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  • Writer's pictureLynn Cukaj

Navigating Uncertainty with Self-Reflecting Loops

By Lynn Cukaj, ATR-BC, MHC-LP

Art Therapy for Children, Teenagers and Adults

In March of 2020, like millions around the world, my life underwent a profound upheaval. It felt as though my world had been spun around, flipped inside out, and left with an unsettling existential question mark. Initially, I found myself caught in a whirlwind of anxiety, fueled by an irrational fear of a zombie apocalypse – an irrationality I attribute to binge-watching too many apocalyptic movies and shows. The atmosphere was eerily reminiscent of the days following 9/11, shrouded in an unprecedented sense of uncertainty and disorientation. I likened my state of mind to that of a fragile balloon, floating cautiously to avoid the metaphorical thorns that represented the deluge of information, experiences, and emotions I was grappling with in those early days and weeks. Among my many late-night worries, a persistent fear of running out of food haunted my thoughts, causing sleepless nights and persistent headaches. During this period, I found solace in art and channeled my emotions into a painting that conveyed my pain, anger, concern, and worry.

Amidst this chaos, I knew I needed to regain control of my racing thoughts and emotions. This sense of unraveling was a tumultuous mix of fear, frustration, sadness, and anger. It was akin to handling shattered glass, once beautiful but now capable of causing harm. So, I embarked on a journey to make sense of it all…

My realization came when I acknowledged that it was my own intrusive thoughts that were pushing me to the edge. I decided to explore the intricacies of my thought processes. The result was a continuous loop system, which I aptly named "self-reflecting loops." While I'll delve into the specifics of these loops later, they were arranged in a spiral, much like a spiral staircase. Surrounding these loops was my social support network – the framework that provided stability, preventing my thoughts from spiraling out of control. When 2020 tested us all, it was these connections that kept me grounded, ensuring I didn't succumb to my irrational thoughts or completely unravel. Despite feeling overwhelmed, I understood that I wasn't entirely without control. I simply needed to make sense of my thoughts.

So, how does one go about making sense of their own thinking? How can introspection about our thought processes aid us in navigating challenges, dilemmas, and circumstances? What is the process of effecting significant change in our lives? When confronted with problems, situations, and challenges, how do we progress through them?

The journey of self-reflection leads to a transformation in our thought patterns, which subsequently impacts our behavior and emotional regulation.

This journey comprises several stages: pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance. These stages can be associated with comfort zones, fear zones, learning zones, and growth zones. The comfort zone offers a sense of security and control. The fear zone, on the other hand, can hinder problem-solving and erode self-confidence through negative self-talk. Entering the learning zone, which encompasses preparation for action, allows us to confront challenges, identify opportunities, problem-solve, acquire new skills, and gain fresh perspectives. This sets the stage for progressing into the the growth zone, where we expand our coping skills, find meaning, work towards goals, exercise discipline, amplify strengths, and experience hope and joy.

The Self-Reflection Loop symbolizes when a situation arises. Theoretically, we can have multiple loops throughout the day, explaining why some days feel more exhausting than others. Here's how they are interconnected:

  • Situation Occurs: Enter Loop (Pre-contemplation/Comfort Zone)

  • If fear prevents movement to the Contemplation Stage/Comfort Zone, we remain stuck.

  • Moving from Pre-contemplation to Contemplation allows us to enter the Preparation/ Learning Zone.

  • Progressing to the Action Stage is the first step towards breaking through the loop and continuing to the Maintenance Stage/Growth Zone, where we learn and utilize positive coping strategies.

Throughout these stages and zones, we can ask ourselves key questions:

Pre-contemplation Stage:

Am I aware of the impact of my current situation or behavior on my life and well-being?

  • This question prompts individuals to reflect on whether they recognize the consequences of their current situation or behavior.

What triggered my awareness or consideration of change?

  • Understanding the catalyst for contemplating change can shed light on personal motivations and the significance of the issue.

Do I have any resistance or barriers to change, and if so, what are they?

  • Identifying obstacles or resistance to change allows individuals to pinpoint areas that may require additional attention or support.

Contemplation Stage:

What are the pros and cons of making a change in my life?

  • Evaluating the benefits and drawbacks of change can help individuals weigh the importance of taking action.

What goals or outcomes am I hoping to achieve by making a change?

  • Clarifying specific goals and desired outcomes provides individuals with direction and motivation.

What personal values or beliefs are relevant to this situation, and how do they align with my desire for change?

  • Exploring how one's values and beliefs intersect with the contemplated change can provide insight into personal motivations and potential conflicts.

Have I sought advice or support from others who have faced similar challenges?

  • Reaching out to individuals who have experienced similar situations can offer valuable insights and guidance during the contemplation process.

What strategies or resources do I believe would be most helpful in making this change?

  • Identifying potential strategies or resources can be a proactive step toward preparing for change.

How can I minimize or overcome any fears or uncertainties I have about change?

  • Addressing fears and uncertainties head-on can empower individuals to move closer to taking action.

What small, manageable steps can I take to start moving toward change?

  • Breaking down the change process into smaller, achievable actions can make it feel less daunting and more attainable.

Preparation - Learning & Taking Action Stage:

  • Taking Initiative: Take the initiative to confront our fears and uncertainties. This phase is marked by concrete actions, such as setting goals, seeking out resources, and making changes to our routines or behaviors.

  • Courage and Bravery: Embracing change requires courage and bravery. It's about acknowledging our vulnerabilities and limitations while summoning the strength to overcome them. The Learning Zone is where we find the resilience to confront challenges head-on.

  • Exploring New Ideas: This stage encourages us to explore alternative ideas and perspectives. It's a time when we can brainstorm creative solutions to the problems we encounter, opening doors to personal growth and self-discovery.

  • Adapting and Thriving: We develop the adaptability necessary to thrive in a rapidly changing world. We acquire new skills, gain fresh insights, and build a foundation for lasting personal development.

Maintenance Stage/Growth Zone:

Upon successfully navigating the Action Stage and Learning Zone, we arrive at the Maintenance Stage/Growth Zone—a space of continuous progress and personal evolution. Here, the focus shifts from confronting immediate challenges to sustaining long-term growth and development. Several key aspects define this crucial phase:

  • Positive Coping Strategies: We build upon the positive coping strategies developed during our journey. These strategies become integral tools for managing stress, uncertainty, and setbacks. Whether it's mindfulness techniques, healthy habits, or effective problem-solving skills, we continually refine and expand our coping toolbox.

  • Creating Meaning: We uncover a deeper sense of meaning in our experiences. We are prompted to reflect on our journey, connecting the dots between our challenges, lessons learned, and personal growth. This newfound perspective enriches our lives and helps us find purpose in our actions.

  • Working on Goals: This phase encourages us to set and work on meaningful goals. Whether they pertain to career, relationships, or personal development, we leverage our newfound resilience and skills to pursue these aspirations. The Maintenance Stage is about translating our intentions into concrete achievements.

  • Discipline: Sustaining personal growth often requires discipline and commitment. We learn to stay the course, even when faced with distractions or setbacks. This discipline extends beyond our initial challenges and becomes a valuable trait that permeates our daily lives.

  • Amplifying Strengths: Recognizing our strengths and talents becomes integral to growth. In this phase, we not only acknowledge these strengths but actively seek opportunities to amplify them. We leverage our unique abilities to enhance our personal and professional lives.

  • Hope and Joy: The Maintenance Stage is characterized by a sense of hope and joy. We appreciate the progress we've made and the positive impact it has on our overall well-being. This optimism fuels our ongoing journey of self-improvement and personal fulfillment.

As we break through these situational loops, we commit to a lifelong pursuit of self-discovery and development. Through self-reflection, we welcome resilience, discipline, and purpose converge to create a fulfilling and meaningful life. Our journey is far from over; instead, it takes on a new dimension—one filled with ongoing growth, transformation, and the promise of a brighter future. Visualizing a self-reflection loop may prove beneficial through the intentional process of understanding our own thought patterns, promoting self-reflection, and nurturing a growth-mindset.


For more therapeutic activities and resources on how to incorporate Art Therapy into your life, read more from Lynn's Creative Expressions Blog.

Learn more about Art Therapy and Lynn Cukaj, Board Certified Art Therapist here:


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