Without a transition, a change is just a rearrangement of the furniture.

–William Bridges

I can easily say that I learn as much from my clients in the course of a therapy session, then perhaps they often learn from me. At the end of each day when the last client has left the office, and I lock my door and head home, I am grateful for the many insights that come in my interaction with them.

Recently, one very astute client declared during session, “I love change, but hate transition.”

I was instantly intrigued. My blog for many years has had the tagline, “Transitioning Life’s Journey“, and transition is a topic that I speak a lot on, and that has been an important concept in my own life. But I don’t think I have thought much about the difference between change and transition.

And there is a big difference. Failure to differentiate the two can lead a person down two very different paths.

In the book, Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes (HT: to my dad Timothy Smith and my friend Adam McHugh for suggesting this book to me) William Bridges differentiates the two very nicely:

Our society confuses them constantly, leading us to imagine that transition is just another word for change. But it isn’t. Change is your move to a new city or your shift to a new job. It is the birth of your new baby or the death of your father. It is the switch from the old health plan at work to a new one, or the replacement of your manager by a new one, or it is the acquisition that your company just made.

In other words, change is situational. Transition on the other hand, is psychological (bold added for emphasis). It is not those events, but rather the inner reorientation and self-redefinition that you have to go through in order to incorporate any of those changes into your life. Without a transition, a change is just a rearrangement of the furniture. Unless transition happens, the change won’t work, because it doesn’t ‘take.’ Whatever word we use, our society talks a lot about change; but it seldom deals with transition. Unfortunately for us, it is the transition that blind-sides us and is often the source of our troubles.

And that is the very reason for why many of the changes that people hope to make in 2011 won’t “take.” They will spend all their time making the situational changes, but little or none of the psychological changes.

A husband and wife will commit to change some habits and commit to more date nights, but they may do little or nothing of the psychological work to build and maintain an emotional, spiritual, physical and psychological connection. Date nights alone don’t make for an improved marriage.

A pastor may make changes to the mission of the church he or she pastors, but may have dealt with little or none of the psychological issues in their own lives that may hamper them from effectively bringing about the change. New mission statements don’t make for a new vision.

A recent college graduate may make the change to move to a new city for a new job, thinking this is the answer to their loneliness and feeling of disconnection, but may do little or nothing in the way of dealing with psychological issues that are at the root of the problems. A change of scenery doesn’t create connection.

Change can come easy, but transitioning will take work. So don’t commit to just changing this year, but commit to transitioning.