Why do we find change so difficult (even when we really seem to want it)?
Change is difficult, we’ve seen that a lot over the last couple of years. When I say change, I don’t mean the massive things necessarily, this fear applies to the small things too. Some people seem to find it easy but for most people, it’s stressful and often scary.
If we look at all the big and little changes we’ve had to deal with throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s no wonder people are feeling exhausted and stressed right now. In the UK we had 3 lockdowns in less than 18 months, businesses completely disappearing and uncertainty for people in a lot of sectors as well as rules changing all the time.
I can remember being about 12 years old standing on a really high diving board that my sister had just jumped off with ease. I was scared when I got up there, but I knew I wanted to do it. I stood there for ages wondering what would happen when I jumped off – would I be scared, would I be able to breathe, would I hit the bottom of the pool, what if I hurt myself? Eventually, I just couldn’t do it because I’d paralysed myself with all the fearful questions.
Change has always been difficult, especially when we’re talking about life-changing stuff like career change, relationship changes or moving house. All of these things seem like enormous changes to make, but what makes them different to taking a new route to work or trying a different takeaway? The last things can be stressful for people too – full of the unknown and fraught with dangerous ‘what-if’ questions.
Well, the main problem with change goes back to our cave-dweller days. When we were living in communities, the group represented safety. Safety from dangerous animals, other potentially invading communities but also, safety in numbers. With a group of people, you could spread the workload – some people are hunting, some people are growing food, some people are looking after children, some people are creating shelter.
Staying with the group was a good thing and was likely to ensure your survival. If you decided to change something and go off on your own, what would you do for food, shelter, protection? On your own, you might be able to do one or some of those things, but would you be able to keep surviving as long as you might with the group? Probably not.
Fast forward to today, that is still hard-wired into our brains so when we think about making changes, our brain's first reaction is something like ‘woah, why do we want to step out of the comfort zone here’? Which makes sense – why would you want to make things difficult for yourself when you’re in a comfortable, non-threatening place now?
The issue is that, for most of us, our basic needs – water, food, shelter, warmth, safety – are taken care of without much thought these days. This means that we have the opportunity to think about what might make us happy, instead of being consumed with what just keeps us alive.
The thought of feeling happy or fulfilled then leads us to question where we are now and what we could do about it. Am I happy now? Could I be happier? What would that look like? How could I implement it? Is that possible for me? What if I fail? And so we go back to the issue of changes being scary.
So now we know why it’s scary, what do we do about it? Well, there are a couple of ways that spring immediately to mind:
1. Go all in, head first into the change and completely go for it.
2. Think out all the possibilities, plan out everything and take it one little step at a time making sure you evaluate at every step.
These are extremes of course and for most people, change falls somewhere in the middle of those two things. There is something to be said for planning out your options and evaluating what happens, but there is also a time to just jump in and hope for the best.
For me, I can remember the diving board really clearly but it's happened since then – when I realised I didn’t want to be in my career anymore but didn’t know what to do. I was paralysed for years and couldn’t make a move.
But I really wish I’d just run and jumped off that high diving board. And I really wish I’d spoken to someone about my fears around changing career sooner. I wasted so much time and energy trying to put myself back in the box I’d just poked my head out of because I was scared of what might happen.
So, regardless of how scary change is, you’ll know if you want to do it and you know there is always someone who can help you through it 💖