3 Reasons We Struggle with Embracing Change

 One thing that is certain in life is change. Whether in a professional/career setting or in our personal lives, we all experience seasons of change.  For a lot of us, change of any kind can be challenging to embrace. Why is this?  Why do we struggle with embracing change? 

In my professional work, exploring and addressing this question is essential to helping my clients understand how the brain processes change and how that information can help them create better professional/personal habits when a change is presented or required in an organizational setting or in one's personal life.

There are a few core reasons why embracing change can be difficult for some and not for others. Below are three reasons why we may struggle with embracing change. 

  1. We’re Creatures of Habit

We all have predictable behaviors that we engage in daily (eating, talking with other people, sleeping, etc.) This introduces the idea of where habits are created and sustained.  As humans we like habits because they help us maneuver through life. We also like the predictability of routine. Scientists have studied whether our day-to-day routines are deliberate and self-governing or more instinctual and environment specific.

For example, one study conducted by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), looked at their own executives by monitoring them going about their day via "black boxes" that measured and recorded various metrics – including where the executives were going and how quickly, their tone of voice and other subtle details about their body language.  At the end of the study, they concluded that 90% of what most people do in any day follows a routine so complete that their behavior can be predicted with just a few mathematical equations. 

As surprising as this may be, this means that our life from day-to-day is less determined by our conscious intentions and deliberate choices, but rather by mental processes put into motion by the environment we're in.  As humans, we are far more animalistic than we may think and more likely to react instinctively to the world around us. 

Now enter in change.  It's no wonder that when change is introduced to us, we may at first respond very instinctually.  The change may be threatening the very routines, habits, thought constructs and environments we have grown to appreciate and feel unconsciously comfortable in. It is because of how we are wired that we experience change the way we do.  Our animalistic brains and programming allow us to quickly assess whether a proposed change is a threat.  If we perceive the change as so, we’re more likely to behave in a way that is fear-based and limiting.

This is not to say we cannot influence how we respond to change.  On the contrary, once we have the awareness of how these key human puzzle pieces operate, we have the power to choose how we want to think, behave and engage with the environment we’re in and the change that is being presented. 

2. Addressing the Unknown Can Be Scary

Let’s face it – anything we are unfamiliar with can seem a bit scary or daunting at first. The reason being is that the unknown can activate or trigger the oldest part of our brain, the “Reptilian Brain.”

The reptilian brain is designed to protect us from “threats” or “harmful situations”. For our ancestors, this part of the brain was very practical and helpful to protect themselves and their villages against the threats of their day and age - a saber tooth tiger for example. 

Today, the complication with this old, yet at times helpful mechanical operating system, is that the reptilian brain cannot differentiate between a possible threat from a tiger and an important life/work change we may be encountering. This part of the brain will respond the same way to both scenarios. Afterall, the reptilian brain controls the body’s vital functions - heart rate, breathing, body temperature, and balance. 

Therefore, when a change is presented in our lives, this part of our brain can become activated and thus create a “protective” fear or fight or flight response to the change, purely due to its rigid and compulsive characteristics and mechanical make-up. This is why the unknown can be so scary for us.  The reptilian brain is assessing whether we can survive the change/the unknown. 

3. We May Lack the Proper Coping Skills and Strategies to Help Us Navigate Change

There are some people who have not had much experience with navigating change in their lives – whether within the scope of their career or their personal life. For those individuals, embracing change may be far more challenging.

The ability to embrace change quickly and adapt human behavior to support oneself through a change, requires a certain kind of mindset.  That mindset is rooted in self-efficacy – the belief in ones capacity to exert control over one's own motivation, behavior, and social environment to thrive and be successful. 

 Usually that mindset is derived from personal past experiences.  For example, if someone has personally experienced change in their lives and have lived through it, the likelihood of them having positive self-efficacy regarding their ability to face and navigate change is a lot higher than the person who doesn’t have personal experience living through the nuances of change.

Those individuals who have lived through a lot of change, whether personally or professional, may be predisposed to being more resilient to change or the unknown and thus, feel more confident in their ability to process and guide themselves through change.

For more information on practical strategies to embrace change, see my blog post titled, 4 Strategies for Embracing Change.

Ashley Boyd