Perspectives from the field: 3 practical tips to perform better through transitions

In recent weeks, it seems that everyone I speak with is in some kind of major transition – either job-related, personal or both. Re-organizations, job changes, weddings, babies… you name it!

I’ve noticed that, regardless of the type of adjustment, it’s usually a stressful process that most people struggle with. So what is it about a transition that is so difficult?


Transitions have to do with shifts in attention from one thing to another.  Some are simple shifts, like watching television and answering the phone, but the larger ones, like business model disruption, take mindful effort to manage gracefully.

We won’t get into the science behind it, but the reason transitions are so difficult is because each attention shift requires our brain to negotiate three distinct steps:

  1. Disengage from our current task
  2. Switch our attention to the new task
  3. Re-engage with the new task.

These are seemingly straightforward and unconscious actions, but our brains require an intricate set of skills – our executive brain functions – to accomplish them effectively. These executive functions help us to organize, plan, and problem solve.

Sometimes you need to take action to help them function better – particularly when under stress, which negatively impacts our ability to access these executive functions.

Three helpful tools that can increase your executive brain function are:

  1. Change your environment
    We all pick up clues from the world around us. When faced with a big transition, purposefully change your environment to give your brain a clue that “this is not the same; I need to approach this differently.”
  2. Talk to yourself
    Stressful transitions are not the time to be entertaining negative thoughts. It’s better to remind yourself of the benefits of the new future you are creating and frame it as “exciting,” reducing your fear and anxiety.
  3. Change your routines
    Routines are good. They enable us to stay organized and be efficient. Yet, when facing a life-changing transition, our routines can hold us back and keep us locked in “the old mindset,” ultimately restricting our ability to cope with change.

Coming out ahead

The bottom line: transition, though necessary, is hard. Change is hard. It creates fear, anxiety and stress – all of which inhibit our ability to perform.

By purposefully and proactively changing your physical environment, encouraging yourself through self-talk and changing up your routines, you make it easier to be creative and come up with novel ideas and approaches.

And when all else fails, be sure to keep Bob Marley queued up on your Spotify. 

This post was written for Paragon by Mike Ross.

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