Home Applications Managing Life Transitions: A Coaching Tool

Managing Life Transitions: A Coaching Tool

12 min read

[This is a variant on coaching tool offered by William Bergquist and Agnes Mura in Coachbook: A Guide to Organizational Coaching Strategies & Practices. Available on www.amazon.com ]

We have provided an inventory, a series of coaching questions and some concepts that can be of use when a coach is assisting his/her client in reflecting on past transitions, as well as preparing for future transitions. The inventory is an update of one prepared by Richard Rahe and his colleagues during the late 1960. The focus of this Life Change Scale is on the transitions that we all experience in our lives and the stress that is associated with these transitions. Coaching clients are asked to reflect on current changes in their lives, to explore past and future transitions and to consider the ways in which these transitions are managed —successfully or unsuccessfully.

Life-Change Scale

Each of the events listed below represent a significant change or transition in the lives of most people. Each change also has a certain amount of stress associated with it, regardless of whether the change is positive or negative. Please examine each of the changes that have been listed below to determine if this change has occurred in your life during the past twelve months. If the change has occurred then record the stress score that is associated with the change in the space located to the right of the event. After you have examined the entire list, add up all the stress scores that you have recorded in the right hand column. Record this total at the bottom of the score sheet and read the interpretive comments that accompany this scale.

Life Event Stress Score Your Score
1. Death of a significant other 100
2. Divorce 73
3. Separation from significant other 65
4. Jail term 63
5. Death of close family member 63
6. Personal injury or illness 53
7. Marriage 50
8. Fired at work 47
9. Marital reconciliation 45
10. Retirement 45
11. Change in health of family member 44
12. Pregnancy 40
13. Sex difficulties 39
14. Gain of new family member 39
15. Business readjustment 39
16. Change in financial state 38
17. Death of close friend 37
18. Change to different line of work 36
19. Change in number of arguments with significant other 35
20. Mortgage over $100,000 31
21. Foreclosure of mortgage or loan 30
22. Change in responsibilities at work 29
23. Son or daughter leaving home 29
24. Trouble with in-laws 29
25. Outstanding personal achievement 28
26. Significant other beginning or stopping work 26
27. Beginning or ending school 26
28. Change in living conditions 25
29. Revision of personal habits 24
30. Trouble with boss 23
31. Change in work hours or conditions 20
32. Change in residence 20
33. Change in schools 20
34. Change in recreational activities 19
35. Change in religious or spiritual activities 19
36. Change in social activities 18
37. Mortgage or loan less than $100,000 17
38. Change in sleeping habits 16
39. Change in number of family get-together 15
40. Change in eating habits 15
41. Vacation 13
42. Celebration of major religious holiday 12
43. Minor violations of the law 11

TOTAL SCORE ______________________

  1. The coach should begin by briefly discussing the concept of transitions. In a study of the effects which various human relations training programs have had on organizations, Charles Seashore found that participants, whether individuals or organizations, are un­likely to alter the directions in which they are currently moving simply as a result of the training. The program can, however, enable them to manage more effectively the rate of change; major transitions in life can thus be either accelerated or decelerated. Seashore concluded that the effective management of transitions is a valuable skill, es­pecially in a world that seems to be changing at an increasingly rapid rate.The work of Thomas H. Holmes and Richard H. Rahe also seems relevant here. In a 1967 study these two physicians found that specific changes or life transitions are direct­ly correlated with the occurrence of physical illness and emotional disturbance. The greater the number and magnitude of major life changes in a one year period, the more likely it is that physical and emotional problems will occur during the subsequent year. The effective management of transitions is something we can work on and vitally affects our lives, both physically and emotionally.
  2. The coaching client should then be given the Life-Change Scale. After the client has completed the scale and has calculated his/her own life-change score, the coach and client should reflect together on the implications of the total score. In general, a score of 200 or more reflects a high level of transitions, though among faculty and college administrators scores of 200 are rather common. A score of 300 or more indicates that the respondent has experienced exceptional life transitions during the past year and might want to give serious consideration to the physical and emotional costs of these transitions. A score of less than 100 can reflect either contentment or a protected situation.
    The coach and client should then move to an even more detailed and individualized assessment of the rate of change experienced by the client. The coach should ask:
    1. Have there been any other important transitions in your life this past year that were not included on this list? What score would you give these changes for yourself?
    2. Relative to the assigned scores, which of the transitions do you think have been most difficult for you? Which have been easiest? Why?
    3. If you were to relive this past year, which of these transitions would you like to avoid? Which transitions would you like to have experienced which did not occur?
    4. Some of the transitions on the original list are generally quite positive for most people. Which of the transitions that have occurred for you this past year have been most positive? Which have been most negative? Have both types of transitions been stressful for you? Which type was most stressful?

Pattern of Life Transitions

The coaching client might then be instructed to place his/her current transitions score on the Life Transition Grid. They can record either the score they obtained from the scale or an estimated score if the scale score seems inaccurate. The client’s current stress score is to be recorded at the appropriate point of intersec­tion between their current age (horizontal axis) and their life-change score (vertical ax­is).The client is then asked to plot probable transitions scores for their past and future. The coaching client should begin by identifying those points in his/her past when major transitions occurred, then those points when life was particularly stable. Similarly, the client should be encouraged to identify probable time periods in the future when major transitions are likely to occur and when relative stability will prevail. The client then draws a line from birth to death that connects these points, perhaps por­traying other, less significant periods of transition and stability as well.

Life Transition Grid

Life Change Score/Age 0-15
Years Old
Years Old
Years Old
Years Old
Years Old
Years Old+

The coaching client is now encouraged to discuss ways in which he/she has handled or hopes to handle major life transitions:

  1. Have the transitions tended to be too fast or too slow? Why?
  2. Have certain types of events tended to precede or even precipitate major transitions?
  3. What have been the typical consequences of major life transitions? Immediate im­pact? Impact after one year? Physical illness? Health? Depression? Exhilaration? New relationships? The termination of old relationships?
  4. Have you consistently and consciously taken any specific actions to make these tran­sitions more satisfying? What actions?

Either before or during this coaching discussion, the coach may wish to review briefly several of the different ways in which people manage transitions and might ask their client for his/her own ideas about the most effective ways to manage these changes. The concepts offered below regarding manag­ing transitions might be considered at this point.

Some Strategies for Managing Major Life Transitions

One must acknowledge first of all that transitions are stressful. Furthermore, positive transitions — marriage, promotion, an award — may be as stressful as negative ones. A U-shaped curve seems to accompany most major life transitions. At first, after the transition has been initiated, the mood of the person or organization that is undergoing the transition will tend to turn from optimism to pessimism; excitement may give way to disillusionment. Production will fall off until the bugs are worked out in the system; the change will proceed slower than expected; advocates of the change will discover negative consequences or side effects that were not anticipated. Only at a later point, after the person or organization has traveled through this “valley of despair” will transitions begin to reap some benefits — if they have been successful. The planner of a personal or organizational transition must anticipate this period of stress and introduce ways to reduce its negative impact. Perhaps the simple anticipation of stress is itself one such way; several other more specific suggestions follow.

  1. Ceremonies: Every culture creates specific events that signal major life transitions for a member of the group. For example, in most societies, entrance into puberty, marriage, birth of a child, divorce and the death of a loved one are made the focus of a ceremony. Similarly, many organizations acknowledge the entry of new people into the organization by means of initiations, orientation programs, social gatherings and so forth. Most organizations also have some type of a ceremony to acknowledge the exit of individuals from the organization. Ceremony serves two important functions in helping people manage transitions. First, it helps anticipate the stress that is associated with the transition. The ceremony serves as a signal, formally telling us that some difficult times are immediately ahead. Second, the ceremony indicates that other people care about this transition and are available for support in this endeavor.In a society which seems to be increasingly less ceremonial, we must plan for our own ceremonies and provide ceremonies for significant other people; remember that the marriage ceremony may be more important to the transitional processes of the parents than to those of the newlyweds. Perhaps the practice of some couples, who periodically renew and update their marriage vows as a means of acknowledging the changes that have continued to occur in their relationship, is as important for them as the initial ceremony.
  2. Support Group: Most people who successfully manage a major life transition describe the critical role played by several people who served them in a variety of functions: the nurturer helped them feel better or stronger; the friend empathized with their predicament and often provided a humorous perspective; the expert provided important information to help them im­plement, accelerate or slow down a transition; the clarifier helped them better understand the current and probable future nature of the transition; the client, someone whom they were currently serving, was willing to let them know what the consequences would be if certain decisions were made about the transition; and the challenger forced them to reexamine their actions, values or expectations. Usually, people are more in need of the nurturer if the transi­tion is particularly rapid and in need of the challenger if the transition is too slow.A support group consists of people who fill one or more of these roles. Members of such a group need not know each other; they may never even have been in the same room together. Yet they all have one thing in common: they all know and in some way are willing to provide support to the individual going through the transition. It is the responsibility of that individual to integrate the different perspectives of the members of his group and to be sure he is not asking only one or two people to fill all of these roles.
  3. Incremental Change: Change should be planned from a long-term, wide-range perspective, rather than from a short-range or piecemeal point of view. In planning for change, however, it is often essential that the desired change be broken up into small, manageable units that have short-term and rather modest goals. A series of small change curves is usually preferable to a single large one. Furthermore, if a series of small change projects are identified, it is possible to initiate a second project when the first encounters significant resistance. Small projects can also be sequenced in a way that will meet current needs and concerns, while also being respon­sive over the long run to more basic and far reaching problems.
  4. Diffusion of Interests and Activities: If any one change absorbs all or most of a person’s or organization’s attention, then this transition is likely to be stressful, for the person or organiza­tion has no other interest or activity that can provide stability or variety. In preparation for a transition, one should ensure that other areas of interest in one’s life do not get set aside during the change process. Given the tendency of many people who are experiencing stressful tran­sitions to focus intensely on the change, it is essential that other roles, goals and activities be reinforced as salient features of the person’s or organization’s life.


  1. Major Sources and Suggestions for Further Reading:Richard H. Rahe, Joseph D. McKean, Jr. and Ranson J. Arthur (1967) A Longitudinal study of Life-Change and Illness Patterns, Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 10, 355-366.
  2.  Thomas H. Holmes and Richard H. Rahe. (1967) The Social Readjustment Rating Scale. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 11, 213-218.
  3. William Bridges, Transitions.
Download Article 1K Club
Load More Related Articles
Load More By William Bergquist
Load More In Applications

One Comment

  1. Michael Thomas

    March 1, 2017 at 4:18 pm

    Please advise as to how I may license use of the Life-Change Scale and the Life Transition Grid as a feature of my Life Transition Coaching website.

    Thank you.

    Best regards,

    Michael Thomas


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Check Also

I. The Deep Caring Crossroads: A Life of Generativity or Stagnation

There are many choices available to each of us during a lifetime. These choices can lead u…