Change and Transition: Embrace Both to Thrive and Prosper

Jumbo shrimp, act naturally, accurate estimate, a little big, almost pregnant, astronomically small: the list of everyday oxymorons goes on and on. The oxymoron I want to focus on is this one: change or transition is constant.

Whether we like it or not, the one thing we can count on as a constant in our lives is change and transition. But our brains are hard-wired to resist change, even when it is positive. Fear of the unknown, trying something new, stepping out of our comfort zones, and even the anticipation of future happenings can create anxiety in individuals.

While some of us could never imagine sitting behind a desk all day or giving up a steady job, others can’t function that way. Some of us prefer to seek out new experiences, to take risks, and to frequently step out of our comfort zones. What is needed to accomplish this is the ability to focus…but that’s another article! So let’s first take the time to examine change and transition in and of themselves as well as our reactions to both.

Change can be difficult. Often, we resist change even when it will enhance our lives or make them easier. We create justifications for our resistance. Over time, these justifications become accepted reasons for not changing.

When it comes to terminology, many of confuse the words “change” and “transition,” freely exchanging one term with the other. However, they are not the same. Change is not an event, but rather a process. And that process is called transition. Transition is the inner movement or journey we make in reaction to a change. For that reason, there is actually a clear distinction between change and transition.

The essential difference between change and transition can be boiled down to this: Change is situational while transition is psychological. It’s not the events outside us that make the transition. It’s the internal process we go through to incorporate those changes.

Transitions are times when we mentally cross from something old and familiar to something new and unfamiliar. Most transitions are small and pass by almost unnoticed, while others can involve major disruptions in routines, forcing us to look at our values and lifestyles.

Many of us are instinctively afraid of change and resist it. We prefer routine and stability and remaining within our individual comfort zones. But eventually, that puts us at odds with what life really is: a series of frequent changes.

Some changes or variations are welcomed, of course, while others range from inconvenient to catastrophic whether in reality, in our minds, or both. How well we handle or cope with change and the resulting transition process can depend on the attitudes we have toward life and what our resilience level happens to be.

Having a productive, positive attitude along with the capacity to be resilient will help ease any transition. An ability to make transitions successfully frees up precious energy enabling us to live more fully in the here and now.

Transitions range from changes that affect everyone, like natural disasters, to more personal transitions that affect one’s career and relationships. Transitions can be predictable or unpredictable. They can be voluntary, like moving to a larger home, or involuntary, like an accident or an illness. Transitions and their disruptions challenge us to grow, while they can also help us focus on today and the present moment.

One way people sometimes deal with the discomfort of change is by avoiding it. Avoiding uncomfortable feelings surrounding change, however, eventually establishes patterns that stand in the way of making new beginnings.

The solution ultimately requires that we stop striving to avoid change and the inevitable transition that must follow. When we refuse to accept a transition, when the fear of what lies ahead prevents us from moving forward, we can get stuck and overwhelmed as life passes us by. Again, our response to situations is directly influenced by our attitude and how well we have developed our personal level of resilience.

Along with any kind of transition, the change that affects it can often have a negative impact our self-confidence. Think about it, when you’re not feeling confident, trying something new or out of your comfort zone or even something you may fear can be even harder. Negative self-talk can stifle professional development and advancement, making it a real challenge to sustain healthy professional and personal relationships.

Here are some tips about transition:

  • To handle present and future transitions: Use the insights gained from the past along with newly acquired skills to navigate your path ahead. It’s helpful to recall the strengths that we’ve developed that have helped make transitions easier in the past.

 

  • How to cope with and challenge our thoughts:
  • Create a rite of passage: Our culture frequently lacks formal rites of passage that recognize passage from one situation to another. To remedy such a situation, a solution to this could, for example, be to hold a ceremony to acknowledge someone for a job well done. Another idea: After you’ve made a commitment, cross over a piece of tape to honor that commitment, symbolizing that you’ll follow through with it. Look at different perspectives: Weigh out the costs and benefits of each perspective.

We have the opportunity to change the way we think about something whenever we learn anything new about any topic that in turn will change our thinking. Ask yourself, how invested am I in holding on to old opinions, despite having obtained the latest information that may contradict those opinions?

  • Have realistic expectations: Transition can be difficult. Be compassionate with yourself instead of being hard on yourself. Often times, negative self-talk makes us our own worst enemy. Accepting change to the fullest extent means allowing mistakes to be made along the way as you transition to the change. If you do not allow yourself to make mistakes on the journey, you will not be able to adapt well with life transitions, and will not be able to enjoy living life to its fullest.

 

  • Transitions in the workplace: These can often be personally and professionally fulfilling. Yet they can also be difficult to manage. Switching roles and increasing responsibilities at work entails not only making adjustments to new tasks, but can also lead to a new relationship with ourselves and with those around us. The transition process can actually feel like the world has gone on “Tilt!”

 

  • Take control of your life: Be open and flexible.

In conclusion, practice finding the good in each of life’s transitions. It’s not what happens to you that causes you to respond the way you do, but how you choose to react to what happens. Take charge of your thoughts and actions and you will be better able to control how you respond, and enhance the quality of your life.

Boomer Transitions: When Mom Has to be Moved

For years I have been coaching and giving workshops on life and career transition. When Boomers are involved, I consider them the cream part of the Oreo cookie, nestled between the two cookie pieces. Boomers are sandwiched between their kids and elder parents.

In my own situation, my husband and I became that cream! I moved my mother, who is now 88 years old, from New Jersey to an assisted living facility in the DC area. After so many trips up and down the turnpike—yes, we know the standing joke that all people from New Jersey identify themselves by the exit they are from—it was time for her to leave Princeton (Exit 8).

Often during a move like this, the focus is primarily on the elder parent who is being moved: his or her health and healthcare changes, whether he or she will meet new people, and so on. But the Boomer who is taking care of these issues is equally important, as there are also big changes going on in the Boomer’s family because of the issues presented by the elder parent.

For me, it is easier to have my mother living locally. But as a consequence, I have much more time-consuming involvement in her day-to-day living. As everyone in my household works, there are a number of things that come up, mostly logistical. For me as well, there are also emotional factors that come into play.

I know from focusing my work on life and career transition, confidence and resilience, that many people resist change, even when it is positive. Moving a parent many miles brings up a wide range of feelings, ranging from excitement and joy to fear of the unknown.

My mother is resilient, thank goodness. I know that resilience is all about our thinking style. It’s about the ability to persevere and adapt when you are going through change and adversities in your life. My mother has done pretty well and I am very proud of her.

But Boomers can be the ones most affected by this type of transition. I have been hearing this more from clients in similar situations.

In those first few months after moving a parent, the emotional impact can be deeply felt, particularly if the parent is declining, either physically or cognitively (or both). In a manner of speaking, it is as if a grieving process presents before the parent actually passes on. I was aware in advance that this occurs. But such awareness does not make it easier.

Grieving can begin when you see physical and mental changes in an aging parent that make you feel like your parent simply “isn’t the same.” By having my mother here, I was exposed to witnessing more and more changes. I knew that on a logical basis that this happens. But I didn’t realize at first the extent of the emotional adjustments I would have to make.

Typically, I would go to visit my mom in New Jersey two weekends each month. We would talk daily on the telephone, share stories and discuss what was going on with family, friends and work.

With more contact and exposure now that my mother is living locally, I have really felt a deep sense of loss. Remembering my mom over many years, beginning when I was growing up (particularly because we were always a tight-knit family) is bittersweet in light of our current situation.

Now, most of my mom’s needs are met at the assisted living facility. She has been here for approximately 8 months, and we are in a rhythm of doctor’s appointments, food runs, and personal items runs.

My mom’s transition process had one genuinely great thing going in her favor: she knew that the timing for this was right. Living on her own was becoming too difficult for her to manage by herself.

I’ve noticed with clients and friends that they minimize the emotional adjustments that come along when working with aging parents. I strongly urge you be aware that this occurs, to notice it as it happens, and embrace it. As a result, you will be able to deal with it.

And remember: Talking is a great outlet. Appreciate each day for the gift that it is.

Transitions in Life Don’t Have to be Daunting

Here we go again. Just when we thought things wouldn’t change, they did. Change seemingly always happen, despite the many times you heard or said they would not. Like death and taxes, transition in life is a guarantee.

How are you with coping with change?  Do you face new beginning trepidation? How are you with endings?

Throughout the different stages of life – life’s transitions – we all have to face them, deal with them and get through them.

A transition can mean daunting change

Whether you are going through a job change, separation or divorce, a health change, the loss of a loved one, succession planning, change can be daunting. Our brains are wired to resist change, and the majority of us choose to resist even when the change is positive. We like to be in our comfort zones. Staying there is, shall we say, “comfortable!”

One thing I’ve learned over the years is that what you resist persists. While other societies prepare people for change and transitions, we need to do a better job preparing ourselves instead of it feeling like we face a daunting task. Life transitions do not have to be daunting. Know that every transition begins with an ending.

During life’s transitions, it is important that we let go of the old before we pick up the new. Dealing with things both outwardly and inwardly has to occur for a healthy transition period to follow.

Outward changes can be made, such as moving from one home to another, a new job, and new relationships. Inward changes are harder: in the example about moving, we must deal with what comes along with a move, such as our connections to people and familiarity with the new location.

Another example: I’ve been working with people going through life (separation, divorce) and career transitions. People feel they can adequately prepare by having their finances in order, choosing a place where they want to live (outward), and developing new interests (inward). There are challenges along the way that can be eased when we understand a three-phase process of transition.

Three areas of transition

According to William Bridges, author of Transition, Making Sense of Life’s Changes, all transitions involve the following three areas:

  1. An ending;
  2. A neutral zone (where we can go through periods of confusion); and
  3. A new beginning.

Recognizing these will help everyone with change.

Another important element in this area is learning to differentiate between change and transition. It seems these terms are often confused. Change is situational. It is external. For example starting a new job, moving to another city, getting a new boss, experiencing the birth of a baby or the passing of a loved one are all changes.

Transition requires change, but change does not mean transition

transition is an internal process, such as actually accepting or incorporating any of the above.

Transitions take time. Typically people are looking for new beginnings. But they haven’t let go of old situations. Be aware that beginnings and endings come with bumps in the road. Resist being thrown off by those bumps.

Even though you may be heading in a positive new direction, this doesn’t mean that your changing situation will happen without challenges. But remember that they can be managed. Just knowing that is helpful.

As Bridges puts it, “we are not comfortable in the confusing nowhere of in-between and of launching forth again with a new situation.” During transitions, many confusing or disorienting what ifs can and do arise.

Life equals growth

Throughout life we grow. This natural process involves periodic accelerations and transformations. Time goes by and nothing seems to happen. But then we begin to glimpse the signs of change. Change is the new norm. To be healthy today we will have to figure out ways of dealing with change productively.

The process of going through transitions is based on a theory of personal development and not just a manual on how to cope.

Going into a transition with a positive attitude will help with the associated processes of disorientation and reorientation.

Successful transitions can also help with unexpected losses.

According to Bridges,

“we come to identify ourselves with the circumstances of our lives. Who we think we are is partly defined by our roles and relationships, those we like as well as those we don’t…. transitional situations bring this paradox to the surface and force us to look at negative and positive aspects of our life situations.”

While changes and transitions all have their ups and downs, having rituals to work through them seems to help. We all have rituals. They are helpful no matter what change or transition we are going through. But when our lives are in a state of disruption by changes or transitions, there is a resulting feeling of disorientation.

The importance of meaningful rituals

Individuals feel comfortable with things that are familiar and actions that are practiced consistently, particularly when other things around them are changing. Our self-talk (our internal dialogue, the things we say to ourselves) is impacted by change, and reacts by getting louder and faster.

This happens because our ego is doing everything it can to keep us safe and because it doesn’t like change.

The ego likes the status quo. Therefore, another impact on our self-talk is that our status quo ego makes the process of change and transition more challenging.

Some rituals can help us to better cope with change and transition.

For example, I begin my day with meditation, setting my intentions and writing down three things I am grateful for. No matter where I am, I begin my day this way so that I feel centered and grounded. Because I know the impact of self-talk. Having my morning rituals helps make things go more smoothly. Performing my rituals is something I know I can count on, and it always makes me feel better, no matter what is going on in my life.

Since change and transition are a definite part of our lives, what can you do for yourself, what rituals can you perform to make it smoother sailing no matter which way the winds of change and transition may blow?