Why We Resist Change and What We Can Do About It

The last time a new opportunity surfaced for you, did you welcome it with open arms? Turn it away? Approach it with a healthy dose of caution? I face life with a pretty open mind but changes, even the ones I bring on myself, can still throw me for a bit of a loop, especially when there's a risk involved. And let's face it, there's almost always risk attached, because change usually means leaving a comfort zone, and leaving your comfort zone is scary stuff.

To clarify: change can be risky without being dangerous or detrimental to your well-being. It's important that we know this because our mind is going to try and tell us that it's NOT TRUE, that this is risky and bad and we shouldn't do it.

When we follow through on the change, good stuff can happen. Good stuff like:

  • growing a tomato plant on your patio for the first time and receiving one perfect tomato
  • navigating Montreal by yourself and discovering you can do it without being lost for too long
  • going swing dancing with a friend when you've only ever been teased for your dancing, and having it be the most incredible experience that opens up a whole new hobby for you

I could have, and sometimes did, make excuses for why I wouldn't do any of those things ("I kill plants!" .... "I only speak un petit peu de French!" ... "I can't dance!") and life would have been fine, but I feel so much richer for the things I've done than the things I haven't. I do have my share of regrets ... things I've given up or let pass by when I felt that ugly resistance surface in my mind. It's insidious, isn't it? Telling you all the reasons why you shouldn't do something, drowning out the reasons you should. Ugh.

This is something I still struggle with, talking myself out of things or just letting them drift away, but I don't want to do that anymore. I read a wonderfully inspiring post on this just the other day. I want the "I did it/I tried that!" pile to outweigh the stack of regrets.

This is one of the reasons I love to read, both fiction and non-fiction: I see people taking risks, and it reminds me that I can do that, too; that I can push through the muck and make it through, and have a really good story on the other end, and maybe more than a story.

Yesterday I finished reading Barbara Delinsky's Sweet Salt Air. I'll do my best not to spoil it, but there's a character who's gotten stuck in a comfort zone - albeit a beautiful one - and is reluctant, sometimes terrified, to step outside of it. To say any more would spoil the ending, so I'll just tell you I was crying as this all came to a head. Seeing someone face that fear, whatever the outcome, is powerful.

So what do we do about this resistance to change and risk?

Step 1 | Identify the culprits

So you know how we're always telling that nagging voice in our head, the one telling us how and why we can't do things, to take a hike? We're about to throw it a bone. Give it a cup of tea, tell it to get comfortable, because you've got some questions and you need answers.

"That change I want to make, the risk I want to take: why shouldn't I do it? Tell me again, I don't think I heard you the first time."

You want all the dirt, all the reasons why you shouldn't do this.

Maybe you want to start a garden but every plant you've ever owned has died and you only have a teeny tiny patio.

Maybe you want to write a novel but you've only ever written short stories.

Guess what? That nagging voice just gave you exactly what you need to take on that risk like Wonder Woman herself.

Step 2 | Break it down

What we need to do now is take the "you can't do this because" and turn it around.

You don't have a lot of outdoor space and you kill plants. What's the solution? Get a few small-scale, resilient plants that need a minimum of care to thrive.

So the longest thing you've written was 5,000 words long. That was doable, right? If you're writing a 50,000 word novel, you just have to do that ten times over!

Whatever it is you have to do, pick a start date, and make it soon. This week is good; tomorrow is awesome; today is even better, so you have little chance to come up with more reasons why you shouldn't do this (but if you do, just turn them around, like you did with the others)!

Step 3 | Get started

One of the hardest things about doing something new is getting started. That first step doesn't mean you have to see it through to the end but it's still a commitment, so we're going to make this as easy as possible.

Figure out what the very first step is you need to take, and then do it! Doesn't matter how small. This is your Day One task.

You can't have a garden without plants, so get ye to the garden centre! Humble yourself: tell the employees exactly what you want and that it needs to be easy care. Tell them you just want a few plants to spruce up your patio. Wrap them up, take them home, and voila!

Time to write that novel! Now, how long does it typically take you to write 5,000 words? Take that time, add a bit of a buffer (just a wee one, mind you!) for a learning curve, and plunk it in your planning tool of choice. Only allocate time for the first few chunks of 5,000 words at most, mind you! Don't schedule all 50,000 words just yet.

"The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing."

Walt Disney

I'm going to heed Mr. Disney's advice and stop talking so you can start doing. 😉 I hope you're starting to feel a tingle of excitement alongside your fear about launching yourself into that new project. Take the risk (it's totally worth it) and enjoy the utterly delicious experience of trying something new!