Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.
― Lao Tzu
I’ve recently went (actually, currently going) through a lot of change in my life, and change can be stressful and hard at times. When going through change it is essential to understand change as a transition and to have support pillars. I am going to walk you through these two topics and hopefully next time you go through change, you have a much more enjoyable experience.
Change Vs Transition
As William Bridges defines it in his book “Managing Transitions: Making the Most Out Of Change”, change is situational, an action, for e.g. to move from your home to another site, change jobs, losing a loved one, breaking up with your partner, starting a relationship, having a kid, etc. Transition, on the other hand, is psychological: it is a three phase process that people go through as they internalize and digest the details of the new situation that the change brings.
Psychological transition depends on letting go of the old reality and the old identity you had before the change took place.
For any change in our lives to go smoothly (or be succesful), a proper transition has to be made. Transition is not an easy thing, not something that you can just bake in the oven, wait a couple hours, and Wa-lah, transition complete. However, if we break it down in 3 steps and take the appropriate support measures, then we can help land that change peacefully or at least make the process a more enjoyable journey, without too much turbulence.
Breaking it Down
This definition of letting go of the old scenario and identity and moving forward is really helpful to go through change. As William Bridges defines it, transition consists of three phases:
Letting go of the old ways and the old identity you had. Transition starts with an ending, wrapping up the old context you were living in, and letting go. For example, if you move to one country to another, some things might be different: that country might have a different economic landscape, you might get a different salary, change companies/ roles/ position, etc. When this happens, it is very easy to fall into the trap of repeating to yourself: “back in the previous country, I was earning more, food was better, and my life was blooming”. Time to let go, unplug that old-self and the old ways of living, and come to terms with the new scenario.
2. Neutral Zone
The place between letting go of the old, but still waiting for the new beginning to start. One of the hardest parts of the transition, a no-man’s-land; it’s when the critical psychological realignments and repatternings take place. For example, you might be looking to switch careers, don’t know where you are going to land, and get anxious and stressed about uncertainty. Any time when you are in between the ending and new beginning, a lot of effort (mental and physical) has to be made to make the new beginning as successful as possible. The neutral zone is one of the most dangerous but most important parts of the transition, it is the core of it. You might feel the urge many times to run away from it, and by-pass it. But by doing this, you are losing a great opportunity. This is the place where you renew yourself, develop in what you need to become, be creative and imagine and shape your future new world. There are some support systems you could put in motion to help you navigate this zone, which I will explain further down.
The Neutral Zone is the chaos into which the old form dissolves, and from which the new beginning emerges.
3. New Beginning
Coming out of the transition and making a new beginning, plug into a new World. This phase occurs when people develop the new identity, experience the new energy, and discover a new sense of purpose that eventually makes the change to begin to work. It is the time when the energy from within makes the gears start spinning.
Because transition is a process by which people unplug from an old world and plug into a new world, we can say that transition begins with an ending and finishes with a beginning.
Why you Shouldn't Skip Ending and Neutral Zones
Many people forget Ending and Neutral zones, and just want to jump into the New Beginning. If you overlook the letting-go process, and do nothing about the feeling of loss that it generates, you nearly guarantee that the change will not come as expected, and a rough landing will await. Transition starts with an Ending. Paradoxical, right? But true. And transition might not be always a bad thing, but you always have to let go of something. New job that you are super excited about? You have to let go of your old friends and coworkers whom you shared so much with, perhaps you even enjoyed the commute to work. New city? You have to let go spending time regularly with the people that lived close to you, and that feeling of being settled and comfortable for a while. New baby? You have to let go some alone time with your partner, hours of sleep, and free time. The point here is not to be discouraging, but realistic. The lack of awareness of ending and losses and getting ready for them is the largest difficulty for people during a transition. While you are at the Ending and Neutral zones, make sure you identify the ending and losses that will come after the change, and prepare for them. Awareness is a great way to prepare for it, match your expectations with the future reality, and plugging in to the new world will become much easier.
So, what can you do? As I stated before, there are a couple tricks that you could use to make the transition better, and is very important to have a support system to go through change. A support system, in the context of this post, is a series of measures to aid the transition process. Here are some support pillars:
- Surround yourself by family and friends: family and close friends are great pillars. You don’t have to be too open about change, and you also don’t have to communicate with everyone, nor communicate everything. As I wrote in my previous post, “Subite, Subime”, many people tend to advise more than they listen, and sometimes people can stress you out more than they actually help you. Be clear and verbal about only wanting to be listened, and whenever needed, ask for advice.
- Take care of yourself: Transition is stressful, and requires a lot of mental and physical energy. You are your most valuable asset, so invest in yourself: exercise 3 times a week at least, have a good sleep hygiene (sleep 8 hours, try going to bed and waking up at the same time every day -including weekends-, unplug from social media and TV before going to bed, instead read a book, etc.), eat healthier, and just take care.
- Mindfulness: Meditation is a great support pillar to go through change. It helps break down problems, raise awareness of the noises in our heads, and help us unplug when needed. It diminishes the anxiety and stress and helps us to control our minds. I personally use Headspace.
- Therapy: Speaking to a psychologist can be a great pillar as well. Friends and family might sometimes not be enough, and sometimes you just don’t want to go all out with those that surround you. Going to therapy can really help going through the neutral zone into the new beginning in a controlled way, and help us avoid trying to escape.
Why Is This Important
We will all go through some type of change in our lives, and is best to be prepared for it. If you ever go through any kind of change, try to see it as a transition, break it down into three phases, don’t escape the neutral zone but try to take that opportunity to renew yourself, and most importantly, set the support pillars in place so that you can enjoy the journey as much as possible.