How to Weather the Storm of Change: Understanding the Bridges Transition Model


November 17, 2022

Change is the only constant in life, and learning to navigate it effectively is key to personal growth and success. The Bridges Transition Model, created by William Bridges, offers a framework for understanding the psychological process of transition that accompanies external changes.

Bridges defines the important difference between change and transition. He writes, "It isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions. Change is not the same as transition. Change is situational: the new site, the new boss, the new team roles, the new policy.

Transition is the psychological process people go through to come to terms with the new situation. Change is external, transition is internal."

So while the Bridges Transitional Model was made with workplaces in mind, the process can be just as effective for thinking about how we navigate any changes (and transitions) in our lives.

Read on for the three key phases of the Bridges Transitional Model:

Ending – Where better to start than the end? The Endings phase recognises that any change begins with the loss of the old. Whether that's a new manager taking the place of the old manager, or a new type of plant-based milk taking the place of the cow's milk, we unfortunately have to recognise that we have to let go of what we're comfortable with.

The Neutral Zone  – When they old may be going (or gone), the new might not be fully here yet. This is known as the Neutral Zone. The old manager may be organising one-to-ones and finalising handover materials, and the cups of tea with cow's milk may be down to one a day. But the change is not fully complete, and this phase can often feel the most difficult to navigate. Rather than seeing it as stressful, it's important to see this as a time of neutrality, with the process of change not yet fully complete.

The New Beginning  – Once the external change is completed, the New Beginnings phase marks the time when the individuals gain new understandings, values and attitudes. A working relationship with the new boss, for example, or sudden militant conversations with friends on how oat milk is the best thing since sliced bread. The individual's transition comes last, but this is the most important step to ensuring positive steps forward.

No matter what the change, each of us will experience these same three phases. The amount of time taken in each one will vary based on the level of change, and from person to person. The important thing is that we navigate these phases effectively so that while the river may be different, we remain stood in place.

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