Dr Bev Smallwood

Articles Library: Leadership

How to Identify the Major Psychological Processes in Transition

It would be difficult to name an industry or a profession today that is not faced with the task of adjusting to change. The question is not if major changes will strike an organization, bur rather how soon and how drastic they will be.

Change: The Plusses and Minuses

The effects of changing work environments may be both positive and negative. On the positive side, no growth or challenge could occur without change. Through it, both managers and employees may find excitement, stimulation, rejuvenation, and professional advancement.

However, change also has it dark side for both the individual and the organization. Change – even good change – is stressful, for it shifts our physical or psychological equilibrium, causing the body to prepare for fight or flight, the stress response.

Adapting to change also requires much energy, potentially inhibiting creative thinking, problem solving, and work productivity. The anger and hostility with which some individuals react can interfere with work relationships with peers and supervisors alike. All of these factors, taken together, make it imperative that both the human and the monetary cost of change be minimized by learning effective skills for coping with change constructively. A starting point is to identify the major psychological transitions that accompany major change in the lives of employees.

Successful New Beginnings

William Bridges in his book, Transitions, has described the stages that are inherent in successful adaptation to change…Endings, Neutral Zone (The Wilderness), and New Beginnings. These stages are described more fully in our article, >>>>.

Every transition begins with Endings. A person in transition then travels through the confusion of the in-between time, The Wilderness, and, hopefully, into New Beginnings.

People who make transitions successfully are those who are able to find ways within the new situation to get their old needs met in new ways. In other words, they are able to discover what they do have, rather than focusing on what they don’t have.

Five Major Psychological "Mirror-Image" Processes

“Endings” and “New Beginnings” are mirror images of each other, if psychological transition is successful. Let’s examine five of the most important of these.

The final major stage of transition, then, is “beginnings.” To really commit to new beginnings, an individual must actually reverse the steps taken in accomplishing “endings.” He or she much re-engage and challenge presently unworkable thoughts and beliefs, the individual now has a revised thought pattern which is in line with current reality. Furthermore, the person is able to establish a new positive identity that is congruent with the change. A re-orientation occurs, and with it the individual formulates new goals, plans, and dreams.

1. Disengagement/Re-engagement.

First, a person in transition disengages, leaving behind old physical locations, routines and methods, and people. This typically occurs as the situational change takes place.

When the individual makes a good adjustment, he or she is able to adapt to new locations, feel comfortable with new ways of doing things, and connect with new people.

2. Disenchantment/Revised thinking.

“Disenchantment” refers to the letting go of the beliefs, dreams, and thoughts associated with the old methods. This is perhaps the most difficult task. The longer the beliefs and ways of thinking have been present, the more difficult it becomes.

Rethinking “how we do things”, questioning the wisdom of old assumptions, and challenging outdated concepts are the keys to success in forming thought habits that work in the new situation.

3. Disidentification/Re-identification.

A third psychological process involves the person’s and/or organization’s identify. It is no small challenge to give up those parts of identity associated with the old pattern. This may be seen in the struggle often experienced when an individual retires, marries, divorces, changes jobs, changes job functions, or moves to a new location. In all of these cases, the person no longer “is” something he or she was before the change occurred. Further, when an organization is acquired, merges, or simply changes names or logos, its members may face an “identity crisis.”

The transition task is to “re-identify” within the new situation. This is best accomplished by people who are able to see that their new situation reflects values congruent with their own and that it allows them to contribute in ways they do it best.

4. Disorientation/Reorientation.

A fourth step in accomplishing an ending is “disorientation.” That is, one loses the plans, goals, and personal direction that had been a part of the old pattern.

In New Beginnings, people feel involved in new plans. They set revised goals to accomplish things they consider meaningful. They feel a new sense of purpose and direction that motivates them.

5. Disequilibrium/Equilibrium

From Endings through The Wilderness, people experience emotional imbalance. During the adjustment period, one may still be struggling with the anger or grief associated with endings and may be finding it difficult to connect with or even see the possibility of positive new beginnings. One may feel somewhat lost during this period. It may seem that familiar landmarks are gone. During this period of disequilibrium, an individual may feel that he or she is simply “going through the motions.” The person may experience a tendency to withdraw from others.

All of this is normal.

Time alone to think, re-evaluate, and process the changes is absolutely essential during transition. Gradually, one begins to glimpse new possibilities. As they accomplish the other four adjustments, they gradually regain a sense of equilibrium. When a successful transition has occurred, the individual has not only changed behavior. He or she has also found personal meaning and satisfaction in new method, environment, or lifestyle.

Dr. Bev Smallwood is a psychologist and professional speaker who is the author of “This Wasn’t Supposed to Happen to Me.” Visit her website, www.DrBevSmallwood.com; or contact Bev at 601.264.0890 or by email, Bev@DrBevSmallwood.com. Also connect with Bev on Twitter, Facebook, Linkedin, and her blogs, Shrink Rap and New Morning Devotionals.

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