How to Transition Through Crisis

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The Chinese character for crisis consists of two parts: one signifies danger and the other opportunity. This is the nature of change; we respond to both aspects, danger and opportunity. There is opportunity in danger and danger in opportunity. 

The path through transitions, whether our choice or due to outside forces such as a pandemic, is rarely smooth or predictable. We need to recognize that change is occurring and let go of our old ways, which is often an emotional struggle. 

External global forces, as well as internal economic and social pressures, are now contributing to transition in all of our lives, affecting both our personal and our professional worlds.

There are four phases of transition.

The first phase is denial. Our first response is often shock, a general refusal to recognize the information. In this way, we protect ourselves from being overwhelmed. Common responses to this include:

Denial: “This can’t be happening.”

Ignoring: “I’ll just wait until this blows over.”

Minimizing: “This just needs a few minor adjustments.” “I can just tweak this.” “If only…”

The second phase is resistance. In this phase, things often seem to get worse. It is common to spend time looking for someone or something to blame. Personal distress levels rise. You may become physically ill or feel all sorts of physical, emotional or mental symptoms. In this phase, you are mourning the past more than preparing for the future. 

By acknowledging your feelings, you are ready to move more quickly to the next phase. 

The third phase is exploration. After a period of struggle, individuals and organizations usually emerge from their negativity, breathe a sigh of relief, and shift into a more positive, hopeful, and future-focused phase. You realize you are going to make it through OK.

What emerges here is the energy to put an idea into action. You begin to discover and explore new ways of doing things. You start clarifying goals, assessing resources, exploring alternatives, and experiment with new possibilities. This is a period of high energy. 

Finally, the last phase is commitment. You have broken through the challenges and adapted to the new situation. The commitment phase begins when you focus on a new course of action. There has been growth and adaptation. 

This cycle of transition never ends. As long as you live, you will continually experience a rhythm of change and face new challenges and crises. Knowing the different phases of transition may help make the transitions easier to move through.

By Pat Obuchowski

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