Transition is not about the passage of time but about an open mind. In our culture it has become a lost art.
Being that school is beginning in all its strange forms and COVID is keeping us in a palpably permanent state of flux, I am reposting this article - not to ease the discomfort, mind you, but to understand it and harness it.
Transition requires an open mind. This means suspension of expectation, of needing a particular outcome and, most of all, of judgement. Not something we are good at. Instead we approach life with a constricted or closed mind having been taught to assess rather than allow, and to do rather than to be.
In truth, we spend most of our lives in transition but we fail to recognize and acknowledge it as such. We transition to new jobs, new friends, new schools, new phases of our lives. Transition means that new things are happening - and that is wonderful. Or at least it should be. To our detriment, we have become rather intolerant and uncomfortable with new, preferring the old or the same. New frightens us. We worry about ourselves and others in new situations. Will our kids be liked, will we be smart enough, cool enough, strong enough, skilled enough, desirable enough? Will we?
‘New’ also known as the ‘unknown’ engenders so much fear that most of us would rather not chance it. We may not be satisfied with where we are, but in our assessment resisting change is often preferable to embracing it. We stay in jobs we don’t like, in marriages that have become unhappy, and in life routines that see very little day to day variation.
The unknown is not actually fearful, but we fear it.
One of the reasons we have problems with ‘new’ is that we have forgotten the art of transition. The telltale sign that we are in transition is discomfort. While discomfort means we are ready to break out of our shell, we have been taught to interpret it as weakness on our part, as something wrong. In response to our misperception, we prematurely and reflexively mobilize all of our cognitive resources to arrive at a near immediate assessment of whether we are going to be okay or if we need to abort. Our sole purpose being to ease the discomfort.
But growth is in the transition not in the outcome. Transition allows us to be present, to take in new information and to update our perspective. Thus our compulsion to minimize our discomfort, literally stunts our growth. It is not uncommon to find people who are seemingly in new situations all the time with virtually no growth. We all know people like this.
As parents, from the first moment our child enters school, camp or college we are looking for signs that they are ok. We need immediate relief and preferably from multiple sources. At dinner we ask questions of our kids that make it seem that they should always be okay - as if this is a static, achievable state. In focussing all of our fear on our kids, we fail to see our own co-occurring transitional opportunities along the way and we cease to grow.
I am struck by how many kids going off to college are harshly judging themselves by their second day on campus. We have absorbed the belief that we should be immediately fine with all things new. When we are not we start looking at others, believing everyone else if fine while we fall short. What follows is the obvious assumption that ‘something must be wrong with me’. We start to regret our choices, fear we will never be happy, fear it is too late and we somehow missed our chance. We become buried in self doubt, insecurity runs rampant and the self-other comparisons increase in scope and frequency. In a blink we have entered the self-fueling abyss of obsessive thought.
Transition should be seen as a practice that provides a guide to all things ‘new’ while affording opportunity for personal growth and success. Without transition training we are at the mercy of ‘new’ and yes, new will be scary, not unlike going into battle without basic training. Not a great idea.
Inserting a transition period into all new endeavors is essential. Initially, this transition period is a prescribed amount of time, chosen by us, where all judgement is suspended. This means no assessment, no comparing. Qualitative questions that we automatically ask ourselves like, “Am I happy? Do I like this? Did I make the right choice? Is this good/bad? Worse or better than before?’ are off the table during the transition period. Think of these questions as growth retardants.
We also do not use the past or the old as a benchmark we need exceed or as a reference for our new experience. New has to be completely separate from old or we are not growing anywhere. We will be forever looking back idealizing what was familiar and comfortable, wishing we were anywhere but where we are.
Familiar and comfortable, though seductive, are not expansive. We do not grow from comfort, we grow from making the choice for something new and allowing for a period of pure unobstructed transition. The longer you suspend judgment the more open you will be to your experience and the more exponential your growth. Ultimately you will never want to leave the open, judgement free zone that is transition.
For Fear: Transition Training
Growth is uncomfortable, period. Discomfort though is not a bad place to be once you start maximizing its benefits. To begin training:
1) Acknowledge Your Transition - a new job, new school, new food, new friend, new spouse, new teacher, a new diet or exercise regimen, a new medication, empty nesting, flying
2) Assign a time frame for your transition period. (This is arbitrary but make it generous)
A new school you may want to give 4 months
A new job you may want to give 6 months etc…
3) Commit to suspending all judgement during that time frame- this is the mind training piece and it is challenging.
What do you do with judgmental thoughts, feelings and emotions that arise? Banish them to the training tornado.
4) Technique for staying in transition: Use The (Mind) Training Tornado
Visualize a tornado swirling off in the distance. It will always be there for you to watch but you are always safe from this tornado.
As thoughts of judgement, assessment, or fear arise, pluck them from your head and allow them to be sucked into the swirling tornado.
Watch them go round and round in circles while you are separate from them and safe.
Go about your business.
5) Assess how you feel after 1 week of tornado training. Are you calmer? Are you catching your judgmental thoughts earlier? Are there fewer of them? Is your mind quieter?
Try something new: Email me to share your experience with tornado training. I love to hear from you.