Your life story is made up of transitions and turning points – do you know the difference?

Posted on December 11, 2015

Photo source: Flickr

When you take a look back at the year just gone, do you see any times of real change? A turning point, perhaps – or maybe a transition? Although many of us use them interchangeably, these two kinds of important life events are distinct; as new research shows, both have their own role in helping us organise our past.

Consider first a time in your life where your circumstances visibly changed: arriving at college, or when your first paychecks began tumbling in. Working with participants between 30 and 64, researchers Karalyn Enz and Jennifer Talarico demonstrate that these are the sorts of things people come up with when asked to describe a transition they have experienced in their life. They involve a change in external circumstances, something you and others can easily point to at the time.

In contrast, people asked to recall turning points give examples like meeting their partner or deciding to apply to grad school. Because it can be an internal decision or change of emotion or attitude, the turning point may not be immediately obvious to others, or even to ourselves at the time. These examples point up another difference: participants were twice as likely to see turning points as being a single event rather than a period, and twice as likely to see transitions as an extended period rather than an event. True, sometimes a turning-point type event would be suggested as a transition and vice versa, but the two appeared reasonably distinct. But for this to be really meaningful, we’d want to see them function differently. And they do.

In the current study, participants were asked to rate how central the remembered events were to the person’s life to date. Turning points received significantly higher ratings than transitions, which seem to be less important on their own terms.

Luckily, transitions appear to have another, practical, function: providing a context for organising other events. Follow the link below to read this article in full.

Category(s):Adjusting to Change / Life Transitions

Source material from BPS Research Digest

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