As a therapist, the predominate diagnosis I treat with my clients is adjustment disorder, with or without anxiety, or depression. This disorder is due to an individual enduring a major life stressor, everything from a death of a pet to the loss of a family member, marriage, or job, and are experiencing a difficult time coping successfully with the changes. Managing change can be very stressful, and the responses to change vary. Some get angry, shut-down, depressed, sad, busy, compulsive, blaming, sick, distracted, addicted, ashamed, and anxious, and others seem to breeze through the change only to have the crises crop up years later. No one can escape the unavoidable positive and negative effects of change. Bridges introduced a 3 phase transition that can easily be used for relationships and organizations desiring to manage change: Letting Go, Neutral Zone, and New Beginning.This clear and concrete process encompassed the framework of the book, Managing Transitions, and created an easy visual for some of the other points to build neatly on.
Here are some top highlights of managing transitions:
“Transition starts with an ending.”We all want the new and fresh beginning but few of us consider what we have to say goodbye to until we are experiencing the change. Nostalgic memories creep in as we reminisce about “how things used to be” as we struggle to adapt to the new changes. Today I talked with a woman starting on her fourth marriage, and watched her hang her head as she expressed her desire to stay with her first husband who loved her deeply over 30 years ago. While the very next session, I helped a couple work at amicably ending their 15-year-old marriage wrecked with infidelity, mistrust, and irreconcilable pain. I wondered if they would regret their choice like this other woman as they attempted to overcome one of life’s most difficult losses, divorce. No transition can happen without an ending or loss to pave the way for new beginnings. Yet even though we know “beginnings depend on endings, the problem is, people don’t like endings.”
“Treat the past with respect.”I was reminded of a time my husband Jake, was a youth pastor and had collected many important files, program development and marketing materials, and contact information. When he was promoted to Administrative Pastor, he generously handed down a decade’s worth of collected youth program materials to the new youth pastor. Upon receiving them, he promptly walked over to the garbage and threw all the files away, stating he was going to do a new contemporary ministry so he didn’t need the old files. As the weeks went on, he would come to Jake and ask about previous event marketing materials, information on networking contacts, various program development, etc…and Jake would jokingly respond: “That was in the files.” We were all shocked at the lack of respect for the past and resistance to honor what had been previously developed with the thriving youth program. “Honor the past for what it has accomplished”is a beautiful principle to live by and one that can make our lives more manageable with a transition. It is easy to think new is better, but this sets a dangerous stage for age discrimination as history truly is our best teacher.
“Purpose, Picture, Plan, and Part” are the 4 P’s suggested to foster new beginnings as they cannot be willed or forced and require strategic planning in order to be cultivated. If people do not understand the purposeof what they are doing, they have a difficult time developing teamwork. Similarly, people need to understand the bigger picture or the vision of what is being developed if they are going to get invested. A strategic plan is necessary for forward movement, and finally identifying each other’s part in creating a new story is essential to developing new beginnings. This process reminds me of my intake session for couples as I identify their purpose with therapy, have them describe a picture of their ideal relationship, develop treatment goals as we make a plan to facilitate change, and define the parts, roles and expectations of each of us involved.
“Choosing the path of renewal.”What a powerful statement that empowers one to choose renewal as they embrace the process of recovering from change. This statement suggests one can choose and even foster renewal versus choosing a “slow death”of stagnation. Even more empowering is asking the question, “‘What part of my identity—of the way I come across, and even the way I experience myself—do I need to let go of if we are going to enter the Path of Renewal?’” This puts the responsibility and power on the person rather than blaming or waiting for others to change. Answering 3 questions that correlate with each stage of the 3 step change phase is a powerful strategy towards fostering renewal, first for yourself and then for the organization.
“1. What is it time for (me)/us to let go of?
- How will (I)/we spend time in the neutral zone?
- What is the new beginning going to require of (me)/us and others in the new organization, marriage?”(parenthesis mine).
In my own life, I want to choose the path of renewal and work with others to renew and rejuvenate what needs to be refreshed and remodeled in their lives. It is an honor and privilege to work with so many great people trying their best to navigate and manage transitions. We need each other to grapple with the stresses of change, and we need a God who cares for the heartaches change provokes and seeks to redeem every change our life encounters.
William Bridges, Managing Transitions, 25th anniversary edition: Making the Most of Change,(Philadelphia: PA, Da Capo Press, 2016) 259, Kindle.
Ibid., 309-310, Kindle.
Ibid., 628-629, Kindle.
Ibid., 884, Kindle.
Ibid., 901, Kindle.
Ibid., 1398-1399, Kindle.
Ibid., 2018, Kindle.
Robert E. Quinn, Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within, (San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 1996), 135, Kindle.
Ibid., 2033-2034, Kindle.
Ibid., 2030-2045, Kindle.