To cope with change, learn to transition


Whenever we start out on a new project, job, or relationship we bring to a close the previous period of not-project, not-job, or not-relationship.

If we are to step fully into our new identities, and the possibilities that come with them, we not only need to get used to the practical changes we will encounter (of new people, new places, and new ways of doing things) we also need to make the necessary psychological or emotional adjustments.

These adjustments are called Transitions. And as change guru William Bridges says,

“It isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions.”

Transitions come in three stages:

  1. Separation Stage
    Here we let go of the old life and identity. This is the packing-up stage before moving home, the pregnancy before having a baby, the last days in our old job when we have resigned but haven’t yet left. We think we know what is coming but we’re not quite sure. We’re in the process of letting go of our old identity.
  2. Liminal or Threshold Stage
    Here we cross the threshold, stepping into our new life. Our old identity is gone but the new one hasn’t formed yet. This is the day we move house or give birth, our first day in the new school or new role. This period is uncertain. We can feel pressured and tense.
  3. Consolidation Stage
    This is when we are finding our feet: we’ve moved in but are still unpacking. “Which box did I put the cups and plates in? Where shall we hang this picture?” It is the first few days or months of learning to be a parent or getting to know your new colleagues or classmates. This is when we take on and define our new role and identity.

The better you can manage your psychological transitions, the easier the practical changes become. This is why “it’s the transitions that do you in.”

And the better you can manage your own transitions, the better you will be able to facilitate the people around you to manage theirs.

How well are you and the people around you currently managing the changes that are happening in your lives? Would it be useful to get better at managing the transitions that go with them?

Adapted from Inner Leadership: a framework and a set of tools for building inspiration in times of change.

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