Most humans are afraid of change.
Change, growth, learning, and even success can be terrifying. On one hand, we want change. We dream of doing better, living with no regrets, of making ourselves proud. We want to live up to our potential. I don’t know anyone who enjoys skin-crawling, scathing negative self-talk.
But, at the same time, we tend to avoid, fear, and resist change. Why?
The simple answer? Because our bodies want us to stay small and stuck, to resist the risk of failure or embarrassment or trauma. Our bodies were built to keep us safe. Our bodies don’t care about our life purpose or living up to our potential. Our bodies simply want us to stay put where they can keep an eye on us. If it were up to our bodies, they’d never let us out of bed!
The tussle between brain and body can make us feel alarmed like change is a bad thing.
I mean, if our bodies feel such resistance toward change, it is easy to believe change isn’t meant for us. Maybe the resistance is a sign? Maybe we should just stay in the life we already have? Maybe we should shelf our dreams for another year? Maybe one day we will feel ready. Maybe one day, change will be easy. Resistance often masks itself in a costume of ‘gut instinct.’
So we avoid, avoid, avoid. But eventually, avoiding catches up with us, and panic and anxiety join the chorus of chatter in our heads (or in our bodies in the form of surging anxiety).
There are countless reasons we are afraid of change.
Fear of the unknown is worse than any boogie man we could have dreamt up as kids. There are few joys in life quite like the joy and safety of predictability. We love predictability because it blankets us with a sense of security. Who doesn’t love feeling in control? Who isn’t happy that day follows night? Predictability creates patterns in life; our bodies and brains love patterns.
Our bodies, whose job is to keep us alive, find it difficult to thrive in the unknown. Our bodies look for and create patterns so they can tee up our next movement, our next action. Even if your life or your work is chaotic, your body might freak out if you, spur of the moment, sign up for a month-long silent retreat. Patterns make us feel safe.
Unfamiliar situations can lead to unsettling feelings.
We thrive on autopilot. Comfortable routines in familiar surroundings give us a sense of calm. An adrenaline junkie and a hermit monk have different routines, to be sure, but either one would be faced with a certain amount of stress if forced to switch roles. Stepping out of autopilot, stepping out of our comfort zones, can produce a whole lot of anxiety. Anxiety SPEAKS TO OUR SOULS IN ALL CAPS.
Another reason we resist change? Our bodies tend to associate change with risk.
One of the biggest conundrums with being human is that we are risk-averse. We are hard-wired to avoid risk. Risk is perceived by the body as a harmful threat. Our bodies don’t always understand the difference between good risk (falling in love, looking for a new job, having a difficult conversation with someone we love, maintaining boundaries with people who take advantage of us) and bad risk, you know, like running out into traffic or climbing the sides of skyscrapers). More confusing is that your brand of risk, might not define my brand of risk. You may feel alive investing millions of dollars in your brother-in-law’s new business venture. I might not. I might love being on stage in front of millions of people, you may not.
Our body interprets any fear as a reason to keep us ‘safe’ from potential harm. Our bodies are designed to keep us alive. But taking up a new hobby, asking someone out, taking steps to become healthier, or creating boundaries aren’t life-threatening situations.
Our job is to learn to decipher what threats are dangerous and what threats are simply uncomfortable. Then, we must train our bodies to trust our judgment.
Another thing we know about change is what you have probably been suspecting all along: our bodies and minds do not forget traumas or setbacks.
Yep. Our bodies keep score.
Our bodies might even ramp up fear around change because, yikes, that last experience you had was a real doozy. So you tried out for the team in middle school and were humiliated? Your body remembers. You asked someone out, and they turned you down? Your body remembers. You said you were going to start an exercise routine but quit after three weeks? Your brain and your body remember. Someone promised they’d stay forever, and they left anyway? Your body remembers.
Your body will remind you over and over again that change equates to pain. But you are not the same person you were last decade, last year, or last week. You are able to make changes despite what has happened in the past.
Social influence also contributes to the fear of change.
We fear rejection or judgment from others. As a species, we need each other. We are hard-wired to be in community with one another. Being rejected by people goes against what feels ‘safe.’ Even ‘positive’ change, like furthering an education, walking away from relationships that no longer serve you, taking a promotion, or healing past wounds, can trigger fears of being an outcast.
Just because it may feel like we may be rejected or judged doesn’t mean we will be rejected.
It also doesn’t mean we couldn’t live through the discomfort of those feelings. And feeling worried about what other people might think is no reason not to go after our dreams. We will spend our lives growing into and out of relationships. We can survive and thrive even if we risk disappointing others. Sometimes, our relationships are deepened by change.
Let’s take a moment and look at what is going on in our heads when we want to make a change.
First, imagine our brains catch wind that we want to enact some sort of change.
Next, envision a boardroom set up smack dab in the middle of your brain with a long, oval table and comfortable office chairs that swivel. This is the boardroom where your brain’s board members meet.
When you decide to make a change, the brain calls an emergency meeting of its board members.
Remember, the brain fears change. The ultimate goal of the board members is to keep you from making a change. The brain considers change a threat to your survival. Yes, it is a little overdramatic, but you must remember that only the naysayers of the brain have seats at the emergency boardroom table. Your brain does not call in therapy bunnies, puppies, unicorns, or rainbows for perspective. It goes negative first.
So imagine the brain gets a whiff of you dreaming about change. It scrambles the experts: board members who know all about fear of failure, fear of risk, fear of uncertainty, fear of rejection, past hurts, failures in the past. At the head of the table is ‘you’re not worthy.’
But this is critical to remember: YOU are running your show.
These board members aren’t running the show. Their job is to make you THINK they are running your show. But YOU have the final say on what YOU want for your life.
Since your board members, your survival mechanisms, can’t physically tie you to a chair and go back to smoking cigarettes with their feet on their desks, they must devise all sorts of cunning thoughts and feelings to keep you ‘safe’ and stuck.
They do this by coming up with thoughts that induce feelings that release state-altering hormones like adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline and Cortisol trigger a cascade of physical responses like increased blood pressure, increased feeling of internal temperature, and increased heart rate. This is a perfect cocktail to amp up our feelings of being terrified. If we are terrified, we are less likely to commit to change.
Our body’s ability to fear-mongering is kind of brilliant when you think about it!
But you are more than just a brain! You have a soul! You know your dreams! You know your deathbed regrets! You can make choices! You can withstand a moment or two of discomfort! You have the agency to override the brains’ well-meaning, but not always in our best interest tactics. We must override the brain if we want to be happy. We must take healthy risks so we don’t live like we are nine years old forever.
Change is healthy, and change is necessary for happiness.
Are you afraid of change? Wish you could make a change without anxiety? Want to fix it?
First, notice fear-mongering self-talk. Next, make the conscious decision to turn fear into fact. Assure your board members that you/they are safe. Make small, repetitive decisions in favor of change by choosing to trust facts, not the gloom and doom your brain is spewing at you.
What is your boardroom telling you?
Below is a common list of 28 I’m-afraid-of-change thoughts you can turn into facts to help calm your anxious body:
1. Don’t do it; it’s too lofty of an ambition. Counter with: It all starts with the decision to try. I believe this can work out.
2. I don’t know where to start. Counter with: I have never done this before, but I have done a lot of things for the first time before. I will take the best first step and move forward one small step at a time.
3. We don’t do things like this in my family, community, or industry. Counter with: I bet a lot of people are wishing for change. Someone has to do it, so how about it be me?
4. It can’t be done. Counter with: It might be hard and look impossible, but our world is filled with proof that people have always done the seemingly impossible.
5. I’ve tried. It doesn’t work. Counter with: I am not the same person I was. I can learn from past experiences. I know more than I did before.
6. I’ll do it later. Counter with: I’ll spend five minutes on this now because I know I’ll feel better in the long run. Waiting makes me feel better in the moment, but it steals time, deadens my hope, and crushes success.
7. I don’t want to get in trouble. Counter with: I am strong enough to handle some pushback from people. In fact, I am strong enough to expect that people might not be supportive of me at first.
8. It’ll never fly. Counter with: I can figure out how to give my dreams wings.
9. It’s not my call. Counter with: I am in charge of my choices. I might not always like my choices, but I always have them. I am not always at the mercy of others.
10. That’s someone else’s responsibility. Counter with: I can speak up and take the chance. I can do what needs to be done.
11. I’m too young, too old, too unqualified, too plain, too shy, too messed up, too insecure, too whatever. Counter with: Successful people come in every shape, size, and flavor from every background imaginable. I am capable.
12. I don’t have staff or employees. Counter with: I have resources all around me. I’ll ask. I’ll google. I’ll talk with everyone I know until I figure out a way.
13. But I’ve always done it this way. Counter with: I can learn a new way. I can be flexible. Every success starts from thinking about this differently.
14. It’ll take too long. Counter with: Yep, things take time, but I will be so happy when I am finished. Start today, and you’ll be done sooner than if you wait.
15. I need more information. Counter with: At a certain point, over-planning and information gathering are simply procrastination. Not having all the facts is part of the journey. I have enough information to begin.
16. I’m not a leader. Counter with: Leadership isn’t about control; it’s about connection and empowering people. I can lead.
17. Is it really worth it? Counter with: I am worth it. My dream is worth it. I am confident enough to feel the fear and still go after the dream.
18. Imagine all the red tape! Counter with: If there’s a mountain of red tape, I can invest in scissors. I can be persistent.
19. It doesn’t matter anyway, really. Counter with: I matter. My hopes matter. The world needs me and my gifts. This matters.
20. It’ll never work. Counter with: This is not a hopeless situation. I owe it to myself to tap into my hopes and dreams and take the first, next best step.
21. I don’t have the money. Counter with: I will dedicate my time and talent to my dream, thinking creatively and actively talking with people; I will listen for and take people up on networks or possible creative ways to work through a tight budget. Doors will open. People will appear. Solutions will present themselves.
22. It’s too unconventional. Counter with: Nothing is off the table in a world that changes as quickly as ours.
23. It will only become a hassle. Counter with: I can address problems that will arise. I can resource people with expertise. I am not alone. I don’t have to have all the answers. My dream is worth the hassle.
24. I don’t have the skills, or the education, or the experience. Counter with: I don’t have to have all the answers to begin. I can learn, and I can take one small step toward my goal despite my skill level.
25. I need my family’s blessing before I get started. Counter with: I don’t.
26. Why should I bother? Counter with: I’m already bothered. I want this. It is worth a bit of discomfort. I’ll feel like I let myself down if I don’t try.
27. I failed at this before. Counter with: I am one step further in the process. Failure is a wonderful educator, and it taught me a lot.
28. I’m not brave enough. Counter with: I have the courage to get through the next three seconds. I can focus on the three seconds in front of me. I’ve got the courage to get through the next three seconds. I’ll do this on repeat.
Most of us get woozy when we think about change. It is how we humans are hard-wired. Change feels scary.
Our brains make us feel afraid of change, but it doesn’t mean we can’t outsmart our brains and bodies. We know what we want.