Transitions: How to Grow Through Life’s Changes

by | Oct 6, 2020 | Life Lessons

As summer gives way to autumn, nature’s handoff between the seasons reflects a perennial truth about life. We are all constantly navigating change and transitions. 

“It is when we are in transition that we are most completely alive.”

William Bridges, Ph.D.
Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes

Author and organizational consultant, William Bridges, said all transitions begin with an ending, followed by a neutral zone or period of uncertainty, then a new beginning. And like the change in seasons, we’ve been going through this cycle all of our lives. Whether leaving home for the first time, falling in love, saying goodbye, starting a new job, changing careers, marrying, divorcing, having a baby, becoming an empty nester, dealing with a chronic illness, experiencing the death of a loved one, or retiring from employment, change and transitions are a part of life.

Of transitions, Bridges wrote:

“Transition is the natural process of disorientation and reorientation that marks the turning points in the path of growth…transitions are key times in the natural process of self-renewal.”

Transition is the psychological and emotional process that accompanies a change. The inward journey that either precedes or follows the manifestation of life changes.  It is a deep, inner sense that something is or will be different and therefore, you will be different.

Each transition offers you the opportunity for self-reflection, self-renewal, and self-creation.

Self-reflection: In the transition process, endings can be painful, jarring, or scary. Feelings of self-doubt, fear, and failure can take over during this time. You expect these feelings when the change is something you’ve dreaded. But they can also occur when the change is leading to something positive, as in leaving one job and starting another. You may simply question who you are as a result of this change. It’s important to take this time to self-reflect. In an article on self-reflection, Connie Habash wrote:

“Self-reflection is the key to self-awareness: it allows us to look neutrally at our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and actions. Through this practice, we are able to look at ourselves with interest and curiosity. We begin to dig deeper, to question our very being: why do I feel this way? Where did these thoughts stem from? What are these physical sensations?… let self-reflection lead you to growth, positivity, and happiness.”

This is a good time to acknowledge what has ended for you and what will be different. Express your emotions without judgment, including gratitude for all that the past gave you. Then, let go. You will never grow through the change if you don’t let go. Seek the help of family, friends, a coach or therapist, if you need it.

Self-renewal: Once you accept what has ended, there is a period of uncertainty. This is what Bridges called the neutral zone. It can feel like you’re suspended in the abyss – not able to return to the past, but the future is still unclear. This is a good time to practice self-care. Be patient with yourself, nurture and restore where you feel empty. This is also the peak of self-discovery, exploring, and considering possibilities for what lies ahead.

Self-creation: The third step in the focus on self is perhaps the most neglected and the most important. Self-creation takes what was gained through self-reflection and renewal and places it into the meaningful vision of the new self.  Jaffe (1985) referred to this as the “creative restructuring of self” of which reidentification is essential. It is using our past, without hanging onto it, accepting what we’ve learned through it all, and making choices for our future. Albert Rothenberg, M.D., wrote in Psychology Today:

“Self-creation is a potentiality for everyone throughout the course of life development. Whenever we actively make choices leading to increased independence and better definition of ourselves, including our wishes, strengths, and goals, and whenever we achieve improved personal integration—all matters of producing both newness and value—we engage in self-creation.”

This is what new beginnings are all about, what Bridges referred to as reorientation. And while you may still have lingering doubt and fear, the exhilaration or realization that it’s time to move forward is what propels you. No longer stuck, this is a good time to set aspirations and goals that lead you to more joy, more purpose, and more fulfillment. This is the perfect time for living Your Aha! Life. 

I hope this article provides you with new insight and inspiration to what is a decades-old model of change and transition that you may have already known. The Bridges model is still my “go to” model. Not only do I use it to make meaning of change and transitions in my personal life, but I have used it for years in my work with individuals and teams. By adding the focus on self through reflection, renewal, and creation, I’m attempting to give you a practical guide on how to care for yourself through what can be a confusing time in your life. If you decide to use these steps, I’d love to know how they work for you.

For more on this topic, listen to my latest podcast: How to Grow Through Life Changes and Transitions.

Want to read more articles like this that will help you create the life you want? Go to my website at Your Aha! Life. There, you can also subscribe to my monthly newsletter, listen to my podcast, access some of my favorite resources, and learn more about my private Facebook group, The Aha! Community. If you want to reach out directly to me, email me at tonya@yourahalife.com.

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