Weathering the storm of change


November 17, 2022

"The only constant in life is change," so says Heraclitus. He also said that "No man ever steps in the same river twice," which is a more colourful way of thinking about how inevitable it is that the world around us is constantly changing.

Most of us will experience some level of change every day. This may be planned change (trying out a new coffee shop), or unplanned change (roadworks on the usual route). Some of this change will be positive, and some, of course, will be not so positive. It's how we deal with change that defines our character, and tells us how we're likely to deal with bigger and more fundamental changes in future.

The Bridges Transition Model was created by William Bridges (lucky name, eh?) in 1979. Bridges wanted to help individuals and workplaces to better understand the processes of change, and be able to navigate them more effectively.

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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