Life transitions are inevitable. From the moment we are born, we are transitioning mentally, emotionally and physically. Life transitions are necessary for individual and collective evolution. Here is a beautiful quote from philosopher and architect, R. Buckminster Fuller:
“I don’t know what I am. I know that I am not a category. I am not a thing – a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process – an integral function of the universe.”
We are a fluid evolutionary process. In the midst of change, we must manage life transitions in order to maintain sound footing in the present and a watchful eye towards the future. Our mental, emotional and physical health depends upon it. Our ability to live happy productive lives depends upon the thoughtful grounded manner in which we manage life transitions.
Some people are able to successfully rise above intense crisis, see a silver lining and move towards a deeper more meaningful life. Other people unsuccessfully crumble from a minor stress. Some people seek out challenges and are invigorated and enriched from the bumps in the road that risk taking inevitably presents. Others avoid any new experience. Psychologists and researchers who study the human condition continue to seek answers as to why some people successfully manage transition while others do not.
William Bridges, PhD in his bestselling book Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change makes a point of separating the two notions of change versus transition. Bridges explains that with change, a person focuses on the outcome that the change produces. He uses an example of moving from California to New York City; moving across the U.S. then learning to navigate in New York City. People understand the basic change and how they will be affected by it. However transition is quite different. Transition includes not only managing change from a starting point, but accepting the fact that one will have to leave the old situation behind; in other words, letting go of an old reality and embracing a new reality. Feelings of loss are surely generated in transition, and unless those feelings of loss are properly managed, change cannot successfully occur.
Self Efficacy in Changing Societies features the work of Matthias Jerusalem and Waldemar Mittag (edited by Albert Bandura). World famous psychologist Albert Bandura defined self efficacy as our personal belief in our ability to succeed in specific situations. Our sense of self-efficacy plays a major role in how we approach goals and challenges. In simpler terms, self efficacy defines how much or how little faith we have in ourselves. People with perceived high self efficacy trust their own capabilities to manage change along with new environmental demands. These people have a tendency to interpret demands and problems more as challenges instead of uncontrollable events outside their scope of control. They face stressful situations with confidence. A strong sense of self, one’s ability to navigate change and transition, buffers distress and fosters strength. Conversely, people with low perceived self efficacy are prone to self doubting and anxiety. Coping is replaced by worry, lack of self confidence and any feedback from others is interpreted as criticism of personal value. They feel more responsible for failure than for success.
When facing a significant life change, here are a few practical suggestions to make the transition more successful:
• Do not criticize yourself if you feel anxious or slightly depressed. Most likely these feelings will pass as you ground yourself in positive self regard and strength.
• Visualize your new situation with positive regard.
• Allow yourself time to let go of your old reality and see the new reality as an opportunity; a naturally positive occurrence in life’s path.
• Be realistic about the time and resources needed to adjust to your new environment.
• Most importantly, if you need help adjusting, get help. A professional licensed therapist will be able to help you navigate through change and make the most out of your new situation.
Polly Sykes, Registered Psychotherapist, MEd, RP, is a Toronto Psychotherapist with extensive post-graduate training and experience in the treatment of Trauma, and the use of Emotion-Focused Therapy for both Individuals and Couples. The support of an experienced and highly-skilled Psychotherapist can be a powerful tool to help you face the challenges of life with more hope, more self-acceptance, and stronger relational bonds.