How learning about transitions can help get through lockdown: Seven things you can do

Change is situational: a new ‘office’, new processes, new policies. Transition is the psychological process people go through to come to terms with new situations. Change is external. Transition is internal.

Most people around the world are in the middle of massive change. How we work has changed and how we live has changed. There is a lot to be thinking about:

  • Our own health – Are these symptoms of a cold or something more sinister? What if I do get sick?
  • The health and wellbeing other others – Extended family members who are highly vulnerable, essential workers who are carrying on for our collective benefit, friends adjusting their own home situations
  • Our income – Loss of work, loss of jobs, future uncertainty
  • Practical matters – How to continue to work effectively remotely if you even have that option
  • How to live together – constantly, for 4+ weeks with kids, partners, extended family, while working etc. etc.

But there is something else that is occurring – the internal transition that is accompanying all of this change. And it can feel pretty uncomfortable.

William Bridges* has a lot to teach us about transitions. There are three main phases of transition. 1) An ending; 2) The neutral zone, a period of confusion and distress, leading to… 3) A new beginning.

Every transition begins with an ending. We have to let go of the old things before we can pick up the new ones. And this is not just outwardly but inwardly too, where we keep our definitions of who we are.

The second phase is a time of lostness and emptiness before life resumes an intelligible pattern and direction. This empty or fallow time in-between is very important. It is part of the cycle just as leaves fall before winter and then green comes again.

This disorientation may be taking many by surprise. The adaptation in work and life can be stressful and tiring but the transition may also be challenging our ideas about who we are, our relationships, meaning and purpose, what is working and what is not, and so on.

Many of us might find we are denying the distress associated with transition. Maybe there is embarrassment over not being able to manage this experience smoothly, imagining others are doing it easily. Denying the disorientation and distress, however, ultimately impedes our ability to move towards a new beginning, a new way of being and doing.

So, at this stage, most of us will be in Phase One, Ending, or Phase Two, Neutral Zone. And its OK to feel what you are feeling. Here are some ideas that William Bridges might suggest to help navigate our way through:

  • Take your time: The outer forms of our lives have changed in an instant, but the inner reorientation takes time. This doesn’t mean that everything should come to a standstill. It means that you cannot rush the inner process. Its OK not to have it all sorted this week.
  • Arrange temporary structures: This may involve agreements about how to allocate responsibilities and decision making until something more permanent can be devised. Accept this situation as temporary.
  • Don’t act for the sake of action: Temporary situations can be frustrating and we can be tempted to just “do something!”. However, we need to stay in transition long enough to complete the process of conclusion (ending) and discovery (towards a new beginning). Be open to experimenting, notice signals and cues for what you need to become.
  • Take care of yourself in little ways: This is not time to be trying to live up to your highest and best self. Be sensitive to your own small needs and find small continuities that are important when everything else is changing. Preserve the routines and rituals that you can, both at work and at home.
  • Explore the other side of the change: We have not chosen this change and there are a dozen reasons to refuse to see its possible benefits. When we go into transitions unwillingly we can find it hard to admit that a new beginning or new phase of life is ahead. However, it is important to explore the other side of the situation, to hold a balanced view, acknowledge the positives, and be open to opportunities.
  • Find someone to talk to: Whether it be a professional therapist or coach or a good friend, you will need someone to talk to. Not for advice but for the opportunity to put into words your dilemmas and feelings so you can fully understand what is going on.
  • Think of transition as a process of leaving the status quo, living for a while in a fertile “time-out” and then coming back with an answer: Make your time of transition a time of renewal and transformation. Come out of it stronger and better adapted to your world that you were when you went in.

We are humans, not machines. ‘Adjustment’ is a mechanical term, implying that a few tweaks will suffice. After the necessary tweaks are done, allow yourself time to reorient internally. Feeling uncomfortable and ‘all at sea’ is a natural part of the process, not necessarily an indication that something is wrong.

*William Bridges. Transitions


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