Have you ever wondered how athletes transition between swimming, biking and running during a triathlon? How about the courageous hikers who climb more than 29,000 feet to the top of Mount Everest and need to transition at various elevations to adjust to the altitude and decreased oxygen?

Whether it’s a major physical feat, job transition or a life change such as an aging parent moving into an assisted living environment, transitions are an integral part of our lives. Think of the transitions we face everyday in the workplace. There is the transition from meeting to meeting, and, some days, from moment to moment. We transition from personality to personality; from working professional to soccer mom or loving wife. We transition when companies merge or when departments reorganize.

It has been said that change is the only constant. Never was there a more true statement.

While change can often be unpredictable or beyond our control, it’s how we deal with a transition that is key. In order to successfully manage transitions, it’s important to understand how they work. Give yourself permission to be in transition and allow yourself the time that it takes, be courageous and committed to seeing the process through.

William Bridges, Ph.D. is the world’s leading consultant on transitions. He notes that there are three phases to transition. The phases describe the internal, personal response we have to external changes in our lives. According to Bridges, though the path of transition will take you from “what was” to “what will be,” it is not a simple, straight line between two points.

Phase I : Endings
Something has changed or is changing. The stable order you knew is becoming more fluid. You begin the process of disengaging from “what was,” the old ways of doing things and letting go of who you were in that situation. This happens even if the change is a good one, though in that case, you may overlook the loss, at least for awhile.

Phase II: Neutral Zone
A confusing in-between state, when you are not who and where you were, but not yet who and where you’re going to be. As you move into the “Neutral Zone,” you may find the path confusing, even chaotic. You may feel lost, like you’ve followed a detour that’s taking you around and backwards. You may simply stop and wait a while before moving forward to explore what’s ahead.

Phase III: New Beginnings
You are familiar with “what will be” and accept the new reality change brings. In this final phase, you start to identify with new situations.

In addition to Bridges, when I think of successful transitions, I also think of a “T&D” magazine article by Jim Eisenheimer, entitled “The Art of Transition.” In it, Eisenheimer makes a comparison with transitions and triathlons and states, “It’s your skill at the hidden art of the transition that can make the difference in your ultimate success.” The following are some triathlon tips he suggests you try:

  • Look ahead and plan for the next transition
  • Mentally prepare for the transition as you get nearer to it
  • Embrace change, and adopt the new skills and tools
  • Don’t get flustered, smooth and calm win the day
  • Give yourself time to get up to speed in the new phase

Just as you would use a map to guide you on a road trip, plan out your path to successfully lead you through your transition. Think of it as your transitional compass. When doing this exercise, envision the triathlete transitioning from swimming to bike riding or think of the hikers ascending Mount Everest after resting (sometimes for 30 days) at each key elevation transition point. Everything they do is planned and calculated. They are prepared mentally and physically for the transitions they will be making throughout the course of their endeavors.

So, what happens if you ever feel resistance through a transition? Ask yourself “What will happen if I do nothing?” According to Bridges, transition is a process in which time is no longer the simple chronological ticking of the clock. Instead, transition is an internal process that marks time at its own pace, ebbing and flowing, with the momentum you allow it, or with your need to stand still.

As you move forward in life and continue to make transitions, embrace the experience and make the best of it. The more prepared and aware you are of the transition, the better equipped you’ll be to successfully navigate through it.

Mary Elizabeth Murphy is managing director of S.T.A.R. Resources, a performance management consulting and education firm that specializes in creating environments in which people want to work. You can reach Mary Elizabeth at info@starresources.biz.