To cope with change, learn to transition

Whenever we start out on a new project, role, or relationship the previous stage of our life comes to an end.

These endings are not always easy. Sometimes we long for what had gone before. So to step most fully into our new identities, and the possibilities that come with them, it is important not only to manage the practical changes we encounter (such as new ways of doing things) but also the psychological or emotional  adjustments. 

These adjustments are called transitions and they come in three stages:

  1. Separation Stage
    Here we let go of the old life and identity. This is the packing-up stage before we move home, the pregnancy before having a baby, the last days in our old job when we’ve decided to go but we haven’t yet left. We know that something new is coming but we’re not sure yet what it is going to be like. 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. This is the day we give birth, the day we move into our new house, our first day in the new school or new role, the time when the new president has been chosen but not yet sworn in. This is a period of uncertainty.
  3. Consolidation Stage
    Here we are finding our feet: we’ve moved in but are still unpacking. “Where is the box with the cups and plates? Where shall we hang this picture?” This is the first few days or weeks of learning to be a parent or getting to know our new colleagues or classmates. This is the time when we take on and establish our new role and identity.

These psychological transitions accompany any major change. And as change guru William Bridges puts it,

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

The better we can manage these transitions, the easier the practical changes become. And the better we can manage our own transitions, the better we can help the people around us to manage theirs. All of which is another step to becoming antifragile.

How well are you and the people around you managing the changes that are currently happening in your lives? Would it be useful to get better at managing the transitions that come with them — to let go of life as it once was and step enthusiastically into life as it is going to be?

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

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Photo by David D via

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