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How to Cope with a Major Life Change: Your Guide to Thriving After a Curveball 

Updated: Apr 20

Hear from Stephen Brown on this guest post who discussed how to effectively manage life's uncertainty. You’ll learn about the stages of going through change and how to not just cope, but thrive!


Let’s face it, we can make the best plans and set the most effective goals, but life often has a knack for throwing curveballs – career shifts that upend your carefully laid plaHow to Cope with a Major Life Change: Your Guide to Thriving After a Curveball ns, relationships that dissolve unexpectedly, health scares that leave you reeling. Suddenly, your world feels upside down. You grapple with existential questions: "Who am I now?" and "How do I navigate this new normal?" 


Believe me, I’ve been there. I remember a particularly brutal breakup that left me feeling utterly lost. Not only did I have to grieve the relationship and the life we'd built together, but the future I had meticulously envisioned evaporated into thin air. After the initial shock subsided, the overwhelming question hit me – "Who am I now?"  The path I thought I was on had vanished, and it was time for a complete life reset. 


These major life events can leave us feeling disoriented, questioning our identities and struggling to see a clear path forward. It's as if the map we used to navigate life has suddenly become useless. Thankfully, psychology offers a framework to help us rebuild our sense of direction and cultivate a new mindset after a period of upheaval. 



Enter Dr. William Bridges' Transition Model. ( This model provides a roadmap, outlining the emotional journey we experience during a major life change. It identifies three key stages: 

Bridges Transition Model
Bridges Transition Model

THE ENDING PHASE (the ‘getting closure’ bit): 

This initial period is marked by shock, denial, and grief. You might feel a deep sense of loss for the life and identity you've left behind. Acknowledging these emotions and allowing yourself time to grieve is crucial. Embracing closure allows you to move on from the past and make room for the future. A friend offered a comforting quote during this phase: "You've got to let go of the future you thought you were going to have to make room for the future you're actually going to have." Be patient with yourself. There's no one-size-fits-all approach to grieving. 


THE NEUTRAL ZONE (the ‘messy growth’ bit): 

This is the in-between phase, often filled with uncertainty and confusion. You're no longer in your old life, but your new one hasn't yet taken shape. It can be a challenging time, but it also presents an opportunity for exploration and self-discovery. This ambiguity provides fertile ground for personal growth. Embrace this phase as an opportunity to explore new possibilities and redefine your identity. Experiment with different activities and perspectives to broaden your horizons. 


In my case, I reconnected with old friends and rediscovered old hobbies, while simultaneously keeping an open mind to try new things. It was about finding my place in the world again, a process fuelled by exploration and self-discovery. 


THE NEW BEGINNING BIT (the ‘new you’ bit): 

This is where you integrate your old experiences with your new reality. You develop a new sense of self and begin to build a life that feels authentic and fulfilling. In this final stage, focus on cultivating a growth mindset aligned with your aspirations. Set realistic goals, practice self-compassion, and celebrate your achievements along the way. Embrace change as a catalyst for personal and professional growth. 


People tend to think of transition and progress like a straight line… it’s actually more messy - closer to an unpredictable game of snakes and ladders. Some days we’ll make steady progress, other days we’ll make big leaps forward and other times we’ll slide back down and feel like we’ve gone backwards. This is all part of the process. 

What You Think Transition Looks Like
What You Think Transition Looks Like


Just because life takes a sharp turn doesn't mean you're doomed to wander aimlessly forever. The key is shifting your mindset from simply surviving the "ending" phase to thriving in the "new beginning." Think of it as an exciting opportunity for growth and reinvention!  


Major life changes, while daunting, can also be catalysts for incredible personal growth. This is your chance to explore new passions, discover hidden talents, and maybe even turn that long-neglected sourdough baking hobby into a career. Embrace the unknown and step outside your comfort zone. It won't always be easy, but the rewards are worth it. 



Now, how do we cultivate this "thriving", growth mindset during each stage of Bridges' Transition Model? Let's break it down: 


The "Ending" Phase 

  • Acknowledge Your Emotions: Give yourself permission to feel sad, angry, or frustrated. Bottling up your emotions will only hinder your progress. 

  • Seek Support: Talk to friends, family, or a therapist about what you're going through. Having a strong support system can make a world of difference. You might be surprised how many people can relate to what you're going through! 

  • Practice Self-Compassion: Be kind to yourself during this difficult time. You're going through a major life change, and it's okay not to have all the answers. 

The "Neutral Zone" Phase 

  • Explore Your Options: This is your chance to experiment and discover what truly excites you. Take classes, volunteer, travel (if possible!), or simply try new hobbies. Maybe brush up on an old skill or take a deep dive into a topic that's always fascinated you. 

  • Embrace the Power of "Yet": Didn't land your dream job this time? Job "yet"! Didn't discover your hidden artistic talent? Artistic talent "yet"! This mindset shift helps you focus on the journey of exploration and growth, rather than dwelling on setbacks. 

  • Develop New Skills: Learning something new is a great way to boost your confidence and open doors to new opportunities. Take an online course, attend workshops, or find a mentor in a field that interests you. 

“The essence of life takes place in the neutral zone phase of transition. It is in that interim spaciousness that all possibilities, creativity and innovative ideas can come to life and flourish.” - Susan Bridges 


The "New Beginning" Phase 

  • Set SMART Goals: Now that you have a better understanding of yourself and your aspirations, set SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound) to guide your journey in the "New Beginning" phase. 

  • Celebrate Your Wins: No matter how small, acknowledge and celebrate your achievements along the way. This helps you stay motivated and track your progress. 

  • Build Your New Support System: Surround yourself with positive and supportive people who believe in your new vision for yourself. Let go of relationships that no longer serve you and cultivate connections with those who inspire and uplift you. 



Now that you've got the building blocks of a new mindset throughout each stage of Bridges' Transition Model, let's get down to some practical strategies to help you cultivate it: 

  • Journaling: This is your personal therapy session on paper. Use journaling to reflect on your thoughts and feelings throughout each transition phase. 

  • Ending Phase: Write about your fears and anxieties surrounding the change. 

  • Neutral Zone: Brainstorm new possibilities and explore your options. 

  • New Beginning Phase: Set goals and track your progress. 

  • Seeking Professional Help: There's no shame in seeking professional help from a therapist or coach (Hi! 😊), especially during the "Ending" or "Neutral Zone" phases. They can provide valuable guidance, challenge you to think differently, and offer support as you navigate this transition. 

  • Celebrate the Small Wins: Change takes time, so don't get discouraged if you don't see results overnight. Focus on celebrating your small wins, no matter how insignificant they might seem. Every step forward is a step closer to your goals. 


Remember, change is a journey, not a destination. There will be ups and downs, moments of doubt, and days when that sourdough starter seems more appealing than tackling your new career path (although, seriously Gareth, share the recipe!). But the key is to embrace the growth mindset, cultivate self-compassion, and surround yourself with supportive people. With dedication and a willingness to explore the unknown, you'll be amazed at what you can achieve. 

Here's your action plan for this week: 

  • Identify your current transition phase: Are you in the "Ending," "Neutral Zone," or "New Beginning" phase? 

  • Journal: Reflect on your thoughts and feelings based on your identified phase. 

  • Schedule some "me" time: Prioritise self-care during this transition. Take a relaxing bath, read a book, or spend time in nature – whatever helps you recharge. 

  • Explore a new interest: Take a step outside your comfort zone and try something new. No matter how small! 

Remember, you are not alone in this journey. There are people and resources available to help you navigate this transition and emerge stronger, more resilient, and ready to thrive in your new life. Now go out there and conquer your goals! 


Bonus Resources 

During times of major transition, we can often feel really low and it’s important to know there is support out there. Here are some additional resources if you’re finding it difficult to navigate through a major life change: 


Stephen Brown
Stephen Brown

Stephen Brown 

Personal and Professional Development Coach 

Stephen is a Bristol-based life coach specialising in helping individuals navigate life changes and achieve their goals. He leverages his background in business psychology to provide a pragmatic, action-oriented approach, empowering clients to develop essential skills, cultivate a growth mindset and live a more fulfilling life! 

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