How does change make you feel? Excited and energised or anxious and unsure?
Maybe it depends on the type of change – planned and wanted or unplanned and unwanted? Either way, change is the one thing we know we will all face repeatedly throughout life.
Taking the time to master navigating change, particularly the disruptive and uncomfortable transitions, can save you time, heartache and have you emerge energised and ready for a new beginning.
How do psychologists think about change?
Change is viewed as a disruption to the status quo that requires us to adapt to a new way of thinking or being in the world.
Changes are constantly occurring around us, but often they cause minimal disruption, or they are familiar changes so we know how to adapt without much thought or effort. Like changing your dinner plans when your usual place is unexpectedly closed.
Other changes can cause a lot of disruption and we may be unfamiliar with how to respond or adapt. Like the death of a loved one, retirement, or chronic ill health.
Are transition and change the same thing?
Between change and successful adaptation there is a transition phase. Transitions are periods of adjustment and adaptation to a change.
The word transition comes from a latin word ‘transire’ which means ‘to go across’. Transitioning is the act or process of making a change, of going from one set of characteristics, circumstances or state to another.
A successful transition is marked by a sense of restored equilibrium, contentment and mastery over a disruptive change event.
How does change impact us?
Change comes in all shapes and sizes – welcome, unwelcome, expected, unexpected, significant or small. The change may be in your relationships, your health or your work life. A birth, a death or a change in roles.
When change happens it creates a ripple effect. The ripples may be gentle as they pass through your life, or in the extreme, can create a tsunami size disruption. The intensity of the disruption often dictates how long it will take to adjust and adapt to the change.
The ripples of change can disrupt your sense of self and understanding of your world. It can destabilise established routines and relationships. The transition process helps us to adapt to the disruption and find equilibrium again.
How do we adapt to change?
On the whole humans are incredibly resilient. Given enough time we will adapt to change, albeit more quickly to welcome or happy disruptions, than the unwelcome ones. We usually just need a healthy dose of patience, acceptance, self-compassion and the kindness of our community to get us through.
While adjusting to change may have practical and material implications, it also requires a transformation of our inner-life. There needs to be a personal process of understanding and working through the change.
Learning the psychological skills that underpin the transition process can support us to adapt. We can draw on these skills if we find ourselves getting lost or stuck messily in the middle of a transition.
What does the transition process look like?
According to the Kennedy Integrated Transition (KIT) transition model, successful transitions follow a process of deconstruction and reconstruction.
The deconstruction phase is marked by acknowledging the end of the status quo and assessing the disruption caused. There is a process of pulling the change apart, sorting through and making sense of it, before reconstructing a new way of being.
Think of breaking down an old Lego model to reclaim and take stock of the original bricks. Transition lets you discard or replace any unworkable parts with new bricks, before rebuilding a new model. As you rebuild you integrate old and new, you take what worked from the past and experiment with different and fresh ways of doing things.
Humans are a little more complicated than Lego. But there are a number of learnable psychological skills that can support us as we navigate the change process.
To discover more about key mental skills required for a successful transition, read our next article on Mastering transition.
Our workshop Navigating Change explores the fundamental skills required to mentally adapt to change. Bring your change challenge to this workshop and we will guide you through evidence-based psychological knowledge and transition skills.
TMR Coach, our coaching service designed to provide clarity and perspective for leaders, teams and businesses. Support your people to lead, perform, think well, feel confident and make great decisions.
Mood Meter, App [App]
Values Cards, The Mind Room [Shop]
Headspace, App [App]
Mastering Transition, Dr Jo Mitchell [Article]
Kennedy Integrated Transition, Dr Kennedy Musamali [Journal article]
The Mind Room [Library]