'It isn't the changes that do you in, it's the transitions'. ~ William Bridges
Change has been front and centre in the last year - business operations suspended, local stores closing up shop. The requirement to stay close to home. Switching from face-to-face to online meetings. The change is what is different, an event that takes place that alters the current state. The change is a switch from X to Y. So why is change so hard? Because of people. Because of feelings. Because people react to and interpret change differently. Because people transition through change, from the old way to the new way, at different paces.
We have been in transition for over a year now! And it's exhausting. In the recent NY Times article There’s a Name for the Blah You’re Feeling: It’s Called Languishing, Adam Grant describes languishing as a mental state of stagnation and emptiness. As I read this article, I realized this can be the same feeling during transition.
William Bridges describes transition as the inner psychological process that people go through as they internalize and come to terms with the new situation that brings about change. He outlines three phases of transition:
- Endings - the process of understanding what is going to be different and letting go of the current state.
- Neutral Zone - the process of dealing with potential losses, recognizing and addressing resistance, trying out new ways of doing things.
- Beginnings - the process of choosing new behaviour and attitudes, accepting a new way of doing things and gaining the benefits of change.
As the pandemic continues we find ourselves stuck in the neutral zone - not quite sure what the new beginning will be, and continually bouncing back and forth between 'open' and 'closed'. We have definitely accepted new ways of doing things - masks, hand washing, and distancing, but the future state is still uncertain in many ways. And when people can't see what the new beginning looks like it can be exhausting to continually process information and try to make sense of what is happening. We end up in a spin cycle in our brains.
So what? Where to go from here?
- First, acknowledge that this is exhausting and accept that we don't have control over a lot of what is happening.
- Second, pick small wins - for yourself, your team, or your organization. What can you control? What can you do in a day or a week to have a positive impact on your mental and physical health? And what can you control in your organization right now that will set you up for future success? The importance of making progress to boost our feelings of joy and motivation is well documented - by Adam Grant and many others. What small wins will you focus on - in your work and your personal life?
- Third, find an anchor - what is the one thing you do each week that you look forward to or anchors your week? For me, it's been family Zoom calls every single Friday (except one when we were backcountry camping) since March 27 last year - we come together for cocktails, stories, to see that everyone is still safe, and always a few laughs. It anchors the week and sets off a great start to our weekends.
- Lastly, repeat steps one to three. You will have days when your energy is drained and you feel like things are not getting better. You will have other days when your outlook is positive and the stars are aligning for personal or organizational success.
It is a rollercoaster right now. We are stuck in the middle of the transition. It's hard to make future plans. But it will eventually stop and we will begin anew - with new ideas, new energy, and a wealth of resilience to embrace what's next.