18 July 2013

Changing when you're resistant to change

I was talking to my mom the other day about little complications in our lives; the bad habits and sticky thoughts that periodically slow us down.

"The problem," she said, "is that I'm resistant to change."

Huh, me, too, I thought. But then I thought, Wait a minute. Aren't we all resistant to change?

"It's easy for them."

I suddenly realized my mom's internal reasoning for getting stuck (and often mine as well) was the perception that the people solving their problems were doing it without resistance. "Those people" didn't have doubts or roadblocks -- they just embraced the decision to change their lives and strode forth into the future.

But we all know that's not how it works.

Everyone who decides to change something -- no matter what it is -- must contend with the inclination to fall back on habit and to do what's already familiar. After all, safety is one of our most basic needs.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs (Image credit: Lunchbreath.com)

Image credit: LunchBreath.com via Creative Commons license

The fear: change = danger

Somewhere along the line, some of us equated change, even healthy change, with lack of safety. Change = danger. And Rule #1 when you're a mortal being (after you've found food, shelter, and a bathroom) is to avoid danger.

I know this is old news. There are thousands of words devoted to the value of "stepping outside your comfort zone," "thinking outside the box," and "reinventing yourself." But hearing my mom say those words, hearing how sure she was that her resistance to change was a personal failing, not a natural part of being human...well, it just hit home in the most personal way.

It made me think about my own approach to change and, perhaps more importantly, what I'm modeling for my kids.

A different way to embrace change

Whenever the talk turns to parental modeling, there's always this moment of panic: Oh, crap. I've already messed up. But I don't think we can ever be fully aware or in control of what we model to our kids. How can we monitor ourselves every moment and, frankly, why would we want to?

(Besides, modeling I-came-this-way perfection has its own problems.)

I like to think about it this way: I'm modeling my humanity -- the fact that I'm a human-in-progress. I want to show my kids that every day is a new opportunity to learn something, fix something, or appreciate where we are right now. Which means there's lots of room for error. Which means that change isn't so dangerous after all.

I may not embrace change with a big bear hug, but I don't have to fear it. I can tap it on the shoulder and say hi. When I'm feeling brave, I might even shake its hand. Who knows, I may make a new friend.

This is how I try to operate. I don't always succeed. But the not succeeding and trying again might be the most important part of the modeling.

I may not embrace change in a big bear hug, but I don't have to fear it. Photo credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net
What do you think? How do you approach change when change feels scary?

Your comments

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I try to think of "change" as "opportunity". Opportunity seems less scary (although, it can be TERRIFYING when it involves something new).

I also always remember that my own fear is a reflection of how important something is to me. If I'm scared/worried/nervous - it means it matters. All the more reason to try my best and embrace failure as a way to figure out what DOESN'T work.

I'm pretty sure Edison has been quoted on this topic too... something like "I didn't fail 99 times, I just found 99 ways that didn't work."

When we talk about being brave with my 3 yo, I try to frame it as doing something even though you are scared - rather than absence of fear. I remember hearing a story about a general who used to strap his knees to his saddle to keep his legs from shaking as he rode into battle, and I laugh - it's a reminder that any occasion I might have for being brave that I have has far lower stakes.

You comment is so lovely, Nicole. Another thing I try to keep in mind is that I can't necessarily control how I feel about a given situation, but I CAN control how I respond to that feeling.

Growth and personal development cannot happen outside of change. If we want to better ourselves and push our personal limitations, we need to look at change as a stepping stone to greater heights.

I hate change! (But I need to change that.) (Cr*p!) I'm so bad at embracing change. :( I need to get better about that for my daughter. I get so sad when I put her "too small" clothes in storage when she outgrows them. I guess the hardest about the concept of "change," for me, is that it means that time is passing us by; and that makes me sad because I'm pretty happy in life and I don't want it to end.

So, to deal with that?

Whenever there is a change in my life that I am forced to deal with (new job, moving to a new location, etc.), I usually think about the fun new things that I might be able to do, now, as a result of this/that new change. For me, this usually revolves around food (e.g., the yummy new seafood restaurants we can try if we move to the west coast).

Great post! It made me think! :)

Amanda: I'm not great with change, either. Actually, I'm OK with change, but I'm NOT great with risk -- the changes I'm not sure I can handle successfully. And yet, looking back, the risks were usually the start of something great that (ironically) was unrelated to my success or failure.

Speaking of risk and its connection to happiness, have a read. This is great stuff: http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/201306/what-happy-people-do-differently

As someone who's made several big changes in the past few years, I think there's also something to the idea that not only are we afraid of change, we're also afraid we CAN'T change. And it's a lot easier to not even bother to try than it is to face the possibility of failure (at least for Type A people-pleasers like me). We have to put aside the idea that making a change is about the outcome. Once we accept the idea that change comes simply from the decision to change and taking steps toward it, regardless of the outcome, change is much less scary.

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