Why Do We Fear Change if it is Just Part of Life?
Change is a Paradox – you can both want change and fear change at the same time
I was someone who was used to change. Change revolved around me my whole life and yet in my late 40’s I was paralyzed by my fear of change.
As a military brat I moved 5 times before I was 10. Between the age of 10 and 17 I moved 5 more times. As a university student I moved every 4 months. As a wife and mother of two I moved 9 times – 7 of those moves were international.
At the age of 10 I was along for the ride as my mother found the courage to embrace change to save her life and the life of her 7 children.
One thing all those moves had in common was my ability to start over. These changes provided me with so many great opportunities –
- I was able to explore new cultures and exotic locations.
- I was able to meet new people from all over the world.
- I a great excuse to redecorate my home every few years.
- I was able to start over with a clean slate.
Even with all that change, I was able to find stability. I was able to reinvent myself many times to suit the new neighbourhood, culture and host country. I was able to morph all that experience with change into a career as an intercultural trainer for multi-national corporations and expat coach to people moving to new countries.
Change – while scary in the moment actually had many rewards.
I knew how to manage change and yet, when I badly wanted to make a major life change, the very idea of making that change felt overwhelming. I knew making that change was my best option to find happiness. I knew from my mother’s example that it was possible to become the hero of my own life
but I was paralyzed with fear.
So why do we fear change so much?
Change is risky
When your brain senses risk your defence mechanism kicks in. Your brain becomes flooded with dopamine and it looks for what corrective actions it can trigger. It encourages every available neuron to regain control. Your brain is wired to provide answers to uncertainty. it wants you to do anything to reduce the stress. Your brain defaults to the easiest and least painful option – the easiest solution is to stay in your comfort zone.
Uncertainty is more stressful than predictable negative outcomes
– think about that –
We’d rather face predictable negative outcomes than face uncertainty and risk that something good could happen. This is what drove me to search for the evidence of his multiple infidelities. No matter how devastated, disrespected and unhappy I would feel – at least I would know for sure. That pain I felt in the moment somehow satisfied my need to be certain. For 20 years it wasn’t enough to get me to make a change though because my life, while painful, was also comfortable because it was familiar.
The unknown is scary
Change is all about moving into the unknown. Fear causes unclear and irrational thinking and behaviour. You end up staying in unhappy and unhealthy situations.
Your brain hates loss
Especially when you have an emotional investment. You don’t want to lose all the time and effort that you’ve already exerted. Your brain’s desire for loss aversion means you will likely make choices to avoid change. Aversion to loss can cause logic to fly out the window. My brain was convinced that I would lose everything I had enjoyed for the past 30 years.
Your brain expects things to stay the same
Change challenges the info stored in your brain. Trust is broken. Any change that is inconsistent with your core beliefs will be scary and stressful. You develop core beliefs about how the world is supposed to work just by living that way for an extended period – change challenges that.
By my late 40’s my identity had morphed into expat wife and mother. It was a comfortable and rewarding life. My brain wanted my life to stay that way.
We’re so afraid of what others will think we’re afraid to try
My brain convinced me that family and friends would judge me foolish for the choices I had made to stay despite the infidelities.
Your brain may tell you stories
You may fear that you won’t survive and thrive. This was my greatest fear. My brain convinced me that I would return to the unstable, subsistence lifestyle of my childhood if I chose to change my marital status. You become convinced that the lies your brain is telling you are truths. Your brain weaves a story about horrible consequences as means to get you to jump back to your comfort zone. It is safer there than it is on the other side of change.
We equate change with mistakes
Maybe you can relate to not feeling good enough, not smart enough. Maybe you feel like the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t. You wonder – “What if I fail?’ I know change can be scary but I also know that everything you want is on the other side of that fear. I challenge you to imagine instead that you fly.
So How do You Manage Your Fear?
Because my brain was doing its job, I found myself afraid to embrace the very thing that I knew had saved my mother’s life all those years ago. I was resisting change and yet – I was the kid who wanted to be the care free, adventurous Mary Tyler Moore.
I found myself grappling with chronic infidelity. Suffering in silence. Making myself sick so I could continue living a very comfortable, unhappy life.
Once I learned that my brain was just trying to protect me, I began to understand how I could find myself struggling to master my fear of change – – despite a history of embracing change.
My aha moment that pushed me to challenge and deal with my fear of change came when I realised just how sad and broken I felt.
I had been pretending to myself, to my kids, to my friends and to my extended family, that all was good. It wore me out. I became physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. My health went down hill. Fear showed its ugly face in every area of my life. It was stressful and debilitating. I was at the end of my rope.
I realized then that the very thing that was going to save me, was also the thing that I feared the most. After all, hadn’t my mother saved her life and mine because she had the courage to embrace change?
Many of Us Choose Fear
We allow fear to disguise itself as practicality. Was I going to choose fear or was I going to choose to become the hero of my own life and embrace change?
Leaving a life of stability and security for a new, unknown life that I understood would make me a happier, healthier person was scary but I knew that even if I ended up having to be a barista in a a coffee shop to make ends meet – I was going to be happier.
I was going to embrace my inner Mary Tyler Moore. I began to hum the theme for the Mary Tyler Moore show regularly.
Who can turn the world on with her smile? Who can take a nothing day, and suddenly make it all seem worthwhile? Well it's you girl, and you should know it With each glance and every little movement you show it Love is all around, no need to fake it. You can have the town, why don't you take it. You're gonna make it after all You're gonna make it after all,
So where was that young girl who wanted to be Mary Tyler Moore? I had traded my soul for security and stability but – my soul wanted to fly and it did. I knew I was not going to resist change again.
Change is scary, but I learned to control my fear of the unknown, and so can you.
I took specific actions I that allowed me to manage my fear and live in the unknown.
I embraced – C-H-A-N-G-E – and so can you
C – Control Negative Thoughts
H – Have Confidence in Yourself
A – Allow Yourself to Freak Out – to feel the fear AND the excitement associated with the change
N – Narrate Your Own Story – life doesn’t come with a manual so stop living your life according some perceived manual
G – Go Nuts – do something fun to release the tension associated with the change – do something that will make you feel confident and powerful
E – Evaluate What You Are Feeling – process the emotions associated with the change – not just the fear but also any grief or sadness that you may feel because you are letting go of the old way to embrace a new way.
Over the next 6 blog posts I am going to share the tools I used to develop the skills required to manage my big life change.