7 Steps to Use Life’s Inciting Incidents for Transformation

7 Steps to Use Life’s Inciting Incidents for Transformation


The hero’s journey model of transformation offers potent wisdom for our own lives. Follow these seven simplified steps to turn critical events into kindling for transformation.

Think about your favorite character from a book, television show, or movie. What is it you love about them? Chances are, it’s not that they live a predictable life with few changes and challenges. It’s far more likely they resonate with you because they rise from the ashes of life’s most challenging events.

What Are Inciting Incidents?

Life’s most critical events are called inciting incidents, and no plot is complete without one (or two or three). An inciting incident is what turns a character inward for reflection, healing, and re-orientation. Because of the human tendency to run on autopilot more than 90% of the time, we need inciting incidents in our lives in order to change and grow.

Some examples of inciting incidents can include changes in relationship or work status; a physical move; a loss, death, or failure; or even just a transition from one stage of life to another. Other times, while nothing radical changes in our external environment, we hit an internal crisis connected to our spirituality or identity.

The Power of the Hero’s Journey

While we know and respect the value an inciting incident has for a fictional character, sometimes we’d rather stick with the status quo (or the devil that we know) than undergo the steps to turn that inciting incident into kindling for transformation. (Take this quiz to assess your openness to change.)

But if we can see an inciting incident as a piece of a larger path, as laid out in Joseph Campbell’s hero’s journey, we can use it to vault into an entirely new life.

7 Steps to Transformation

While Campbell’s model offers 12 steps, the following are the core seven steps on the journey to turning an inciting incident into an opportunity for transformation.

The Ordinary World

At the start of every good story, we witness our main character as they go about their daily lives. Everything seems normal, yet something is brewing beneath the surface. Is it discontent? An awakening? A fateful encounter? Only time will tell.

The Call to Adventure

This is the inciting incident itself. Though it might not always seem like an adventure at the outset, the point here is that there is a portal opening into a new way of life. Will you step into it, or will you pull the comforts of the ordinary world even closer to you?

Refusal of the Call

The first answer to the question “Will you step into it?” is often “No, thank you.” Our attachments to normalcy and the status quo lead us to often turn down the first gentle invitation to change. Instead, we hope that the circumstances themselves change—that the job will get better, the relationship will magically become healthier, or the midlife crisis can be solved with an affair, a new car, or some other impulsive decision. However, as many of us know, change doesn’t miraculously happen. We will have to take the journey at some point, and the sooner the better.

The Mentor

You’ve accepted that change must happen, and you’ve set off on your journey. But if you’ve never been through a life-scale transformation before, how do you know what to do or where to go? This is where the mentor comes in. You can recognize them by the wisdom they offer and the gentle encouragement to do the hard work instead of continuing to hope for an easy way out.

Crossing the Threshold

Now there’s no going back. You will never be who you were before, but you are not yet reborn. You are entering a liminal time of life, a middle space, or, as the Buddhists would call it, the bardo. Relinquish control and surrender to the process. During this stage, you will be questioning, examining, and weeding out your life. In addition, you will be in the perfect stage to do shadow work or heal your inner child.

The Ordeal

Things have a way of getting harder before they get easier. Here you will begin to make the outer changes that are reflections of your inner work. Your values and priorities have changed, and now you must communicate that in the world to people who may or may not understand what’s happening to you.

The Return

In this stage, you have addressed the obstacles and questions in the ordeal. It doesn’t mean that you’ve overcome them or that you’ll never see them again. Nor does it mean that you’ll never mourn your old life. But now, there is much to look forward to as you rebirth yourself into the world. Now is the time to step into your reclaimed pieces of self and accept the gifts and talents that go with it.

The hero’s journey is all about seeing ourselves in the starring role of our lives. This role—and our lives—would not be complete without trials and tribulations. These life stages are invitations into new incarnations of ourselves and represent an opportunity to cultivate greater awareness and wholeness. The next time you face an inciting incident, try to see it for what it is: the beginning of a journey to transformation.

Take this quiz to see if you're ready for transformation.

7 Steps to Use Lifes Inciting Incidents for Transformation

Enjoying this content?

Get this article and many more delivered straight to your inbox weekly.