The one constant thing in life is change. It is the one thing we can’t avoid. The one thing we always long for : that better, brighter tomorrow that will fix all our problems. Yet change is also something we fear. It is great when it is happening – just as long as it doesn’t impact us. Why do we dream of change yet at the same time do everything we can to avoid it?
“Nothing happens unless something is moved.” – Albert Einstein
Where does our fear of Change come from?
Consider an everyday phrases like the “Good old Days” or the tendency to refer to decades or times of the past as the “Golden age”.
The older something is, or the longer it has been around, the better we tend to view it.
In a study done in 2010, when given the choice between two alternatives, participants preferred the one they were told was in place for a longer period of time. In another study, participants rated acupuncture more favorably when they were told how long the practice had been around for.
There are some pretty powerful neurological process at play that inhibit our change agility quotient and make the case for change all the much harder to accept.
Another strong factor that drives our fear for change is uncertainty. As humans, although this is culturally more pronounced in the West, we fear unstructured situations with uncertain outcomes. There is even a term that is used for this : Uncertainty Avoidance. Furthermore, there is even an index that has been created to measure it.
In cultures that have high Uncertainty Avoidance, there tends to be lots of strict laws and processes in place to control the uncertainty and try to replace it, to some possible extent, by certainty. In today’s Western world we clearly exhibit high levels of Uncertainty Avoidance and strive for stability by creating continuous streams of rules and procedures.
In the East the effect is less pronounced and the concept of Yin and Yang is more evident.
In the East, they have accepted the nature of uncertainty and the futility of fighting against it.
Rather than strict rules and procedures everywhere (they are not completely absent though), they tend to continuously react to the changing world around them
Yin-Yang is the fundamental way of thinking pervasive in Chinese culture and society for more than three thousand years. In Yin-Yang, change is embraced as a fundamental principle of the Universe.
We fear change, yet we desire to Change?
“Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” –John F. Kennedy
Our survival as a species, since the beginning, has been underpinned by a delicate balance of pessimism and optimism. Optimism and pessimism – expecting a positive or negative future, is born of profoundly deep rooted neurological cognitive mechanisms.
Pessimism is the mechanism that allows us to make plans to protect ourselves, like storing food for a potentially cold winter, while Optimism keeps us driving forward through that cold winter when food stocks are low, toward a potentially better future and the knowledge that spring and more food is just around the corner.
Improving our lives and a better future for us and our families lands squarely in the optimism bucket and our brains are designed exactly for this. However a better future implies some, or other, form of change versus today.
Hence our desire to improve our lives, our standing, our finances is directly correlated to the amount of change required.
So it is normal that we desire change, as we wish for our lives to be better.
However this desire is in direct conflict with our fear of the uncertainty that comes with that change.
And that is the conundrum of change. And why in so many situations we may say that change is needed, but yet we find it incredibly hard to actually change.
“People don’t resist change. They resist being changed.” –Peter Senge
So how can we change?
“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” -Viktor Frankl
1. Start with the Case for Change
All journeys start with the first step (the how), but long before that first step you need to know the destination of your journey and why you want to go there.
The why is the most powerful factor in any case for change. And it needs to come before the how you intend to get there. Why do you want to go visit your grandmother versus staying at home to relax watching Netflix? Why do you want to become a plumber, when you are a highly trained electrician? Why do you want to change the organisational structure of your company?
The why is what gets people out of bed in the morning. We may not think about why we get up and go eat breakfast before moving on to work, but it is an essential driving force in who we are and what we do.
Where does this come from? What inner working require us to have a why to go out and do something? Why do we do the things we do?
Sigmund Freud was of the opinion that our most important motivations come from our instincts:
-the instinct to remain alive. This is essentially the need to eat, to be safe, to feel good.
-the instinct not to die. This is the need to avoid things that could lead to our demise.
Interestingly Freud’s views can be tied back to the basic cognitive patterns of Optimism and Pessimism.
Victor Frankl viewed the why as the need to make a contribution, He thought our underlying motivator in life is a will to meaning – to find meaning for our existence. His research indicated a strong relationship between “meaninglessness” and criminal behaviors.
This is a powerful notion that is becoming more mainstream in the discussions around the Millennial population and their need to work for a company that has purpose.
Both these notions need to be weaved together to create a compelling case for change, whether it be your own personal change journey or that of an organisation.
You can’t change and you won’t change unless you completely believe in the case for change.
2. Just do it
Nike said it well and continues to say it well. Once you believe change is required, then the next step is to make it happen, by just stopping what it is you need to change and starting on the things you think you need to be doing.
It is an extremely simple notion, that surprisingly so many people and organisations fight against, providing excuse after excuse as to why they can’t make the change just yet. In these situations it is usually because the case for change is not strong enough or not fully understood and accepted.
Don’t hesitate, don’t find an excuse – just start building the blocks and making the changes you know you need to make. Keep it going, every second, every day. Once the momentum of change tips over the resistance to change, the way to your destination just got easier.
“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” — Socrates