Transition and change: understanding the process of change over time
Sometimes change just happens to us and sometime it is something we intentionally bring about.
Intentional change can involve:
- altering our circumstances, such as changing jobs, relocating or ending relationships,
- altering something internal to ourselves, such as the way we habitually think, or the way that we respond to events emotionally, or
- altering our behaviours, such as breaking or building habits.
Whichever kind it is, change can affect you in ways that you hadn’t expected.
It can affect those around you too.
When you change yourself, it inevitably changes the way that others to relate to you.
For example, if you have worked hard at becoming more confident, people who are used to relating to the timid, self-conscious version of you, may find it hard to relate to the more confident you, especially if their purposes have been well served by dealing with the former.
And, of course, these kinds of change are not instantaneous. They unfold over time.
In this post I look at William Bridges’ ‘Transition Model of Change’, which reflects this idea of change over time.
Bridges’ ideas are really useful in helping you understand the process of change and the way that it can affect you differently as you progress through the various stages.
Transition and Change
According to Bridges, you need to draw a distinction between change and transition.
Change is the event itself, something that is situational or external, e.g. the end of a project or a change of jobs. It might also be an external consequence that occurs when you change internally – for example, if you stand up to a domineering family member or boss for the first time.
Transition is the internal process of gradual psychological orientation to change. Transition can result from actual change and/or from the awareness of forthcoming change. So, according to Bridges when you are going through a process of intentional change, you are in transition for most of the time.
In the transitional model there are three phases, each characterised by different kinds of thoughts and emotional responses, some negative but others positive:
Phase 1: Endings
This is when you begin the process of change. When you have recognised the need to change and have made a decision, even tentatively, to take some action to bring about change. This phase has the following characteristics:
- The stable order of things in your life becomes fluid
- A process of disengagement begins
- You start letting go of the familiar ways of being or doing things
- You have feelings of grieving or loss
- You experience fear and/or anxiety.
There is a whole lot of discomfort and uncertainty at this stage, so it is easy to abandon your change efforts in order to avoid that discomfort.
You therefore need to be clear about the reasons why you are changing and have specific values based goals to support your change.
Phase 2: Neutral Zone
This is when you are in the middle of trying to make change happen. This phase has the following characteristics:
- It feels like a confusing ‘in-between’ state
- You have a sense of disorientation
- You feel like you’re waiting for something, with a sense of being in-limbo
- Old rules may not count any longer
- Old ways of operating may not work any longer
- You experience fear and insecurity
- You also experience surges of creativity and a sense of release.
The uncertainty and insecurity continues in this phase.
This is also when those around you might be discomforted by the changes happening to you, and this can add to your sense of unease.
Therefore, paying attention to your goals remains important.
On the upside, your efforts start to be rewarded as you begin to see the possibilities that the change is opening up to you. You need to hold firm to these creative surges as they’ll fuel your motivation to continue the change process.
Phase 3: New Beginnings
This is when you begin to identify a way forward and start taking steps to put your plans into place. This phase involves:
- A sense of risk and uncertainty
- Feeling the possibility of failing
- A mounting sense of excitement
- Growing anticipation
- Commitment to the new order.
As your transition begins to reach its natural conclusion, you move into the phase where the changed state is beginning to look like a new reality.
You may still be anxious, fearful of failure or struggling with certain relationships. But there is real hope, as the benefits of the new order are becoming clearer.
In this phase, you need to stick to your goals but you should also be intentional at recognising and congratulating yourself for how far you have come.
The point of taking you through this model is to help you recognise that the difficulties you encounter with any intentional change journey are entirely to be expected – even when the end point is a wholly positive one.
Change is hard and it challenges us at fundamental levels, bringing into question all sorts of fixed ideas that we have about ourselves, our identity and our capabilities.
This is the case whether we are trying to build higher levels of confidence, change our behaviours or otherwise seeking to alter our habitual ways of relating to the world, especially since change is almost never a linear process.
We are bound to encounter ups and downs, progress and set-backs as we make our way from endings to new beginnings.
The critical point is to remember that the transition is a process, not an event, and that you need to see the process through in order to reap the rewards of change.