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Change & Transitions: Unsettling ≠ ?

Change & Transitions: Unsettling ≠ ?

“Not in his goals but in his transitions man is great”… Ralph Waldo Emerson (William Bridges Associates, n.d.). William Bridges, change consultant and author of the Bridges Transition Model, describes the importance of acknowledging the human tendency to resist change and address it proactively in his best-selling book, Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes (2004).  Bridges’ model points to what is sometimes overlooked by managers who lead change, but something which can handily derail the best-laid plans. That something is the need to focus on the Transition, not the Change, and to address the impact of the human aspect of change in the transition from an ending to a new beginning. Let’s admit it. Change and transition are unsettling. Period. But …. Unsettling Impossible. And Unsettling ≠ Failure to a successful transition.

So, how can the Bridges Transition Model help nursing, help nurses, more successfully manage the unsettledness of the current healthcare climate, and the nursing workplace? Understanding the human side of change and transition is a paramount first step at this time of heightened uncertainty and change. Like it or not, nursing is in a transition of some type. And we are unsettled! For you, what does the ? mean in the following: Unsettling ≠ ?. What is the other side of the ≠ for you? Let’s start with, “What does being Unsettled mean for you in the real world of nursing work?” Maybe “Unsettled = time for a change”, or maybe for you it means “wait it out.” Either way with the current unsettled situation in healthcare, there WILL be CHANGE, and CHANGE means you are headed for a TRANSITION of some sort. Are you ready for a Transition? Just remember, Bridges’ model (2004) advises to focus on the Transition and it’s impact on the human aspect, not the Change and it’s impact.

The first step of the Bridges Transition Model (2004) begins with identifying Change as the outcome, the event itself, and Transition as the process, psychological in nature. A process is not an A-Z, “one size fits all” step. Telling ourselves – or others – “just do it” or “get over it and move on” is not aligned with the reality of human nature. That is not how a process works. And we are after all – human – all of us. Humans become Unsettled in a Transition. The Unsettledness is due to our human need for attachment and a secure footing to meet basic human needs. Change threatens both. Change requires an Ending, as Bridges terms the first stage of the Model. An ending must precede a New Beginning, the last stage of the Bridges model. Even contemplating an Ending can bring mixed feelings, as our minds and hearts sort through a myriad of experiences and emotions, coming to terms with what will be, or is, lost. Ambivalence, recognizing that the loss is not all black and white, can make the transition more difficult as it is easy then to question the positive aspect of the ending and moving ahead to what is new. Because we are all human, progression through the process of the Ending is both a journey and a struggle. Adventure awaits but the loss is real and must be dealt with. Transition = Unsettledness. Is this where you are at?

The second step of the Bridges Transition Model (2004) is the Neutral Zone. This is achieved when the “letting go” has occurred. This means the loss, the Ending, has been reconciled and movement toward the New Beginning is in action. This is a time of uncertainty, with the familiar gone and the inundation of the new. Such a time of Unsettledness brings new opportunities, and not just for a new task or a new way of doing, but because internal unsettling can give rise to new perspectives and insight, the possibilities for personal growth are primed. Transition = Readiness for Growth. Is this where you are?

The third step of the Bridges Transition Model (2004) is New Beginnings. Because Transition is a process – and not a task or outcome – the expression of this stage is defined in psychological processes terms, such as opportunity for the NEW – new ways of thinking, understanding, new attitudes, perspectives, values, new role, even new identity. Who knew that Transition could lead to so much new? Transition = the NEW. Is this where you are at? If you are, it’s time for a new orientation, a forward moving one, which will lead to a Renewal. Then Transition » Renewal.

The threat of change, in actuality, is the promise of hope for a new beginning. That promise comes in the form of transition, which in and of itself can be unsettling enough to human psychological processes to create a perceived threat.  Stay the course. Do not let any threat derail a successful transition, one that moves you toward a renewal, a new beginning. Move through the pain of the transition and make this real in your life: Unsettled = Transition = Hope.

Ottawa University is here to assist you in moving forward in your life and career.


Bridges, W. (2004). Transitions: Making sense of life's changes. DaCapo Lifelong Books.

William Bridges Associates (n.d.). Bridges transition model.



Posted: 04/24/2023
Updated: 05/02/2023 by Dr. Ruth L.M. Burkhart, DNP, MA, RN-BC, LPCC
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