Everyday people undergo various changes and transitions in their lives. Sometimes changes are good, and sometimes they are bad, but regardless, you find your final destination. As we go through this adventure called life, we experience transitions that are often unwanted but necessary, while some can be like a breath of fresh air. Transitions can catch us by surprise, when we least expect it, making it harder to navigate through life. However, there is a way to manage changes and transitions well. Terese Cox, an instructor in the English Department and PRIME Program at LCC International University discussed how to manage through shifts in your life, and how to navigate well when one thing ends, and another begins.
Terese Cox begins with this, while sharing insights about change and transitions, “If you have ever been to the beach or to the desert, you've probably noticed how quickly the sand can move or change.” These life occurrences happen all the time around us too. It’s important to understand that even though change and transitions are linked together, they have separate meanings in our lives. According to Oxford Languages Dictionary, change is an act or process through which something becomes different. Transition means the process or a period of changing from one state or condition to another. Both change and transition can be a process, but also an individual act, requiring something different to happen as a result. Some of the most difficult periods in our lives can be when we go through changes and transitions. Despite our free choice, the disequilibrium (the loss of stability) can bring painful or frightening experiences. As we process through life, the ultimate goal for most is to achieve balance, and feel content.
As we go through life, transitions can be perceived big or small, and impact our world, bringing disequilibrium. An example might be the divorce of parents. This type of event impacts parents’ lives and children, causing transition in relationship and living situations. Failing an exam can also cause a negative transition, like the need to retake an exam or attend a remedial course. However, negativity can evolve into positivity. These positive transitions can become some of the most meaningful moments of your life. For instance, being in a healthy relationship, deciding to apply to a university, or moving to a new country can be positive life moments. At first change can feel nerve-racking and might push you outside of your comfort zone. However big or small the transitions, the way you choose to perceive these situations and your outlook through them can determine the outcome. You may end up losing something, but you will also gain valuable experience and learn life lessons.
How do we manage transitions? How do we deal with them? William Bridges was a preeminent authority on change and transition, who transformed the way people think about change. Bridges' work reveals three main phases - the ending, the neutral zone, and the beginning. Phase one is characterized by loss and letting go. It can be letting go of old ways of doing something, letting go of an old identity, or feelings of disengagement. During this phase, the crucial parts are naming the losses, acknowledging them, marking the endings, treating the past with respect, and making peace with the old you. The second phase is known as the neutral zone and is the fuzziest and the most confusing space of all. The neutral zone is an in-between time, where a person is unable to fully embrace a new beginning. Psychologists call this a space of liminality. Phase two is when the old is gone, but the new is not fully operational. In the neutral zone people are in the momentum of reconfiguring what is broken, without seeing the result yet. This is a great space for creativity, and to remind ourselves it is normal to feel negative thoughts, while learning how to shift to positive thinking. It’s important to create rituals, temporary systems or rhythms and stick to a routine. Lastly, the third phase comes as a breath of fresh air, the new beginning. After being in the disorienting neutral zone, a new beginning can bring you to find a new identity, new energy, a new sense of purpose, and discover something previously undiscovered about yourself. This is the phase of the “new normal.”
People move horizontally through these phases, but the movement, or the action can look different for every individual. Some people might never move out of the ending phase, for example when they’re experiencing loss and are trying to let go. In his work, Bridges uncovers five costs of poor transition management: guilt, resentment, anxiety, self-absorption, and stress. “Instead of growing from a grain of sand into a pearl with resilience, determination, and hope, we might instead find ourselves going through resentment, anxiety, or even guilt. These are potential costs that arise from not managing the transitions and changes well,” commented Terese Cox.
Whether it’s good or bad, big or small, change and transitions are vital in order to discover new things about ourselves, and to be able to acknowledge what is happening in the present moment and navigate through life with these feelings and experiences. After all, beginnings always hide themselves in ends, and ends are the start of something new. Change and transitions can be perceived as positive or negative. It all depends on the person’s outlook and wish to embrace it.