The difference between change and transition

Posted on December 4, 2019

We have all been through change and just like you, I have been through many. However, it was only until relatively recently that I started to understand the difference between change and transition and the implication of this for how I managed change in my life.

I was lucky enough to have a friend who passed me a book by William Bridges – Managing Transitions. In his book, Bridges talks about change versus transition.

Change is situational and tends to be an external event – something like moving to a new house, taking on a new job or retirement. These physical or situational events tend to “happen to people” and many of them may be unwanted and forced on an individual.  Change can happen very quickly!

Transition however is an internal process – the things that happen in people’s minds as they move through change …… the emotions, feelings, thoughts and actions. Transition usually takes place much more slowly.

Therefore, change is an event in our external world that ‘happens to us’ and transition is the process that ‘happens within us’ in response to that change.

This was a revelation to me and explained why so many change management initiatives fail in organisations and why I had very often felt a sense of anxiety and uncertainty many months after the change had been completed. I came to learn that the way I managed transitions was even more important than the specific change itself.

If you are currently experiencing a transition in your life – here are some tips that I have learnt from my own transitions!

Be in the ‘Now’ and be “Present”

When making a big life change its easy to get caught up in at the future is going to hold. But I have learnt it’s better to have a rough compass point to give you direction but then focus on the present and what small steps you can make to get there. It’s also better not to think too much about the past. Sure, it’s important to acknowledge and respect “endings” – but too much focus on the past can make it difficult to move forward.

Reenforce the positive

Try and make each small step forward a positive one.  Don’t forget ‘transition’ is all about how you manage your emotions and feelings and a positive mindset will give you the energy you will need to maintain momentum that you will need to get through the change.

Try out some new things

Transitioning to a new stage in your life can be a great time to try out some new things! For example, why not take a longer look at your life – is your purpose still as strong? Your dreams still motivating?  William Bridges believed that one of the stages of transition was what he called the “neutral zone’ when the old life has gone but the new life isn’t yet fully operational. In this stage people are creating a new reality and identity and are at their most creative. A great time to check on your purpose in life and dreams.

Look after yourself

Loads of sleep, exercise and healthy eating! I can’t over emphasise how important this is. There is a huge amount of stress on your body during every life transition and the only way to help your body cope with it is through sleep, exercise and healthy eating.

Don’t be too hard on yourself

So, what if things don’t go the way you planned it. You are on an exciting new journey but also a learning journey as well. And like any learning, things are going to go wrong. There will be times when you will doubt whether you have done the right thing on taking this new direction and other times when you feel you can’t cope with so much change. But be kind to yourself in these moments. Almost always you will find the new direction is the right one for you – so just slow down – take a break, clear your mind and do something you love to do!

By far the greatest life skill I have learnt going through so many life transitions are ‘resilience’. I now expect change to come at any time but now I believe the resilience I have built up over many years will help me cope whatever changes are coming my way.

You cannot hang out with negative
people and expect to lead a positive life.

Joel Osteen

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