To cope with change, learn to transition

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

As well as getting used to the practical changes of new places, new people, new ways of doing things, we also have to make the psychological adjustments to step into our new identities.

These psychological “transitions” come in three stages:

  1. Separation Stage
    Here we let go of the old life and identity, not always easy. This is the packing up stage of moving home; the pregnancy stage of having a baby; the last days before we start the new school, new job… We think we know what is coming, but we’re really not sure.
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  2. Liminal Stage or Neutral Zone
    Here we are crossing the threshold, stepping into our new life. This is the day we move house, the giving birth, the first day in the new school or new job. Our old identity is gone but the new one hasn’t formed yet. Everything is undefined, we don’t know how things ‘work’ or how we fit in. This time is unpredictable and can feel pressured and tense.
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  3. Incorporation Stage
    Finding our feet. This is when you’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 days, weeks or months of learning to be ‘a parent’, of getting to know a new set of classmates or colleagues, of taking on a new role and a new 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 the three stages of transition in more detail, as well as how to manage them.

It describes how organisations also transition, and how to use this understanding to create ‘antifragile’ leaders and organisations.

You can buy a copy of Chapter 7 for less than the price of a cup of coffee, here.

You can buy the whole of Inspiration / Inner Leadership, here.


Photo by David D via StockPholio.net

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