Why Do We Fear Change?
If you look around, you can see it in almost all aspects of human existence. We see it in the stock market. In politics. In religion. In almost every corporation and workplace. I’m talking, of course, about the fear of change.
People with new ideas bump up against this fear constantly, being perceived and labeled as pot-stirrers and troublemakers. We don’t like it when people rock the boat or challenge our preconceived notions. We don’t like it when our comfort zones are taken from us. We especially don’t like it when change comes suddenly, like a thief in the night.
Do you happen to know anyone who complains constantly about their life? (I’ve known a few.) What I find most remarkable is so often people like that could make things infinitely better for themselves by making a few simple changes to their behavior or situation. But nope. Instead, they just continue grumbling and griping. They’re miserable, but their misery also happens to be their comfort zone. The pain of their misery does not outweigh their fear of change.
It gets worse. In his book Change or Die: The Three Keys to Change at Work and in Life, author Alan Deutschman cites studies that show that only one in nine people willingly make changes to their lifestyle even when confronted with the prospect of death due to illness or heart attack. Think about that: Despite our alleged survival instincts, nearly 90 percent of us are choosing death over life on a regular basis. Talk about resistance to change!
How did we get this way? How did we as humans become so set in our ways? Why do we fear change?
There are plenty of scientific studies, books and papers written on this subject, but for now, let’s explore just a few common-sense guesses.
We like well-trodden paths.
“Path of least resistance.” “The easy road.” “Low-hanging fruit.” Pick your favorite metaphor—they all mean basically the same thing. We gravitate to things that require the least amount of force. Change naturally involves some type of resistance, something we naturally avoid.
We like predictability.
We like things that run on autopilot because we don’t have to think about them. When something works the same way 100 times, we assume it will continue to work that way for infinity and beyond. When suddenly it doesn’t, life suddenly becomes unpredictable, which sometimes makes us feel helpless or fearful.
We fear failure (and/or success).
In the status quo, we know what to expect, and we know what’s expected of us. A change of situation loads us up with a different set of expectations. How will it look if we fail? Or if we succeed, how will it change the stakes? How will success change what’s expected of us going forward? These are questions we often prefer to leave unanswered.
Change Is Inevitable
For all our fear of change, here’s the paradox of the world in which we live: Change is going to happen. We live in a universe in constant motion, which means everything is always in a state of flux, even when we temporarily feel otherwise. Even we are changing, whether we like it or not. The billions of cells in our bodies die and are completely replaced once every few years. The day we stop changing is the day we die.
The sooner we begin to realize this truth, the sooner we can stop resisting change and learn to adapt to it, to embrace it, even to see it as a gift. After all, change is not necessarily for the worse; in fact, when we lean into it, our lives usually become better as a result.
One thing I’ve learned in my own experience is that one way to lean into change is to anticipate it and plan for it, which is what GiraffesConsulting is all about. When we plan for change, we no longer feel out of control, and we can face the future with confidence. This is why we always say: Change happens—take control!