and let go.

Most of all, be gentle and compassionate with yourself.

Letting go is as natural as is creation. The more we let go, the more we can open to whatever is next.

Final Thoughts

Moving through the five core life phases in the many different areas of our lives is a dance. The most important thing is to know where you are in the process so you can give yourself all the support, care, and understanding you need for your well-being and the best possible outcome.

More Tips on Navigating Through Hard Times in Life

Featured photo credit: Jonas Kaiser via unsplash.com

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Reference

More by this author

Laurie Smith

Inspirational Writer. Coach. Healer.

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