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  • Jane Porter

Brown Pasta Moment

Published June 2020

At a recent coaching supervision group, we were discussing how each of us are experiencing the current state. The noticeable theme was the idea of being in the ‘in between’, known as the limen or the liminal space. This is the place between the old stories we have been living and the new stories that are trying to emerge.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary ‘limen’ means ‘threshold’, an in between state or space where what is possible is not necessarily yet perceptible. William Bridges in his work on change and transitions refers to this concept as the ‘neutral zone’, the place between what is ending and what is beginning. 

What became apparent for our group as we reflected, was the desire we have as humans to move straight from the old to the new, and how strong our reactions can be if things are not as we might want them to be during transition.

This had me thinking about an early COVID-19 supermarket experience that has stayed with me, I’m sure many of you witnessed or experienced something similar - I’m calling it the ‘Brown Pasta Moment’.

I was on my only permitted outing of the day to the local supermarket, here I noticed a parent of a 5-year-old dealing with a COVID induced issue. They were in the pasta aisle, the good news was there was pasta on the shelves, the bad news - it was brown pasta. For the accompanying 5-year-old brain this emerging new story was not good news. No amount of explaining from the very patient parent was going to convince them that ‘brown’ was a suitable alternative to traditional pasta. For now, at least, the known and familiar was gone, what was present was not palatable, literally and figuratively.

Feeling for the parent I didn’t hang around to see how the story ended but it did have me asking the following question,

What ‘Brown Pasta Moments’ are we experiencing as leaders and coaches during this time?

This moment from a 5-year-old has me now regularly asking 3 questions: -

1) What is no longer as you might want it to be? 

2) What traditional stories in your leadership and coaching world are being challenged?

3) What might be trying to emerge?

These questions can help you to start notice the leadership and coaching stories that you may have become attached to, and explore whether these stories are still working for you in the developing context. They enable to you to pause, slow down the movie of your work, and take a look frame by frame.

Linda Graham in her book Bouncing Back: Rewiring your brain for maximum resilience and well-being helps us to realise that any story is but one alternative, and that it is useful to notice old or stuck stories so that the process of reconfiguration can begin. 

It is also important to understand that when our brains start to reconfigure, they often do so very slowly. As the green shoots of new possibilities start to emerge, we start to notice small exceptions to the old frame of reference for example, no traditional pasta. This challenges our pre formed frames or scenes in our story, and can feel uncomfortable and disruptive. As the exceptions emerge, patterns can start to form and they become the basis for the construction of the new or alternative perspective. Creating new stories takes time, it is a delicate process. Working with a coach skilled in narrative approaches is one way to support the shift. Stories are shared in coaching, the process of listening and recounting helps us stand back from what we are experiencing as true. The coaching relationship provides a safe space to start the editing and re-authoring process.

Whether you are a leader, a coach, or both the invitation is to notice the ‘Brown Pasta Moments’ that are showing up for you right now. As you notice them, recognise that you are between something old, and something new. As you experience this liminal space, the threshold of what is wanting to emerge, listen and observe to notice the green shoots of new stories and what they are trying to communicate.

“Beware the stories you tell yourself for surely you will be lived by them”

William Shakespeare


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