How to Navigate Change More Positively

Understanding the distinction between “change” and “transition” can help you handle shifts in life with grace.

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Navigating change

There’s a classic business management book called Managing Transitions, written 25 years ago by William Bridges, who was an authority on how organizations can navigate change. Reading it recently for my own professional reasons, I realized the principles in it apply to gracefully moving through changes in life, and offer lessons in how to see transition as a positive way to move forward.

Benefitting from the book requires readers to understand the difference between “change” and “transition.”

Change is a fact—in business, it might be a merger, a relocation or a shift in product offerings. It’s the thing that is happening, whether you desired it or not. Bridges calls change “situational.”

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Transition, by contrast, is a psychological process. As Bridges puts it, “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.”

Bridges outlines three phases of a successful transition. Life gives us many opportunities to practice this—and it’s important not to skip any steps in the process, whether you are mourning a loss, moving to a new home, ending or beginning a relationship or starting a new project. The three phases Bridges shares are:

1)  Ending, losing or letting go of the old way and old routines.

2)  The “neutral zone” when the old way is over, but the new has not fully taken shape.

3)  The new beginning, in which we discover new identities, new habits and, hopefully, a new sense of purpose and energy for the future.

Transition is the process by which we make a change in a peaceful and positive way. When done intentionally and with the knowledge that we must make room for the full complement of emotional and logistical adjustments that come with life’s “new normal,” we are more likely to arrive on the other side of a chance with a fresh perspective and a positive outlook.

Have you ever thought about the difference between “change” and “transition?” How has it impacted your life?

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