Module Two – The Process of Change

Welcome to Module Two of the coaching program on
Thriving in Change

If you haven’t completed Module One, please do that first here.

One of the biggest reasons that change is necessary in our lives is that through it we experience personal growth.

But even though change is necessary, that doesn’t mean it has to be big for growth to happen. So let’s examine why change, even though clearly important to our growth and development, can still be difficult to handle.

  • Activity sheet 2
    Activity sheet 2

    Download and print out worksheet 2 – “Transitioning through Change”(3 pages)
    Review the following summary on The Process of Change and take notes on the worksheet of the points that resonate with you most.

The Process of Change

The Need for Internal Transitions

The first thing to understand about change is that it is an event—something external that happens. As a result of this change, we have an emotional response to it.

Even though this event happened suddenly (we lose our job, get in a car accident, etc.), the time it takes to process it doesn’t happen as quickly. We’re affected emotionally, and that takes a different amount of time to process.

So with every event of change that happens, there is a much slower internal transition we must also undergo.

This internal transition happens in three distinct phases. Let’s look at each individually.

Phase #1: Mourn, and then Let Go

Something always comes to end when we experience a change event, and we first have to allow ourselves time to mourn what’s been lost and then let go of it, regardless of whether what is ending is negative or positive.

The trapeze artist has to let go of the one bar he is holding first, before being able to grab hold of the next one.

The single greatest reason why change is so difficult for us is that we don’t mourn what has ended (good or bad), and then let it go. Instead, we stubbornly hold on to what ‘used to be.’

Phase #2: Enter the ‘The Neutral Zone’

Andre Gide, a French novelist once wrote,

“One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time.”

This quote captures precisely what is going on for us once we finally mourn and let go. Once we mourn and let go, we enter Phase 2 of the internal transition process called, ‘The Neutral Zone.’ It is during this middle phase that we find ourselves between what has ended and what has yet to begin.

Think back to the example of the trapeze artist. He has let go of the one bar, but at the same time, he isn’t yet able to reach out and grab hold of the next one because it hasn’t yet arrived. Timing is everything, right? So for a while, the trapeze artist appears lost in space, floating in emptiness.

This empty space is what is called ‘The Neutral Zone,’ and it can feel terrifying because it requires a great deal of faith and trust that something will be there, even though we may not be able to see it yet.

There are four reasons why ‘The Neutral Zone’ can feel so terrifying:

  1. It’s disorienting - we know we’re heading somewhere, but we don’t know exactly how we’re going to get there.
  1. It’s a time of high anxiety - our life has been upset by change, which makes us question our ability to operate in something new.
  1. It’s vulnerable - our weaknesses, insecurities or limitations may be revealed or exploited during this phase. The things we’re normally able to hide or avoid may come out into the open.
  1. It’s overwhelming - the change itself, plus any emotions combined with the uncertainty we are feeling during this phase, feels like a lot to deal with.

But from another point of view, ‘The Neutral Zone’ can also be an exciting time.

There are four reasons why ‘The Neutral Zone’ can feel exciting:

  1. Opportunity abounds - in ‘The Neutral Zone,’ everything and anything is possible.
  1. It’s a creative time - there are numerous ways our lives can morph into something new during this phase. We get to be creative in figuring out the new things what we want to become and experience.
  1. It reveals our strengths - while change can reveal our weaknesses and vulnerabilities, the positive side is that it also shows our strengths, capabilities and leadership.
  1. It reveals hidden talents - during this time, we just may discover hidden talents we didn’t know we had.

But we must remember: ‘The Neutral Zone’ takes time.

We cannot rush through ‘The Neutral Zone’ no matter how uncomfortable it feels.   This means we must surrender ourselves to this phase of the process – no matter how long it takes.

Phase #3: Arrive at a New Beginning

Once we get through ‘The Neutral Zone,’ we reach phase three, the final phase of the internal transition process. It is in this phase that we are ready for a new beginning – to have new growth, new activities, and new opportunities enter our lives.

New beginnings bring recharged energy levels. Our productivity increases, and so does our morale.

The lesson here is that when we are ready and open to accepting a new beginning, it will be there ready to catch us.

End of “The Process of Change”

Note: This content comes from the book: “Transitions – Making Sense of Life’s Changes” by William Bridges.

Debrief Questions

Answer the debrief questions below, then return to this module.

  • What change have you encountered recently, and what was your experience through these three phases?
  • Which of the three phases feels hardest for you? Easiest?
  • What stood out for you the most about this internal transition process?

Effectively handling change can only happen if you recognize the fact that the external event of change happens suddenly, but the internal transition through change happens at a much slower pace.

If you are going to successfully deal with change, it’s important to recognize your attitude towards it, and your knowledge of how it works.

If necessary, you may need to shift your attitude towards change so that you can allow it, and welcome new events, people and opportunities into your life.

In the next module, you will look at what it takes to have the right attitude towards change.

End of Module Two