Inner Transition – is the Invisible Part of Change the Most Important?
By Sophy Banks 11th June 2013
One way of explaining what Inner Transition is would be to say it’s about supporting the invisible bits of the process of change – what happens on the inside between the wake up call and the bit where people start to do stuff differently. This post explores what goes on during that stage, and what kinds of things we can do in Transition to help it go well.
It’s interesting that at the launch of Transition Town Totnes, back in 2006, Rob included a talk by Chris Johnstone on the psychology of change. In this Chris told us there are a number of stages to deciding to make a change, from not being interested at all to actually doing something different. Chris is an inspiring speaker, and he also played his harmonica and got all four hundred people in the civic hall singing – and it’s good to reflect that at the very start of Transition going out into the world the inner was absolutely included. I saw Chris recently – he is now offering on line courses on Resilience, Happiness and Positive Change – and he restated his understanding that inner transition is about that “middle bit of change”
I’m going to use an updated model for this, with more accessible words – but the stages are basically the same.
Transition is about engaging people in a process of change – inviting us to start to vision, design and build some of the pieces of a sustainable, inclusive, thriving future for all, much of which will take place at the scale of a workable sized “community”. This is a change we choose – sometimes stuff just happens to us with no choice. So Transition is largely about proactive change. Bob Doppelt in his book the power of sustainable thinking, proposes the 5D model with nice simple language – 5 stages all starting with the letter D (it’s not something complicated in 5 dimensions!).
Here’s a summary of the stages, and a brief explanation of each
|Stage||What’s happening||What supports moving to the next stages|
|Disinterest||Not engaged with the issue
||Wake up call – new information
Empowerment – I can do something to make a difference
|Deliberation||Adjusting to change
||Support to work through inner processes
Association with others
|Design||Starting to plan
Practical how-to information
|Doing||Actively implementing changes
||Technical assistance / skills
Celebration, appreciation, support with set backs
|Defending||Change is integrated
||Opportunityto inspire, share stories and support others|
The first three stages of this process are all largely internal – there may be activities (going to films, talks, visiting projects, having conversations, building, making, planting things and so on) – but the place where shift is happening is on the inside.
This is a part of the change process that many movements for change haven’t been great at understanding – and I suspect this is partly because they see their movement as being about outer systems, whether that’s our physical infrastructure – energy, food, built environment, transport systems – or our insititutions – politics, financial system, economy etc. Another reason may be that the people who become leaders in these movements have often either done a lot of the change work before getting involved, or they go through these stages very quickly – as pioneers they are the ones who get peak oil, or an understanding about financial systems collapsing and respond by moving to the country, buying land, learning to farm and setting up a sustainable food production business within a matter of months.
Here’s an example of an article about the 5D model which I think falls into some common traps in how we think about change from a place which is kind of mechanical – that all we need is to be persuaded that the benefits outweigh the costs and we’ll move forward. It doesn’t acknowledge the complex internal landscape of belonging, identity, aspirations and relationships that signficant change in worldview brings with it. Below is an alternative look particularly at the Deliberation stage – where a huge amount happens if someone does a good job of working through this.
The part which I think Inner Transition particularly points to and can support is the Deliberation phase. Perhaps you’re in this stage now – if not, imagine that you’re someone hearing about climate change, or the end of economic growth, or the depletion of our natural resources to half their original levels, and are in the process of figuring out what that really means for you.. Or you might like to reflect on major changes you’ve chosen in your life, and whether what I’ve outlined below applied to your journey. Here are a few of the things that may need to happen to move from being Disinterested in change to actively Designing for it..
- You’re digesting what this means – partly wanting more information to make sense of it and form a picture, and maybe also not wanting to hear more because it is disturbing, painful or frightening. Perhaps you feel betrayed, outraged, hopeless at how bad things are.
- You may feel like the ground has gone from under your feet – that everthing is shifting, uncertain, floating. For some this comes with feelings of hopelessness, despair. How can life be enjoyable again? Some talk about melt-down, disintegration.
- There may be a feeling of relief – that something you’ve known underneath for a long time has finally surfaced and is making sense.
- You’re letting go of the vision of the future you’ve held – what you expected for yourself (a pension? That you will be able to go on heating your home affordably? travel when you’re retired?) and your children (at least the same opportunities to experience the world, for material comfort and stuff that you have had) and adjusting to a very different prospect. There may be a feeling of loss in this – for some a sense of mourning a future that will never be, and a deep disappointment or sense of failure at not being able to give children what they expect.
- You’re feeling a sense of urgency, impatience, the need to do stuff NOW, determined, motivated. But what to do? And how? And with who? So this can bring energy, but also confusion and frustration.
- You’re figuring out what is meaningful for you now, what will give you security and a sense of belonging in this different view of the world.. Should you continue with your work? Should you move? Should you volunteer? You’re moving to a new sense of identity, of who you are in the world.
- You may be renegotiating some or all of your friendships and even close family relationships – if you’re the first in your family to wake up to this new information you may feel isolated, frustrated with others. You may lose friends, have difficult conversations with colleagues, loved ones and long standing friends.
- You’re might be making new relationships, starting to spend more time with people who see the world in this way, and learning a new culture, language, way of living in the world.
- You’re figuring out how this new information will impact on your life in detailed ways – changes to your home, how you get around, what you eat, wear, buy, where you holiday, how you relax, what you read and so on.
As we get to the end of this stage and start to be ready to move into Design, we need more practical information, examples, the how to of change – how to insulate, find good bike routes, grow runner beans, cook local seasonal food, and so on.
The reality is that these processes don’t happen in neat succession – some will make changes quickly, and are still digesting and making meaning of the information. My experience in Transition is that I’ve been applying these processes to different areas of my life over the years I’ve been involved. I’m aware that some areas of my life I still haven’t really looked at, while others I’ve really worked through all these stages.
Supporting the Invisible Stages of change
How can a Transition group support this invisible, profound, sometimes very personal stage of Deliberation, and the many things that are going on in it? These are some suggestions from different projects that I’ve come across.
Public Discussion and conversation spaces
Some people like to go through these processes on their own, but many of us are helped by talking with others about what’s happening. Some examples are
Discussion time after films
Book study groups
Support groups such as Transition Circles, Home Groups, Transition Streets groups.
Framing and facilitation
Having people with status – facilitators at events, people writing blogs, leaders and speakers – name some of the processes, feelings and challenges of this stage helps to make them feel normal, part of the natural response we have to learning something profound and new.
One to one support
Some Transition initiatives have set up peer to peer or professional mentoring schemes particularly to support those who are carrying the most responsibility and workload. How leaders deal with their feelings will play a large part in shaping the culture of meetings and groups.
Space for reflections and feelings at meetings
Often Transition groups come together to DO stuff – and get very focused on tasks – but it’s worth remembering that we’re all on a journey together, and as things change in the wider world we’re all adjusting to new information which may be frightening, painful, motivating, disturbing or bring up any other feelings. I’ve seen meetings that are being driven by one or several people’s sense of panic at new peak oil information, or the latest news on melting ice sheets.
Giving some space to talk about these, to share and acknowledge the value of these feelings – will usually bring a sense of grounding, an opportunity to get back to feeling resourced and empowered rather than driven by fear or stress.
Sharing our inner journey often creates a deeper connection and shared purpose, relief from feeling alone, and increases the trust and resilience of the group. To keep it balanced with the need for getting on with tasks, put time boundaries around this part of the meeting or have a separate space for it. Bring in external facilitation if that helps to create safety and a separation from the tasks you’re used to. And use structures and processes designed for this (see the inner transition resources for ideas).
This post has been about Inner Transition supporting the inner stages of the change process, and particularly about acknowledging and respecting the huge amount which goes on under the surface as we come to terms with really shifting our world view. For some Transition is all about doing stuff – actually building the relocalised infrastructure of food and energy and so on. I think it’s interesting to turn that around and ask – what would it be like if Transition were all about changing people’s world view – if the major output of a Transition process is that people who saw the reality of our present situation are now making decisions in businesses, government, services, and so on? Would we need to do anything? In a way the most powerful change we make is the one which determines everything about how we act – our assumptions about the world and our place in it.
I don’t actually think we shouldn’t “do” anything in Transition – partly because the doing is needed to support the inner process of change. But it’s worth reflecting on inner change as a tangible, meaningful product of Transition – which might perhaps have as much weight in shaping the future as the tons of carbon saved.