Why We Resist Change: And How to Change That
We resist change because it’s human nature to try to exert your will over the world around you…
But, have you ever tried to push a string uphill? Stop the tide from coming in? Keep the sun from rising? I promise you’ll never succeed at any of these tasks. You’ll exert effort and energy to the futility of the inevitable. And so it goes with resisting change. Because life itself is change. And to resist change is to resist life.
We resist change for many reasons, some are fear based, some habit based and some even have completely rational thought processes behind them
Fear based reasons we resist change
- Fear of the unknown — One of the most common reasons for resistance is fear of the unknown. You will only take active steps toward the unknown if you genuinely believe and perhaps more importantly, feel that the risks of staying where you are, are greater than those of moving forward in a new direction.
- Lack of competence — This is a fear few will admit to. But sometimes, change necessitates changes in skills and some people fear they won’t be able to master the new way of doing things.
- Low trust — When you don’t believe that you, or the people around you, can competently manage the change there is likely to be resistance.
When dealing with fear based reasons for resisting change it’s best to acknowledge the fear and spend time mitigating your emotional response. Start with a “What’s the worst case scenario?” internal dialogue. See how rational or otherwise you’re resistance really is. Seek guidance from those who have gone before you. Research exit strategies and plan “B” options to give you a greater feeling of control – because this truly is about feeling out of control for you right now.
Habit based reasons we resist change
- Changes to routines — When we talk about comfort zones we’re really referring to routines and habits. We love them. They make us feel secure. So, there’s bound to be resistance whenever change requires us to do things differently.
- Connected to the old way — If you’re asked to do things in a new way, as rational as that new way may seem to you, you will be battling all that hard wiring, behavioral anchors, Pavlovian-ring-the-bell-get-the-reward experiences, all the emotional connections to those who taught you the old way. It’s what cultures and traditions are built on. And those feelings run deep.
- Change in the status quo — Resistance can also stem from perceptions of the change that you hold. For example, those who feel they’ll be worse off at the end of the change are unlikely to give it their full support. Similarly, if you believe the change favors another group or person there may be (unspoken) anger and resentment.
When you find yourself battling habit based reasons for resisting change try to think about this as evolution. And survival is all about evolution. Where control is about behavioral flexibility. The person or system with the most flexibility is the person or system that will control the environment. So, you have to adapt to be in control. Essentially, let go to hold on and hold on to letting go. Many spiritual philosophies are based on this simple concept. Meditation – clear your mind. Buddhism – release attachment. Manifesting and Intentions – let go of your attachment to the outcome. There is peace in simply being present in the moment. Learning to live in the eternal now. Accepting what is.
Cost vs. benefit reasons we resist change
- Temporary fad — When you believe that the change initiative is a temporary solution or a fad that will incite further change down the road.
- Exhaustion or Saturation — Don’t mistake compliance for acceptance. Those overwhelmed by continuous change resign themselves to it and go along with the flow. You’ll have them in body, but you do not have their hearts. Motivation is low, and overall satisfaction will match.
- Benefits and rewards — When the benefits and rewards for making the change are not seen as outweighing the trouble involved.
This is where you believe it’s going to cost you more to accept change than to rage against the machine. Here’s the thing, they’re both going to cost you. Decide first where you need to be – is acceptance something that you are going to “have to” come to terms with eventually? These are usually loss based circumstances to begin with. Can you reasonably and realistically get back to where you were? Does it make sense to? Only you can make that distinction. You’re going to need to be brutally honest here. Anything less than that will only delay the growth process for you.
Communication based reasons we resist change
- Misunderstandings about the need for change or when the reason for the change is unclear — If you do not understand the need for change you can expect to feel resistance. Especially if you believe the current way of doing things works well, as in “We’ve always done it this way…”
- Not being consulted — If you’re allowed to be part of the change there is always going to be less resistance. You like to know what’s going on, especially you’re going to be the one most affected.
- Poor communication — It’s self-evident by now isn’t it? When it comes to change management there’s no such thing as too much communication.
It’s important to ask questions. Especially the ones you need to get you comfortable with the new outcome. Take all the time you need to formulate the questions. Use this energy to be curious – not resistant. Imagine what some of the challenges may be and query those in the know. Research the new circumstances. Get familiar with all the potential outcomes you may face.
The good news is that breakdowns (your current level of discomfort) lead to breakthroughs.
How to change how you deal with change
As contrary as it might seem, it is helpful to inquire about and investigate the resistance rather than forcing yourself to accept the change. This is not a call for you to white knuckle it and push through the discomfort. Resistance is a signal for going inward. Identify your path of resistance based on the above criteria. Use the strategies I recommend to get to the other side. Feel your feelings fully and then release them. Give yourself a break through the change process because you really will be ‘losing’ control and competency (to some degree) as your ‘new normal’ emerges. But once it does – take a breather – the next change is likely around the corner.
How prepared are you for change in your life? Do you need a change? Take the quiz and find out now