How to make the most of the messy middle

When the future seems unclear and we’re seeking and searching, this uncomfortable territory is sometimes called the 'messy middle'. It can be an isolating place, a place that’s hard to connect from. Because it’s difficult to connect with others when we can’t find the language for what’s going on ourselves.

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We live in a society that is preoccupied with the finished product. We gorge on a diet of 10-second video junk food, Insta and TikTok before and afters, side by sides, split screens... We want to see the broken fixed, the hurting healed, and the unpolished polished. It’s clickbait that gives us the quickest dopamine spikes. But what we’re left with is a hangover of discomfort because, really, life doesn’t look like this does it? It doesn’t for me and I can guess it probably doesn’t for you either.

If looks too easy, that's because it's probably been edited! When the messy middle is omitted, we don’t see the workings out, the trials and errors, the failures, the pain, the moments of frustration and boredom, the dashed hopes. The period of time when everything feels unclear until piece by piece things start gradually come into focus and the trials and errors that inform the way we create the habits and thoughts that serve us better. It’s a brave place, it’s a creative place. It’s the nucleus of growth. And it’s far more valuable than society have us believe.

Although it’s no wonder that in a culture of before and afters, we feel the urge to flee the messy middle as quickly as a mouse who has spotted a hungry cat. I use this metaphor intentionally - we can’t blame a mouse for doing anything other than running for its life - there’s real danger in their wake and their survival is at stake.

As human beings, this is how it can feel when things don’t go to plan. When we feel shame or embarrassment and regret (nuanced emotions can’t be neatly packaged in a 10-second reel) sitting with these feelings can be as panic-inducing as facing down a dangerous predator.


So how do we begin to make the most of the messy middle? 

Firstly, remind yourself that life is messy, it always has been, and it always will be. It’s the way in which we embrace the uncertainty that will determine the outcome. The brilliant writer and thinker Ashley Ford said, ‘We’re never going to be OK if we don’t talk about what hurts’. Or put in another way, we can’t jump to the ending we want, if we don’t fully experience the middle. 

This means sitting in discomfort. There are safe ways to do this, that can take the sting out of the pain. Journalling is a great way to make sense of our own narratives and unknot some of the confusion.

In the Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron suggests journalling only in the first 45 minutes of being awake. She has scientific backing behind this idea - the censored part of our brain hasn’t kicked in yet. We will write freely without self-editing. It doesn’t even need to be pen to paper, it could simply be on the notes section of your phone. And since language builds connection, another benefit of making sense of your own narrative is how much easier it becomes to communicate complexity to others. 

When things feel especially hard, make a note each day of something the hard thing has taught you. Training our brains to see the growth points of any given situation is a great way to build resilience.

And when we’re in the messy middle, whether it’s coaching, therapy or self-help, or a combination of all, we want to approach this with a growth mindset. If we’re rushing too fast to the finish line, we may just miss the veer in the road that would have led us somewhere even more beautiful.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Life Coach Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London NW11 & W1G
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Written by Lisa Hannelore Coaching, Transformative ADHD Life & Career Coach. ICF ACC Certified
London NW11 & W1G

Lisa Hannelore holds an Accredited diploma in Transformative Coaching. Her mission is to help smart women stop pleasing and start living. She believes passionately that 'just because this is the way things have always been, it doesn't mean this is the way things always need to be'.

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