Understanding the Emotions of Change & Transition

When was the last time you went through a transitional period in your life? How did you feel? Was it a positive or a negative experience? Most importantly, what was the catalyst behind your transition? Some people believe when one goes through a transition, the experience is emphatically negative, but this isn’t necessarily the case. We all experience transitional periods, often multiple times during our lives. The changes can range from big leaps to smaller, stepping stone changes. It could be like the time you applied for a new job and were successful, or when you switched from using regular to low-fat mayo. The point is, change is everywhere, whether it’s big or small, it’s all around us.

William Bridges, a renowned change consultant believes it’s normal to feel negative emotions when you experience change. In his Transition Model, he highlights the difference between CHANGE and TRANSITION. Change being the external events that happen around us -- like driving a new car, changing jobs or emigrating abroad. These events can happen quickly and abruptly, they can be a sudden shock to your system and unexpectedly change your life. Transition on the other hand deals with the inner psychological process of internalizing and accepting new situations. Behind every physical change, there’s a psychological impact attached to your mental process of acknowledging and dealing with change. While change is visible to the human eye, transition is hidden within you, only rearing its head as a direct result from change.

There are three phases of Bridges’ Transition Model, these being: 

  1. Ending, Losing, and Letting Go.

  2. The Neutral Zone.

  3. The New Beginning.

In order to successfully navigate a transition, we must pass through these phases, however, the time frame is solely dependent on the individual, as each individual navigates through the phases at their own pace and when they are ready. Unfortunately, there is’t a quick fix to Bridges’ transition theory, change and transition are a slow and arduous journey, that require determination and perseverance to navigate through the different stages.

Bridges’ theorizes that: 

Phase 1, The Ending: is marked with resistance and emotional upheaval caused by the sudden force to let go of the past, familiar and comforting. During The Ending, you tend to feel negative, angry, and lonely. You may feel resentment towards your new situation, and begin to cast doubts in your brain, asking yourself, “Why am I doing this?” and “Is this a mistake?” Yet, the acknowledgment of these negative emotions is an important step towards letting go of the old and familiar and coming to terms with your new reality. Only when you are able to let go of the past, will you have the capacity to embrace the new. It’s like when you start a new job, and you’re unsure about the tasks. You may feel apprehensive about your lack of knowledge, or too embarrassed to ask for help, so you begin to doubt yourself and regret quitting your old job where you knew the ins and outs and could do the tasks with your eyes closed! Yet, a different perspective is to view the situation as an opportunity for growth, a chance to learn new skills and to better yourself. By quitting your old job, you opened yourself up to new experiences and thus the opportunities to learn new skills through your change in position. The saying goes, “out with the old and in with the new!” A helpful way to remind yourself of the hidden gifts and opportunities within the challenges of navigating change is to think back to the catalyst --why did you choose to seek change in the first place? What were you unhappy about? Remember that you made a decision based on a real need and although all your challenges did not automatically disappear, you supported yourself out of an environment that may have felt toxic or was no longer supporting your growth. 

Phase 2, the Neutral Zone is often met with confusion, uncertainty, and impatience. Depending on how well you're managing change, you may experience different emotions. Some people may have unanswered questions and feelings of anxiety towards change, while others may accept change more willingly. For those who are resistant to change, you will notice a drop in morale and increased scepticism towards change. The transition from Phase 1 to Phase 2 is like crossing a bridge, imagine yourself crossing from Brooklyn to Manhattan. It’s an integral time as you carefully tread across at your own pace, leaving the old to move towards the new and unknown. Even though negative emotions can surface, once you’re able to break through the uncomfortable, you will tap into your creativity and innovation, making it the OPPORTUNE time to try new things. Does it sound familiar? When was the last time you opened yourself up and tried something new? What did you do and how did it feel? As you break through your mental constraints, you also break free from your old habits and old mentality. Only then will you have the capacity to really open yourself up to the new opportunities that were always there, yet seen through an obscured lens.

Phase 3, The New Beginning is when you’ve successfully crossed over to the other side. This is a period of acceptance and energy where you will have a new lease of life and find renewed energy to embrace the new. In Phase Three,  you’ll continue building and improving your new skillset, and you’ll begin to see the fruits of your labour. Suddenly, you’ll realise it was all worth it, all that time and energy you spent casting self-doubts and feeling insecure will finally make sense. As you begin to embrace your new situation, everything will slot into place like a puzzle piece, you will finally see the light shining through the tunnel while you’re walking towards it, and can bask in it.

While Bridges’ Transition Model identifies the key emotional phases of transition, it is important to remember that the transition journey is fraught with negative emotions that often cast doubts in your mind. However, after you’ve crossed the bridge, you'll be able to look back, reflect and see that any doubt, anger or loneliness you may have felt was actually only you experiencing Phase One. From there, hopefully you’ll recognize how perfectly normal it was to feel those emotions and not only that but you’ll see just how vital they were towards the larger process of your transitional journey. As playwright and political activist George Bernard Shaw once wrote, “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” We cannot progress in any aspect of life if we’re not susceptible to change, and if we cannot change then we remain stagnant, forever stuck, never moving forward, never progressing, and never reaching your goals.

Of course, sometimes it’s difficult to know how and where you want to progress. Sometimes, you need a bit of assistance, a guiding hand to help focus your mind towards your goals and aspirations. If this resonates with you and you need a helping hand in clarifying and setting your goals in this particular time of change then download our SMART goals worksheet. The worksheet is designed to help you to organise your thoughts using a simple framework, giving you clear indicators of how to reach your goals. We all need support

every now and then so download your free SMART Goals Worksheet today and feel free to reach out with any questions that arise along the way.


Tel:  +1 760-705-8888 (N America) 

Tel: +66 99 131 1675 (SE Asia )

Tel: +256 077 839 5601(E Africa)

  • Black Facebook Icon
  • Black Instagram Icon
  • Black Google+ Icon

© 2017 Akwése Global Enterprises

Name *

Email *