Surviving and Thriving in Change. Blog 1: Managing transitions
The first of a series of four blogs by Creative Coach Auriel Majumdar exploring the impact of Coronavirus. Written in real time over April and May 2020 they look at how the new reality is affecting us as individuals and those around us. Each blog also gives tried and tested practical strategies that help us navigate the way forward.
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be writing a series of blogs exploring the impacts of the current pandemic. I’ll take a look at how the situation is evolving in real time and think about the impacts the situation is having on us as individuals and on those around us. My intention as I write is to reflect and notice what is going on but also, as a practising coach and teacher to suggest some tried and tested practical strategies for understanding and supporting ourselves and others.
Different sailing boats in the same choppy seas
As I begin, I’m really aware of the paradox that although we are all in the same situation, we are each uniquely impacted by it – different sailing boats on the same choppy seas. Some of us will be key workers for instance, some of us will be furloughed, some of us freelancers will be worrying where the next bit of work is going to come from. We may be home alone, isolated with children, separated from loved ones. Some of us will have leadership roles and some of us will feel like we’re on the outside looking in.
I would encourage you, whatever your situation to take some time out for yourselves as you read these blogs to reflect on your own unique situation, honour it and commit to whatever will support you best.
Today, as I write, I have been on lockdown for three weeks and the Prime Minister Boris Johnson has just been admitted to Intensive Care. Even as I’m typing those words I’m struck by the strangeness of that sentence. Our language has changed dramatically – we now use terms like ‘lockdown’ and ‘self-isolation’ and ‘furlough’ without giving them a second thought. The word that crops up repeatedly as I speak to people about the pandemic is ‘surreal’. The speed at which recent events have unfolded and the life or death nature of them leaves me gasping for breath. It's as if the solid ground that we took for granted is shifting beneath our feet. So how do we take care of ourselves in times of seismic change like these?
As I consider this question, I keep coming back to the ideas of the change consultant William Bridges who talks about how we deal with change in his ground-breaking book Managing Transitions. Bridges suggests that it’s not the external change from one state to another that we find most difficult but the internal psychological effects of the transition between the old and the new. He calls the bit in the middle the Neutral Zone when we have left the old but we don’t yet know what the new beginning looks like. The Neutral Zone can be a place of uncertainty, fear, confusion, anxiety, grief – basically all the emotions that we might be experiencing right now. Our old lives of freedom, work, friends and family have been taken away from us and none of us, not even those in power can say with much certainty what might be around the corner.
Ending, losing, letting go
This model might explain why so many of us are experiencing the pandemic in the way we are but does Bridges’ theory of Transitions offer us any hope? When I’m working with my coaching clients who are processing complex change, I encourage them to do what Bridges suggests and say goodbye to the old situation first – letting go has to happen before you move on. In the current pandemic this might mean allowing yourself to accept and process the scale of your losses as suggested in this powerful article about grief and the pandemic. Acknowledging what has gone is likely to sting but eventually it will free you to focus on how to manage life in the Neutral Zone. So take the time you need to feel angry or sad about the changes without feeling self-indulgent or over dramatic.
Life in limbo
Unless we have access to expert knowledge, none of us have any certainty about what comes next in this pandemic crisis. Its hard to think about New Beginnings because we don’t know what or when they might be. We’re stepping off dry land into uncharted waters which will heighten our feelings of confusion and anxiety. Bridges recommends putting in place temporary structures in the Neutral Zone to create known routines to ground ourselves. Getting up at regular times, doing PE with Joe Wicks, observing mealtimes rather than just grazing can all help and if you’re in lockdown with children you might find that you are doing these things anyway to create structure for them.
Different things will work for different people of course so don’t judge yourself harshly if your routines look different to other people’s. What matters is what works. You might consider these questions as you think about the temporary certainties you want to create for yourself:
- What should I carry on doing/what should I not forget to do?
- What might I need to do differently?
- What new things might I need to do or put in place?
Creating points of structure
Creating helpful points of structure is not the same as making punishing lists of things to do or achieve however. When the crisis first hit, I noticed that I felt a great surge of adrenalin. I started sharing loads of links to online concerts and arts resources. I was full of good intentions and I saw that other people around me were full of ideas too – learning a language, getting fit and so on – as if this lockdown period was a gift of extra free time to be used wisely. As the situation has gone on, I’ve felt myself slowing down and my energy levels dipping. None of my self-improvement projects have amounted to very much. Its easy for this to be another stick to beat ourselves up with but it seems to me that the neutral zone demands that we are gentle with ourselves. If you are grieving this takes time and space.
Nurture yourself as you process what’s happening to you, go gently and don’t force the pace.
Now is the time to notice what works for you and what doesn’t, without judgement but with compassionate curiosity.
It seems to me that this Neutral Zone may last for a while and so Bridges’ ideas for New Beginnings will have to wait until the next blog. In the meantime, I’d suggest that we all spend this fallow period resting when we can, connecting with others and gathering our energy for what lies ahead. I’ll end with this beautiful poem by Mary Oliver that for me, captures this mood of stillness and reflection.
Today I’m flying low and I’m
not saying a word
I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.
The world goes on as it must,
the bees in the garden rumbling a little,
the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.
And so forth.
But I’m taking the day off.
Quiet as a feather.
I hardly move though really I’m traveling
a terrific distance.
Stillness. One of the doors
into the temple.
Aurel Majumdar, Creative Coach
Featured image: Anish Kapoor, Descent into Limbo