The Truth about Transitions

Sherlocking Transitions

by Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, CTP, CMC, ACT, MCC, SCAC

We start small

We begin with the tedium of to-dos – because the lessons learned will generalize to the bigger changes and transitions that we all must face.

Meanwhile, we must all learn the ways in which we, uniquely, “chop wood, carry water.” ~mgh

Walk before Running

As I said in Trouble with Transitions, the first article in the Transitions Series:

One of the primary reasons that transitions are so tricky is that we have only one word to describe THREE phases of the same darned task: 

COMPLETION — transitioning out of
— “putting away your toys”

PREPARATION — transitioning into
— “getting out the pieces of the new puzzle”


THE GAP — that “toy free”
period between the two.

The Moralizing Majority

Most people notice they struggle with each of the three phases sometimes.  

Almost everyone has difficulties with particular types of  transitions, task-specific combinations, and during times when, for one atypical reason or another, they are not able to play at the top of their respective games.

When, for example:

  • They’ve been ill and are still recovering
  • They haven’t been getting nearly enough sleep
  • They’re dealing with a personal crises (their own, or a loved one’s).

THEN there are the rest of us . . .

Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, there is a sub-group that struggles with one or more of the three transition phases most of the time — although we have probably been blaming it on something else entirely:

  • We’re such perfectionists — or procrastinators
  • We can’t say no, so we always have too much to do and too litle time
  • We have lousy follow-through skills
  • We’re disorganized, not smart enough, or not trying hard enough.

Although those labels may seem to present an adequate description of our emotions or our behaviors, when everybody stops judging and starts paying close enough attention to allow us to distinguish areas where we function effectively from areas of predictable “underfunctioning,” it frequently boils down to Trouble with Transitions.

Zoning IN

I know that when I have a day with few appointments forcing me to stop and start  (a day when I can hit my stride and stay there), I amaze myself with how much I can accomplish, relatively easily.

It’s an entirely different story if you make me chop my efforts into little pieces and squeeze them into a day when I feel like I barely get a task started before I have to stop to do something else

  • I accomplish so little it barely seems worth the effort to make the attempt.
  • So I don’t.
  • It only took me a few years of observing that sad reality
    to stop listening to “conventional ‘wisdom.'”
The “standard” advice may work well for tortoises but it’s LOUSY for hares.  Those of us with what I call “attentional spectrum disorders” have minds that are cognitively holographic, not linear.

Different Strokes for Different Struggles

While those of us who struggle with transitions don’t find any of the phases of the process particularly effortless, there are people who struggle mightily with completions, and others for whom start-ups are the most troublesome part of transitioning. Then there are those poor souls for whom that “gap” is exactly where the transition breaks down.

Some people experience the greatest difficulty with the transition between
doing nothing and doing something.

For those people, navigating that particular part of the transition feels more like forcing themselves to catapult out of a hammock on a hot day – leaving behind a good read and a a tall glass of iced tea – to run to the house at the other end of the lawn to attempt to answer a telephone before it stops ringing.

They just can’t motivate themselves to go for it.

Jumping the GAP

If you know you are one of the “gap people”, the “into” and “out of” exercises to come will certainly help make your transitions less troubling. You will continue to have difficulties, however, until you follow the example of Hansel and Gretel: breadcrumbs

You need to have a trail to follow to lead you through the gap and into the next task – and you need to “scatter your breadcrumbs” before you reach the gap.

For you gap-challenged folks, putting away ALL your toys before getting out the stuff for the next activity won’t work at all, at all, at ALL! 

IMPORTANT CONCEPT: Don’t let anybody convince you it is essential to finish one activity before starting the next, or make you feel foolish because you try to do pieces of more than one task at a time.

Those of you who get stuck in the gap will have to take the beginning steps of the new project before completing your current one to be able to finish the first so that you can move solidly on to the next.

Until you learn how to engage and disengage hyperfocus intentionally, you “gap” people HAVE TO “time-slice” to get anything done at all.

You Can’t Fool YOU

Your subconscious knows you very well, and it will do anything it must to keep you out of gap- quicksand – so it will keep moving that finish line farther and farther away if you don’t utilize a system to bypass that darned gap!

If you often (usually?) find yourself thinking of numerous additional items that keep you from completing tasks, or if it seems that you have equal difficulty with both of the more easily identified transitional phases, begin to suspect that your trouble with transitions just might be, primarily, one of “transitioning the gap.”

For now, do whatever you must to AVOID THAT GAP!

Sneak Preview

In an upcoming article, I am going to ask you to make a list of transitions that are particularly difficult for you.  If you’re not sure, ask your loved ones.  They’ll be able to tell you in a heartbeat.

I’ll jumpstart your thinking with a few that many ADDers list:

  • Going to bed
  • Falling asleep
  • Waking up
  • Getting out the door
  • Getting off the phone and back to what you were doing before it rang
  • Leaving work (on time)

The Great Divide

Then you are going to divide your list into two categories.  On a sheet of paper you will write the title Transitional Modes, and the following two headings: Coming Out Of and Going Into. You will then copy each difficult transition under its more appropriate heading (like my example below).

Both modes can be difficult for you, but chances are good that you have greater difficulty with one mode or the other for each particular transition.  If you start now, use a PENCIL.

Transitional Modes

Coming Out of

Going Into

Going to sleep  Waking up
Leaving Work Getting out the door
dinner dishes laundry
etc. etc.
etc. etc.
etc. etc.
etc. etc.

Trust your first instinct for now – don’t agonize.  We’ll go into more detail as we work through the series, so it will be easier to clarify the places that you struggle and which of the two modes is your sand trap.

Chocolate or Vanilla?

The initial step that will make the biggest difference is to agree to deal with improving ONE transitional mode at a time.

If you’re having a great deal of trouble going into,
you can’t simultaneously master the
re-orientation of coming out of.

You’ll be left not wanting to do anything except sit in your boggle room and cry.
Sound familiar?

Flip a coin if you must, but pick ONE mode to work with first.

The Priming Effect

According to Wikipedia, “priming is an implicit memory effect in which exposure to a stimulus influences a response to a later stimulus.”

“For example, if a person reads a list of words including the word table, and is later asked to complete a word starting with tab, the probability that he or she will answer table is greater than if not so primed.

Another example is if people see an incomplete sketch that they are unable to identify and they are shown more of the sketch until they recognize the picture, later they will identify the sketch at an earlier stage than was possible for them the first time.”

Playing fast and loose with the explanation of priming, your brain more readily makes links to information it has seen before, so mental rehearsal actually improves performance.  There are quite a few journal-published studies that appear to support the credibility of the priming effect, although one is currently the subject of heated debate.  Let’s not go there.

At the risk of opening a can of worms in the comments section, whether the priming effect is scientifically defensible or not, I want you to pay attention to how much easier the concept of dividing difficult transitions by mode will seem when you see it again.

Anecdotal though it may be, my clients tell me that “sneak previews” help them complete their coaching homework more easily (and yes, I know I’m stretching the frame around the term).  Just see if it works for YOU.

IN ANY CASE, stay tuned.  There’s a lot more to come.

As always, if you want notification of new articles in the Transitions Series – or any new posts on this blog – give your email address to the nice form on the top of the skinny column to the right. (You only have to do this once, so if you’ve already asked for notification about a prior series, you’re covered for this one too). STRICT No Spam Policy

If you’d like some one-on-one (couples or group) coaching help with anything that came up while you were reading this article (either for your own life, that of a loved one, or as coaching skills development), scroll down to click the Brain-based Coaching Link below, with a contact form at the bottom, or click the E-me link <—here (or on the menubar at the top of every page). I’ll get back to you ASAP (accent on the “P”ossible!)

The Transition Series
(links turn red on mouseover, ONLY when they’re ready to go)

Other related articles right here on

BY THE WAY: I revisit all my content periodically to update links — when you link back, like, follow or comment, you STAY on the page. When you do not, you run a high risk of getting replaced by a site with a more generous come-from.

About Madelyn Griffith-Haynie, MCC, SCAC
Award-winning ADD Coach Training Field founder; ADD Coaching field co-founder; [life] Coaching pioneer -- Neurodiversity Advocate, Coach, Mentor & Poster Girl -- Multi-Certified -- 25 years working with EFD [Executive Functioning disorders] and struggles in hundreds of people from all walks of life. I developed and delivered the world's first ADD-specific coach training curriculum: multi-year, brain-based, and ICF Certification tracked. In addition to my expertise in ADD/EF Systems Development Coaching, I am known for training and mentoring globally well-informed ADD Coach LEADERS with the vision to innovate, many of the most visible, knowledgeable and successful ADD Coaches in the field today (several of whom now deliver highly visible ADD coach trainings themselves). For almost a decade, I personally sponsored and facilitated seven monthly, virtual and global, no-charge support and information groups The ADD Hours™ - including The ADD Expert Speakers Series, hosting well-known ADD Professionals who were generous with their information and expertise, joining me in my belief that "It takes a village to educate a world." I am committed to being a thorn in the side of ADD-ignorance in service of changing the way neurodiversity is thought about and treated - seeing "a world that works for everyone" in my lifetime. Get in touch when you're ready to have a life that works BECAUSE of who you are, building on strengths to step off that frustrating treadmill "when 'wanting to' just doesn't get it DONE!"

5 Responses to The Truth about Transitions

  1. Pingback: Head Injuries – Acquired ADD? | ADD . . . and-so-much-more

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  4. jeg700 says:

    Transitions are almost impossible for me! It’s much better if I can just move along, from one activity to the next without stopping to clean up/stop one activity then move to another which also requires preparation. I end doing nothing at all so I can avoid the end and the beginning of anything. This is why the internet is so addictive…I can jump instantly from one idea to another without preparation of any kind:)


    • I tend to get stuck in whatever IS. Even if what’s next is something I *KNOW* I will like better, (and I don’t like what I’m currently doing much at all), it never seems so at the time I need to s-t-o-p, transition and start all over with the new thingt! I wish I could say I’ve learned to overcome it — and I guess I could SAY that, but I’d be lying. I know WHAT to do, it’s that *doing* part that’s probably as difficult for me as for anyone. But at least transitions no longer defeat me totally anymore.

      I keep working on it, but it’s not “native” — and there are still days when actual appointments (classes, clients, etc) are the only things I can “make” myself transition FOR. The other things on my list . . . uh, there are other things I’m supposed to get done today?

      Internet addictive? You’ve GOT to be kidding. It’s quicksand, fly paper, a black hole. (I even resent having to stop to go to the bathroom when I am clicking links and learning!). Having to do so SOMETIMES breaks the tractor-beam on my attention, thank goodness, or they’d probably have to pry my cold, dead fingers off the keyboard.

      Nonetheless, I’m not great taking advantage of little bits of time, either. I tend to be most effective if I schedule HUGE blocks for tons of the same type of task (today is coaching day, tomorrow is BOOK or library research, some other day is email and i-net research & social networking, etc.).

      Writing, oddly enough, is the one thing I seem to be able to chunk fairly easily (although I don’t really LIKE to do it that way) – so I tend to fit working on blog articles, class materials, etc. in the “odd bits of time” between appointments, etc.

      Housekeeping? I know my level and do ONLY enough to stay below it – otherwise my functioning simply TANKS and I can’t figure out how to dig myself out (that’s why moving is so disabling for me – total tossed salad that takes FOREVER to bring to order). But I’ll never be one of those who does what is necessary to have everything ship-shape, so I’ve learned I simply must let that part go forever (unless my fairy godmother decides to send me a maid who can do it all while I sleep).

      I get the dishes washed and/or put away while my coffee ‘nukes (ding – no more for now – I’ll be back!), I keep my bathtub sparkly with Scrubbing Bubbles EVERY time I take a bath (so it’s *always* easy), any time I notice the rest of the bathroom needs some attention, it gets it as part of one of those trips that seem like such a rude interuption to the rest of my schedule, and I try to send things “home” as soon as I’m finished using them, but it is usually a bit of a struggle (so that’s where knowing my level is handy).

      TRANSITIONS! bleh. The only way to manage them at all is to KNOW THYSELF and refuse to do it “their” way. (“YOU can do it, or I can do it, but *you* can’t tell *me* how to do it.” – NO KIDDING!)



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