As the warm embrace of summer gives way to the cool, crisp breath of autumn, we are reminded that change, like the shifting seasons, is an inevitable part of life. The shifting seasons mirror the human experience of change.
In spring, nature awakens from its slumber, and new life sprouts from the earth. Summer brings warmth and abundance, while autumn heralds a time of letting go as leaves fall from the trees. Finally, winter arrives, with its cold and darkness, challenging us to find resilience and patience until the cycle begins anew. And still, despite the undeniable beauty and necessity of change, it can often be frequently met with resistance, so much so, there is countless research and quotes about the challenges of change and understanding our opposition to it:
“Change is so challenging that even coins have trouble making it without some resistance!”
As Heraclitus wisely noted, “Change is the only constant in life”, and yet, our brains are wired to seek familiarity and routine. Dr. Jud Brewer, a neuroscientist and psychiatrist, explains that our brain is always seeking reward and avoiding punishment. “Change,” he says, “often feels like punishment to the brain.” When we encounter something new or different, our brain responds with uncertainty, triggering feelings of discomfort and anxiety. It is this discomfort that can make change difficult to embrace.
A fear of the unknown is one of the most potent drivers of resisting change. When faced with a new situation or challenge, uncertainty looms large, and for some of us our minds may gravitate toward worst-case scenarios. This fear can be paralyzing, preventing us from taking the first step toward change.
Change often brings with it a loss of control, another aspect that can trigger resistance. In their seminal work, “The Psychology of Change,” James Prochaska and Carlo DiClemente argue that people prefer to maintain a sense of autonomy and control over their lives. When change disrupts this equilibrium, it can lead to feelings of powerlessness and resistance.
Cognitive dissonance theory, developed by Leon Festinger, suggests that when individuals encounter information or experiences that contradict their existing beliefs or values, they experience discomfort. This discomfort drives them to either change their beliefs or resist the new information. In the context of personal change, our resistance may stem from the cognitive dissonance between our current habits and the desired change.
One of the most talked about psychological reasons for our obstinacy to change is the similarity to death and loss. As change often involves letting go of something, be it a job, a relationship, or a cherished routine. The process of letting go can be akin to mourning, and the stages of grief—denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance—may manifest during this process. These emotions can create a powerful barrier to change. Friedrich Nietzsche, a philosopher known for his profound insights into the human condition, once remarked, “Every ending is a beginning, and every beginning is like a death.” This profound observation encapsulates the idea that change, with its endings and new beginnings, can indeed feel like a form of death – the death of the old self or the familiar, paving the way for the birth of something new and unknown. In this light, Nietzsche’s words resonate deeply with the complex relationship we have with change and how it often mirrors the cycles of life, death, and rebirth that we encounter in the changing seasons and our own personal journeys.
Individual resistance to change is not solely a psychological phenomenon but is also deeply intertwined with societal norms and expectations. Society often reinforces existing structures, making it challenging for individuals to break free from established patterns.
In his influential book, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions,” Thomas Kuhn introduced the concept of paradigm shifts. He argued that scientific progress is marked by a cycle of normal science, crisis, and revolution. Similarly, in the broader context of society, change often encounters resistance from entrenched norms and power structures. The pressure to conform to societal norms and expectations can be so pervasive that it stifles individual creativity and the desire for change. Change agents and innovators often face ridicule, scepticism, or even persecution for challenging the status quo.
While reluctance to change is a natural human response, it is not insurmountable. By understanding the psychology and sociology behind resistance, we can better equip ourselves to navigate change effectively. Here are some tips to help get through the struggle we might experience with accepting and sometimes even inviting change:
Rather than fearing the unknown, we can learn to embrace it. Psychologist Susan Jeffers famously advocated for “feeling the fear and doing it anyway.” By acknowledging our fear of change and taking small, manageable steps, we can gradually build confidence and adapt to new circumstances.
Foster a growth mindset
Psychologist Carol Dweck’s concept of a growth mindset encourages individuals to see challenges and failures as opportunities for growth. When we view change as a chance to learn and evolve, it becomes less intimidating.
´Live as if you were to die tomorrow; learn as if you were to live forever´.
Seek support and guidance
Change is often more manageable when we have a support network in place. Friends, family, mentors, or therapists can provide valuable guidance, encouragement, and accountability as we navigate the complexities of change.
Emphasize the benefits
Highlighting the potential benefits of change can motivate individuals to overcome resistance. By focusing on the positive outcomes that can result from change, we can create a compelling vision that inspires action.
While our resistance to change is deeply rooted in psychology and societal structures, it is not an insurmountable obstacle. By embracing uncertainty, fostering a growth mindset, seeking support, and emphasizing the benefits, we can navigate change more effectively and harness its transformative power.
As the seasons continue to shift, let us remember that change is not our adversary but our eternal companion, guiding us toward growth, renewal, and the ever-evolving journey of life. Our resistance to change is like resisting life. In the words of Albert Einstein, ´The measure of intelligence is the ability to change´. So, let’s keep evolving, embracing change like a hug from a long-lost friend.
Farah Naz is a UK trained Psychotherapist of more than 30 years, and is a Clinical Hypnotherapist, with a special interest in neuroscience. She has worked with thousands of people globally for a range of issues. Farah has trained national organisations, corporate companies, doctors, teachers and health workers on psychological-related issues. Currently, she has an online international practice and a private practice in the Algarve.
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