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Durable Change Demands Intensive Emotional Transitions

By: , Posted on: September 1, 2021

The Problem of Change

Learned Mindfulness amplifies the adaptive transformation of an abrupt change to become a secure transition to a new beginning. Change provides a raw impetus, typically prompted by a loss or ending. Its transformation over time by a series of “ending sequences” enables a secure advance toward unexpected, new, and mature life journeys.

While this article highlights change as the endings associated with loss, its strategies also underlie the wish for intentional change from less to healthier conditions. For example, stale life habits, addictions (e.g., smoking, overeating), and the proverbial life “rut” are amenable to change. These “boxes of conventional familiarity” are often staid and even unnoticed, only felt as boredom. However, ensuring one’s efforts to change leading to an improved and sustainable outcome requires mindfulness. Durability results from the inner emotional transitions needed to reconfigure the transformative process toward stabilization.

Emotional transitions are lifelong processes. Transitions are the internal reconfigurations that make external changes successful. Change, whether positive or negative, causes attitudinal shifts. Events in life—the provocateurs of change—impose challenges requiring earlier thinking and behaving to shift to meet current goals. We choose some changes; most just occur.

How change becomes successful depends on how feelings manage and create positive outcomes. For example, being laid off or needing thousands of dollars for an unexpected car repair ordinarily provokes frustration, anger, and sadness. Rather than let these mixed emotions well up and confuse thinking, an intentional pause is best. Pausing opens opportunities for feelings to decrease and permit clearer problem-solving to emerge.

Learned Mindfulness

Emotional transitions are keys to successful life changes. Learning mindfulness—expanded awareness characterized by immediacy and non-judgment—sharpens attention to detail without bias. This mindful mindedness supports emotional equanimity and psychological equipoise. These instrumental skills make problem-solving effective (Ninivaggi, 2019).

Today, this strategy remains valid and includes “stress” and “burnout” prevention. These refinements are incorporated in the “Learned Mindfulness” model of relaxation and stress reduction, highlighting the nuanced differences between change and transition.

Change is external—something that happens to you, a situation imposed by outside circumstances or unforeseen health problems.

Transition is always an internal or psychological event. It is —and needs to be—an intentional reconfiguration—transformations to a new future. Understanding its mental and emotional components is crucial. A transitional pause makes possible to accept, work through, and incorporate imposed changes. Transitions call for significant transformations in your mind and your life.

Change happens quickly. Transitions need a deliberate creation with mindful guidance and watchful management. The threefold structure of transitional stages entails

  • the entire cycle of loss
  • a period of silent chaos
  • the emergence of a new beginning.

Endings are the abrupt indicators of change with distressing surprises. Loss and “letting go” are complex emotional events. Inserting Mindfulness (e.g., “emotional equanimity”) as a platform of responsivesiveness leads to fewer surprises that are disarming. Change matures into stability by traversing three transitional stages. All are important. Transitional Stage 1, Loss and the Ending Process, is top-heavy because it is front-loaded with the five crucial elements that define the essence of transition.

People change but forget to tell themselves. Mindfulness lessens the abruptness of surprises while fostering the bridging of endings, transitioning, and new beginnings.

Transitional Stage 1. Loss and the Ending Process

Transitional stage 1 begins with an imposed loss. Imposed may entail coming from the outside or intentionally from within. Change becomes strikingly clear when endings occur. All developmental theories about childhood, adolescence, adulthood, and older age highlight the unfolding of ends transitioning toward new beginnings. Endings are outward rearrangements with real consequences. Skillfully handling them is successful transitioning.

Change meets resistance because no one wants to leave comfortable positions. Resistance is the denial of unfolding change, perhaps an unrealistic sense of finality without a future. Avoiding making needed adjustments to rework old, ended routines are typical. Stalling is deadly because this encumbrance to moving forward increases stress leading to burnout. Purposeful pause is sorely needed. This breather quiets your mind so that conscious goals and innovative surprises can emerge to form new beginnings from the successful transition process.

Losses mark significant lifelong changes. Major endings include job loss, relationships, living conditions, health status, and ultimately death. Each brings challenges because interpersonal and social systems embed us in routines with expectable futures. What happens in any part affects each member and the entire system. Adapting to new circumstances with mental and emotional acceptance through each stage ushers in new beginnings. Abrupt change is harsh, frequently unexpected. Intentional change is a loss that is self-directed and desirable. Both ending processes are challenging.

The ending process marks the start of transitions to new beginnings. Managing endings is the complex process of “letting go.” Effectively accomplishing this entails traversing five elemental subphases. Each phase is clear-cut but is paradoxically embedded in the entire process. The crucial point to remember is that each step must have ample time to set in, develop, and work itself to sufficient completion. Put differently, the entire ending process must address each element for the ending to become a coherent transitional platform that generates a new beginning. Successful transitioning is the core of “actionably going forward.”

The five elements making up the ending process entail disengaging, dismantling old perspectives, releasing old self-identities, giving up earlier versions of one’s worldview, and accepting a temporary condition of feeling lost and directionless.

  1. Disengaging: separation from the past
  2. Dismantling old routines: cognitive unpacking
  3. Dis-identification: releasing old identities to become a “non-identity.” Old roles and ways of identifying oneself must drop by the wayside so that one now assumes a “no-name.”
  4. Disenchantment: giving up earlier versions of one’s relationship worldview as no longer authentic, relevant, and useable. Thus, mindless self-delusion dissolves, and a new, mindful adaptive structure begins forming.
  5. Disorientation: accepting temporary loss and direction-lessness felt as “chaos.” One must embrace goal-lessness while one’s long-held routine structures fade away.

Mindful keys include patience, pause, and receptivity. Receptivity means listening carefully to one’s inner emotional states. This openness complements the empathetic communications from supportive others. The “end” of endings is when one intentionally and actively “lets go.”

Transition Stage 2: Being in Fallow Chaos, the Bridge to Inner Change

Change is inevitable. Responsiveness to change can be simple or complex, depending on age and development. When transitioning from one life era to another, change has greater depth, significance, and consequences.

For example, simple changes are alterations of weather or running out of gas and the need to refill. Complex change is a child preparing to attend first grade but having an accident that causes immobility that postpones entry into school for months. This change delays emotional and social expectations, setting up needs for the child and family that differ from the typical group. Emotionally reorganizing for both child and family helps build a transitional bridge to a new and unexpected path.

Another example is a person of 60 not ready to retire, seeing a coworker die unexpectedly.

Such an unfortunate loss provokes normal grief and triggers reconsidering health and occupational trajectory. Old mindsets break down—permitting building bridges toward a future of new possibilities.

Transitional challenges begin with confusion and distress. Forced pausing is inevitable when the old ceases. New routines need to emerge slowly. Time and patience permit transitions to unfold at their own pace.

This middle phase of transition is where much nonconscious changing occurs. The flux of confusing emotions and disorientation covers the actual change occurring below. Gradually, ideas arise, and newfound clarity supports successful decision-making. Loss and maturely “letting go” become the bridge–seeing and grasping something new.

Transitional Stage 3: The Beginning

New beginnings emerge quietly from successful transition processes. Since these novel starts are unexpected, people never see them coming but only appreciate them in retrospect.

New beginnings are original. Little can precede descriptions other than needing to grasp them with mindful perception, welcome, and appreciation. Once the new beginning is born, one’s job is to help it materialize. This endeavor calls for watchful surveillance, always ready to adapt to emerging challenges.

Thus, Learned Mindfulness amplifies the transformative adaptation of abrupt changes by using the intentionality of the change-transition phase strategy.  Conditions are created so that successful new beginnings are given a chance to emerge. Change may provide the raw impetus of an ending, but only its transformation can facilitate fresh and mature life journeys.

Transitions are the internal reconfigurations that make external changes successful. Events in life—the provocateurs of change—impose challenges requiring earlier thinking and behaving to shift, often radically, to meet current goals. We choose some changes; most just occur. Learned Mindfulness puts us in charge.


Ready to read this book?

Learned Mindfulness: Physician Engagement and M.D. Wellness is available now on ScienceDirect. Or buy your own copy on the bookstore and save 30% plus get free shipping when you use the promo code STC30.





Bridges, William, Susan Bridges (2017). Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change. Boston, MA: DaCapo Perseus Books.

Kahn, Charles H. (1999). The Art and Thought of Heraclitus. NY, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Ninivaggi, Frank, John (2019). Learned Mindfulness: Physician Engagement and MD Wellness. Cambridge, MA: Elsevier/Academic Press.

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