Making sense of life’s changes: The Transition Model by William Bridges
The Transition Model was created by change consultant, William Bridges and was published in his book “Managing Transitions.”
Change is something that happens to people, even if they don’t agree with it. Transition, on the other hand, is internal. It’s what happens in people’s minds as they go through change. Change can happen very quickly, while transition usually occurs more slowly.
People experience transition in differing intensity and move through them at different speeds depending on factors such as:
- the degree to which the change takes them by surprise
- the degree the change places them in an uncertain or unfamiliar situation
- their stage of life
- the number of other transitions they are experiencing at the same time
- their opportunity to talk about their feelings
- their individual temperament
- the impact upon them personally
The model highlights three stages of transition that people go through when they experience change and helps people understand why they are finding change difficult and then helps them move on psychologically.
Stage 1: Ending, Losing, and Letting Go
People enter this initial stage of transition when first presented with change. This stage is often marked with resistance and emotional upheaval, because people are being forced to let go of something that they are comfortable with. They are in effect grieving for what was once their reality. Each individual involved is trying to understand what has ended and to face up to the nature of their loss. They are likely to be afraid of the unknown and what’s going to happen. At this stage, people may experience a range of emotions including fear, denial, anger, sadness, disorientation, frustration, uncertainty and a sense of loss. People may not want to accept the new situation and may worry, doubt themselves or lose confidence and have conflicting emotions. People have to accept that something is ending before they can begin to move on.
Stage 2: The Neutral Zone
The neutral zone is so full of uncertainty and confusion that simply coping with it takes most of people’s energy. It’s uncomfortable, so people are driven to get out of it. Some people try to rush ahead into some new situation, while others retreat into the past and may feel that it was easier or better. This phase is the bridge between the old and the new; in some ways, people will still be attached to the old, while they are also trying to adapt to the new. It is like “a bridge you decided to cross” but don’t know what is on the other side. Possible reactions are of some hope and optimism, some frustration, confusion, adjustment, loneliness, stuck, chaos and new ideas and possibilities. Despite the frustration, this stage can also be one of great creativity, innovation and renewal.
Stage 3: The New Beginning
After doing the tough work of letting go and going through the confusing time of the neutral zone, the new way starts to feel right. A new beginning has been made. At this stage, people are likely to experience more energy and feelings of acceptance and hope. The fear and uncertainty seem to melt away as people gain a deepened sense of acceptance. They have likely had a shift in attitudes, beliefs and gained new knowledge and ideas about themselves, others and the world. People start taking things step by step and have decided to move on and try new things. People feel more comfortable in their skin and things start to make sense again…until they go through their next transition…..
Strategies for Moving Through the Transition
Don’t underestimate how hard change can be. Expect to go through this roller coaster of emotions and give yourself time to adjust. Everyone transitions through these stages at their own pace. Find someone you can talk to who can support you through the change process. Many people reveal that just being able to talk about what they’re experiencing makes them feel better.
Acknowledge your sense of loss. Almost all change involves letting go of something. Don’t bury your emotions. Acknowledge any negative emotions so that you can deal with it. At the same time, try to put things into perspective and look at the bigger picture. Ask yourself what is good about the change that’s happening.
Make the most of your Neutral Zone. You may be tempted to jump straight into planning for the future. Don’t. It may seem counter intuitive but a period of doing nothing is the best thing at this point. Clearer insights will surface as emotions calm down. Experiment with different mindfulness techniques as they have been proven to help lower stress, build a more positive mindset and open your mind to new ideas.
Take control. If the change is involuntary you may feel that you have lost control or threatened. Put your energy into areas that you can have some impact and see results
Accept that there are things that are out of your control and let go to move forward – You will feel more empowered and positive
Acknowledge your feelings. Realize that your emotions will fluctuate. Accept your fears and look for ways of managing them – Use your support system and vent to “safe” people.
Find your anchors. During this period of uncertainty and ambiguity, use anchors to help centre you and boost your self confidence when you need it most. Remind yourself of your past successes at dealing with difficult situations.
Get crystal clear about what matters most to you and what you want for the future. It’s a critical foundation step to help you get clarity for stage 3 – your new beginning. Think of your values as important signposts to guide you forward.
Take care of yourself. Manage your stress. Use relaxation techniques, eat right, exercise. Take breaks, go for walks and do deep breathing.
Start building a plan. Creating a new beginning can seem too complex. Break it down into smaller goals to make it less daunting. Start with one small action step, then go from there, one small step at a time.