The most difficult changes to navigate are the ones that we do not choose—the surprises that interrupt our lives and best laid plans. The pandemic certainly fits into this “unwelcome” category. It not only threatens our lives, it has fundamentally changed how we operate in our homes, work environments, schools, and places of worship. It has also changed how we interact, recreate, and socialize.
So many aspects of our lives were quickly transformed by Covid-19, and there is no timeframe for returning to “normal.” Therefore, how do we cope when our personal and work lives are altered so radically? How do we provide guidance to our friends, family members, and colleagues when we ourselves are floundering?
For great advice on navigating life during this pandemic, check out “Designing Your Covid Life,” a series of short videos that can help to point you in the right direction. They are produced by Bill Burnett and Dave Evans who are instructors in the Design Program at Stanford University, and also wrote Designing Your Life: How to Build a Well-Lived, Joyful Life — a New York Times #1 “Best Seller.”
All of the videos in the Covid Life series are worthwhile, but the one titled “Generative Reframing” seems particularly relevant. To help set the stage, Burnett and Evans quoted William Bridges, preeminent authority on change:
It isn’t the changes that does you in, it’s the transitions. Change is not the same as transition. Change is situational. The new site, the new boss, the new team roles, the new policy. Transition is the psychological process people go through to come to terms with a new situation. Change is external, transition is internal.
In the Bridges model, transition is described as a three phase process:
Transition starts with an ending. This is paradoxical but true. This first phase of transition begins when people identify what they are losing and learn how to manage these losses. They determine what is over and being left behind, and what they will keep.
The second step of transition comes after letting go: the neutral zone. People go through an in-between time when the old is gone but the new isn’t fully operational. It is when the critical psychological realignments and repatterning take place. It is the very core of the transition process. This is the time between the old reality and sense of identity and the new one.
Beginnings involve new understandings, values, and attitudes. Beginnings are marked by a release of energy in a new direction – they are an expression of a fresh identity. Well-managed transitions allow people to establish new roles with an understanding of their purpose, the part they play, and how to contribute and participate most effectively. As a result, they feel reoriented and renewed.
However, what Burnett and Evans have observed is that, in response to the myriad of changes and uncertainties thrust upon us by Covid-19, many individuals are not engaging in the critically important Neutral Zone phase. Instead, they are lingering in the “Waiting Room”—a state of limbo that does nothing to contribute to making a successful transition. It is a frame of mind that lulls us into thinking it is okay to be in a holding pattern until the pandemic is over and “life can get back to normal.” However, what is essential now is letting go of our pre-pandemic expectations so that the new can be visualized and brought into reality.
Living and working during this worldwide pandemic is uncharted territory. With no clear ending in sight and so many areas of our lives affected, it is tempting to take a “wait and see” approach. However, this mindset can be likened to giving up the driver’s seat of our own lives. Although navigating the neutral zone can feel like scary place to be, it is the only place where real change can occur. Therefore, the first step to making life affirming Covid-19 transitions is to get out of the “waiting room” and step into the Neutral Zone.
Reprinted by permission of Money Quotient, Inc.