This is the second post in my series on Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes by William Bridges. You are welcome to read the posts in any order you like, but you might find it helpful to start with my first post, Change vs Transition, before diving into the first rule of transition.
One of the things I appreciated most about Bridges’ approach to transition is his ability to find the structure in chaos. When I think about the significant changes I’ve experienced in my life, every single one brought chaos and uncertainty. Getting married, having a baby, moving overseas, moving back to the states, starting a business… each of these events was a chaotic upheaval. They were wonderful, welcome, life-changing events, but they were turbulent nonetheless. And these were changes I wanted and was excited about! The chaos that comes with unwanted or unexpected change is even greater.
William Bridges systematically breaks down the transition process that occurs within change, and he does so by identifying four rules and three stages of transition. Today, I’m going to briefly go over rule number one, using one of my major life changes as an example.
The first rule of transition: When you’re in transition, you find yourself coming back in new ways to old activities.
When we’re experiencing a transition and the uncertainty that follows, it makes sense that we’d seek out people, things, or activities that feel familiar. In fact, when I’m working with a client who has recently experienced a change event, I ask them about how they spend their time. This helps me identify where they’re at in the transition process, how their energy is coming through in their lives, and sometimes, it gives me a clue as to what they value most.
When my husband separated from the Air Force, we moved back to the United States to a town where I didn’t know a single person. I felt alone, lonely, and disconnected, and I struggled to find my place in an unfamiliar place. So what did I do? I signed up for my second marathon and devoted myself to training. I hired a coach and followed her plan meticulously, missing only two runs in a six-month period.
Looking back, I see that I was definitely in the second stage of the transition process – the hazy neutral zone. I felt unmoored and unanchored, and I desperately needed structure in my life. (And let me tell you, a marathon plan will definitely add structure to your life!)
On the surface, you might infer that I value hard work, consistency, and am willing to take on a challenge. All of those things are (on a good day) true. Plus, you might guess that I value health and that exercise is important to me. Again, on a good day, true.
But in coaching, we’re always digging just a little deeper, and when we dive in deeper to this story, there’s more. I’m someone who values connection, and when I felt lonely in a new town, I craved it. Training for a marathon helped me stay emotionally and spiritually connected to my running partners from Germany. I might not be with them in person on my training runs, but in my mind, they were with me on every run. And one of them even came to run the big race with me.
Not only was running familiar, but it made me feel strong and accomplished. Hitting your first 40-mile week, or finishing a 20-mile run is an empowering experience, and during a time where I felt lonely and anchorless, a dose of empowerment was extraordinarily powerful.
In my next post, we’ll take on the second rule of transition. Do you know what it is? I’ll give you a Harry Potter hint: I open at the close.
In the meantime, I’d love to hear about your experience with this first rule. When you’re going through change, in what ways do you return to the familiar? To what extent does that reflect who you are and what’s important to you? Let me know!