To cope with change, learn to transition

packing_upWhenever we start out on a new project, new job, relationship, or whatever, we also bring to a close the previous period of not-project, not-job, or not-relationship.

To step fully into our new identities we not only have to get used to the practical changes of new people, places, and new ways of doing things, we also have to make the necessary psychological or emotional adjustments.

These psychological or emotional ‘transitions’ come in three stages:

  1. Separation Stage
    Here we let go of the old life and identity. This is the packing-up stage before moving home, the pregnancy before having a baby, the last days in our old job when we have resigned but haven’t yet left. We think we know what is coming but we’re not quite sure. We’re in the process of letting go of our old identity.
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  2. Liminal or Threshold Stage
    Here we cross the threshold, stepping into our new life. This is the day we move house or give birth, our first day in the new school or new role. Our old identity is gone but the new one hasn’t yet formed. This period of time is unpredictable, uncertain. We can feel pressured and tense.
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  3. Incorporation Stage
    This is when we are finding our feet: we’ve moved in but are still unpacking. “Which box did I put the kettle in? Where shall we hang this picture?” It is the first few days or months of learning to be ‘a parent’, of getting to know your new colleagues or classmates. This is when we take on and define the new role and identity.

As transition guru William Bridges puts it, “It isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions.”

The better you can manage your psychological transitions, the easier the physical changes become.

And the better you can manage your own transitions, the more you will be able to support the people around you to manage theirs.


Chapter 7 of Inner Leadership describes in more detail the three stages of transition and how to manage them.


Photo by David D via StockPholio.net

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