Having Trouble With Transitions?

Since I’ve been focusing on rest as a theme this month, I’m closing out this series with the related topic of transitions. It’s important to have periods of rest alternated with our times of work/effort, but sometimes it’s the actual mechanics of making the transition that trips us up.

While thinking about transitions, I found it helpful to consider a concept from my software engineering days. In software, we use the term “context switch” to define saving away the system state associated with one task so that the task can be temporarily paused and a different task can run. The saved system state is later restored when that task is ready to be resumed. This is how computers can multitask if they have only one CPU.

Just like a computer operating system has a set of steps to context switch to a new task, I think we also need a process to help us with transitions.

One of my most challenging transitions is returning from vacation (one type of rest) to “normal life.” Once home, I feel restless and unsettled, even though I love my everyday life! Most often, I try to jump back into my routine immediately, eager to catch up on the things that accumulated while I was away. But maybe a more intentional transition would make this context switch easier.

As a first step, it’s important to acknowledge that this truly is a transition and shouldn’t just be ignored in my desire to “catch up” with things. Both my body and mind need to make a transition. My body has likely been on a different sleep/activity schedule. And my mindset has definitely been different since that shift is one of the primary reasons I take a vacation!

Second, I could tap into the power of ritual to help my body and mind make the transition. The idea is to develop a pattern that I can follow each time I return from vacation. Ritualizing this pattern (doing it intentionally and repeating it every time) can help ease the transition. My ritual might include having takeout delivered for the first meal back at home (so that I don’t have to grocery shop immediately or find something edible in the house). My ritual could also include some planning before I leave home. I could give a gift to my future self to proactively make the transition easier (have easy meals planned for my return, clear my schedule for the week after I return so I have time for re-entry tasks and generally feel less rushed, etc.)

Although the things I decide to ritualize may be only a small improvement initially, the power of repeated rituals means that the more I do them, the more they will help. The repetition will get my body and brain to recognize when I’m in this type of transition and give me a structure to follow to reduce the feeling of being unsettled.

Applying a repeated ritual can also help with transitions on a smaller scale. For example, I have trouble transitioning from daily chores /work to evening rest/relaxation time. I often continue to think about what I need to do tomorrow or ruminate on something that didn’t go well during the day. So I’ve been experimenting with another type of ritualized context switch for this transition.

Half an hour before I step away from my desk and start dinner, I review my calendar, write down my to-do list for tomorrow, clean off my desk, and put everything away. This helps to clear my mind since it gives me a process to close out the day mentally. It also makes it easier to start my day the following morning. And the more I think of it, this is just like a standard operating system context switch – save away the current state, clean up, and ensure everything is ready to resume later.

Transitions between rest and work can be difficult, but intentional context-switching techniques can help ease the process. I anticipate there are many other transitions that would also benefit from this framework.

A Closing Prayer

Grant us grace to recognize the transition times in our lives and space to stop for a breath so we can consider how to approach these transitions. Let us be kind to ourselves as we try to rush from one activity to another, constantly feeling that there isn’t enough time for all we need to do. Let us get the full benefit of intentional rest by also being intentional with our transitions into and out of rest. Amen.

2 comments

  1. Having just returned home from an extended trip, I certainly had to deal with transitions (which is a word you used years ago and has stuck with me since). While on vacation, I hit the Pause Button on my life (context switch in your jargon) and tried hard to keep specific situations/activities (AKA reality) away. As you suggested, I have certain things that I do to ease my transition once I return — take out food is a must on Night One as grocery shopping will never happen. This trip, I was able to do some laundry before I left which helped tremendously. I have created To Do List Templates that I use before and after each trip I take so that I’m not surprised (much) by unexpected tasks before I leave or when I get home (I update these templates as my requirements change). And I remind myself that I will never be able to plan for everything (“what’s that stain under the truck in the driveway?” “I don’t think the ice maker is working.” “Why is our water brown?”) and that I need to be patient and allow these interruptions and surprises to be inserted into the daily activities. I loved this blog bc it’s so timely for both of us — you getting ready to leave and me returning home. May your transitions be smooth and stress- free (or at least minimally stressful).

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  2. Thanks to both of you for sharing how you manage transitions in the most peaceful way possible. When I get stressed, sometimes during a “transition”, I try to remember the Martha/Mary story from Luke (10:41). I imagine Jesus looking at me as he looked at Martha, with much love and caring, and telling me… “there is need of only one thing….” – reflecting on this for a moment often helps restore the correct importance of things.

    Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” Luke Ch 10

    Thanks for another insightful blog post!

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