What do David Bowie, Sheryl Crow, and Bob Dylan all have in common? They have at least one song where the main theme is change. In a time of extreme uncertainty, change can be scary, but it remains a constant in life. So why do we resist change so much? It doesn’t seem constructive to impede something that cannot be avoided. Without change, we wouldn’t have many of the great things in life that we take for granted. Technology for example. Can you imagine what the world would be like if we didn’t have FaceTime, Twitter, SnapChat, or any one of the other apps that make your enhance your life? All of these came to us through some form of change.
Take a look around your home and consider what it would look like if not for technological advancements. Technology is tangible for the most part, but not all change can be seen or even felt. With the ability to change almost anything you want about yourself these days, we need to ask ourselves if we embrace change, or if we resist it? Let’s look at a scenario for a moment. You arrive at your office to find out that the meeting you had scheduled to last all morning needs to be rescheduled to a date later in the month. Circumstances are beyond your control. Do you:
- Think: “Great, now I can get caught up on a project that I’ve been putting off”, or;
- Complain that you are being inconvenienced, and spend the rest of the day thinking about all the things you could have done to prevent the change in the first place.
While this is a relatively simple scenario, I think it demonstrates how one handles a small amount of change. If you answered 1) I think you fall into the category that embraces change. However, if you answered 2) I think it’s safe to say that you resist change. Even a small amount. Because change is such a constant in life, it’s hard to even rationalize why you would resist it, but let’s look at a few reasons.
Fear of the unknown.
Change is scary. Full stop. Even the change embracers are not going to argue with you on this one, but what you need to remember is that we are all in this boat together. All of us are going to experience change in our life times, but how you deal with it can really make or break the situation. In the scenario above, which option do you think expended more energy? Which option do you think took up more time? Allowing our lives to be dictated by fear is not a good way to live. Especially in the face of change. How can we make adequate decisions when we are basing our thoughts on the immediate moment? It would be nice to have a crystal ball on our desks to make predictions. Even if that meant, I could anticipate every time a meeting was going to get rescheduled or cancelled, but that’s not reality. What we have is right in front of us. It is the present. Worrying and stressing about what’s around the next corner will make you miss out on a lot. Letting go of your fears is one small step in helping you to be able to start looking forward to change.
I read a quote recently that suggested people resist change because they only focus on what they are giving up, rather than thinking about what they may gain. I am the type of person who learns best from either real world examples or some kind of simulation to help me better understand and outcome. As I thought about this quote, I landed on the scenario of leaving your current job. If you were offered a job tomorrow where you would make more money and be happier, but you would have to move to another city, would you take it? I wonder how many people would actually answer yes to this? Undoubtedly, I would, but I am not the norm when it comes to change. Yes, I do have my moments where I want to run for the hills screaming, but overall, I see the positives it can bring. Getting back to the job offer. We know that people resist change because they fear the unknown and in this situation, there are many unknown factors. New city – what does that look like? I’ll be leaving my friends behind. Maybe some family. Maybe some fun activities that I like to do. If you are single or don’t have a family to consider, the notion of staying seems kind of absurd. The new city might not be any better than where you’re living now, but you won’t know until you get there. It’s inevitable that you will make new friends. You will have new experiences, but it’s hard to shift our mindset to think this way.
Another reason people resist change is that they are afraid to live outside of their comfort zone. I will admit that I can fall into this category from time to time, but that doesn’t mean that I resist change. A coworker of mine can be very set in her ways. In my opinion she is afraid to live outside of her comfort zone. From time to time, I try to challenge her by getting her to participate in an activity that she wouldn’t normally do. This can actually result in a lot of additional energy on my part, so I do this sparingly. I’ve known her for almost five years now, and its safe to say that she may never step outside her comfort zone. Maybe I’m being too hard on her, but if you don’t take a chance, you might never know what great things are out there. We have to be able to ask questions and be ok when the response is “no”. We have to able to do those things on our own that we don’t want to do. Challenge ourselves, and not be upset when the outcome isn’t exactly what we thought it would be or wanted it to be.
Finally, people resist change because they feel like they no longer have control. Your boss suddenly decides that all reports are due one day earlier each week. Perhaps this is an arbitrary decision that he has made, but you need to be able to roll with the punches and adapt in order to get your work done on time. Does that mean you have to restructure your week? Maybe. Does that mean you have to come in early for the next two weeks in order to make sure those reports are done on time? Possibly. It may be difficult at first, and the transition period might be awful, but it’s just that – transition. There will come a time when you no longer have to adjust your schedule to the same degree, and your reports will fit into your schedule without much thought or planning. But getting hung up on it isn’t the solution.
Control is a hard one to let go of. But recognizing that you weren’t in control to begin with might help with this. Your bosses reason for changing the reporting timeline might not have been his doing. His boss may have been told that something has to change. Somewhere a decision has been made. Accept that it means change for you and figure out a way to navigate the new system. Needing to understand a person’s reason for implementing change isn’t always going to help you find a solution, either. Trust me on this one. Keep in mind that no matter how many scenario’s you present in your head, none are going to seem logical. Again, accept the decision and figure out a way to adapt to the change.
Most of my examples here are workplace based, but these can be applied to your personal life also. The one thing I hear the most from my friends who are in relationships is how to navigate the landmines set out by their partner’s family. Sometimes this comes from parents, siblings and even past spouses when there are children involved, but I think the same rules apply:
- Try not to fear the unknown. Stay in the moment. If you are scheduled to take the kids this weekend, be flexible if something comes up. Maybe your trip to the water park gets put off for another two weeks. It’s not the end of the world.
- Don’t think about what you’re giving up, think about what you may be gaining. If your weekend with the kids gets derailed, don’t freak out because you wanted it to be perfect. Take the time to think about what you can do this weekend instead. Maybe it means getting caught up on some household duties you’ve been neglecting, or maybe it means having a romantic getaway with your partner instead. Whatever it is, the possibilities are endless.
- Fear can hold us back from doing things. Try to do one or two things a month where you are living outside your comfort zone. Try a new restaurant that you’ve always wanted. Go see a movie or a theatre production. Maybe none of your friends are into The Wizard of Oz… Don’t let that stop you from buying a ticket. You’ll regret not going more than the uncomfortable feeling you impose upon yourself when you think “everyone is watching” because you’re alone.
- And lastly… Throw caution to the wind from time to time and let go of control. Not a day goes by that something doesn’t get changed in my life. It might be something small, like my gym not being open at the hours that it said it was today, or something large like my car deciding to break down. I learned long ago that I can control very few things in my life. Do I like it? Not usually, but just knowing that I am not in control of these things makes it easier when something does happen.
While I do embrace change, and even thrive on it at times, it doesn’t make me a superhero. Nor does it mean that I am fearless. On the contrary. My answer above was yes, I would take the job, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t spend many sleepless nights wondering if I made the right decision. I was in that exact situation a few years ago. At the time I worried that the new job would set my career back. I was worried that I was moving farther away from friends and family, but the end of that story is this: I’m ok. Regardless of what has happened, I’m in a good place. In fact, I think I’m better than ok. I think I’m great, and in an equally great place. If something like a new job is too scary for you to handle, try something small each week. Try a new cereal. Try switching from coffee to tea. Try eating vegan one night a week. You will honestly be surprised at how these small, incremental changes can add up to something large and amazing.