Change: Why is it So Hard?
The end of September marks a change in seasons and the passing of time.
I’m writing from New York City, where the weather is transitioning from summer to fall and slowly but surely getting cooler. The bountiful produce at the farmers market is shifting, the colors of the leaves are changing and there’s a different energy in the air. The relaxed, easy going vibes of August are long gone, and life is back in full swing.
The key word I want to call out from the paragraph above is change. If you love the changing of seasons and fall in particular, then maybe my words have evoked some warm fuzzy feelings. I also love fall (sweaters! Apple picking! Squash!), but let’s be honest: Change is a doozy, isn’t it?!
Change is one of the only – if not THE only – constants of daily life, but it never feels easy.
Let’s continue with the changing of seasons as an example. It comes without fail every year, and yet the transition from one season to the next is always different in its own way. In New York for instance, summer has been arriving later and lasting longer (it’s October, and today is a high of 80 degrees!). Spring lasts a week at best, and winter feels colder and longer than ever. There’s no ‘normal’ or consistency with the weather anymore; we never know what to expect.
The Link Between Change and Micro-Resilience
What contributes to the frustration, heartache and suffering that often comes with transitions in life? Why does it seem, no matter how hard we try, like change only gets marginally easier – if that – to manage over time? There are many factors that contribute to the overall dislike of change. Some are biological, some cultural. Either way, the constant run-ins with change require some serious micro-resilience!
Resilience helps us sustain a sense of equilibrium regardless of what life throws our way. Some believe that resilience is composed of internal traits, but micro-resilience stems from a different viewpoint. Micro-resilience, as I define it, is preventative. I believe, like many, that resilience is not merely something we have within us; we can build and strengthen it over time through practice and with life experience. If you’ve read some of my other posts, then you know that I believe awareness is where the micro-resilience and personal growth pathway begins.
What better way to break the iron chains of change than to better understand it? I’ve explained two different elements below – our fight or flight mechanism and perfectionism – that contribute to our dislike for change. My intention is to shine the light on change and make it less scary by increasing your awareness of it. I hope to spark personal inquiry, facilitate self-growth and help you investigate where your relationship with change stems from, and why.
Our Biological Aversion to Change
It’s safe to say that, at least for the majority, the days of ‘kill or be killed’ are long gone. Surviving each day is no longer a life and death scenario; we do not need to assess the risks and threats around us from moment to moment. Modern society has evolved in many ways since the cave man era, but our bodies – specifically our brains and nervous system – have not. We are still wired for survival.
Our brains thus perceive anything new or different from our normal routine as a threat (pro tip: this is also why it’s hard to create the change we WANT to happen). It’s easier to survive something that you already know and understand; there’s less risk associated with the familiar. When faced with change, our brains send a message to our nervous system, signaling our fight or flight mechanism and igniting negative emotions like fear, discomfort and the like. The changes we deal with aren’t always on a grand scale, but our brains and nervous system don’t know the difference. If it goes against the norm, then we’re wired to feel an aversion towards it.
Our brains don’t know discomfort and change are necessary for personal growth.
Perfectionism: The Arch-Nemesis of Change
Now that you're aware of how our biological wiring holds us back in times of change, the next step is to examine certain habits that make change harder than it needs to be. Not all of the reasons responsible for an aversion to change, however, are out of our control. There are many examples of this, but in my opinion, perfectionism is one of the most potent cultural phenomena and behavioral tendencies that make change so challenging.
Perfectionism is in the eye of the beholder and inexplicably linked to a sense of control. It’s the belief that something can only be done one way – the right way – and is typically synonymous with extremely high standards. A perfectionist doesn’t believe in ‘good and done’; there’s always room for improvement. Perfectionists often feel like they or their actions are “never enough”.
An affinity for change requires cognitive flexibility, but perfectionism is rigid by nature.
If you self-identify as a perfectionist or have been working to rid yourself of perfectionist tendencies for some time now, let me offer you this: Perfectionism is all about perspective. When you feel your inner perfectionist rearing its ugly head, remind yourself that perfectionism looks for what is missing rather than what is. There are so many opportunities waiting to present themselves; we just need to expand our vision so we see them. We have a multitude of choices at our fingertips.
How you think about change determines your ability to deal with it.
Today’s Micro-Resilience Practice: A New Perspective on Change
Change is hard, but have you ever thought about what change isn’t? If we don’t want or like change, then what do we want? My curiosity led me to the dictionary. I scanned down to the antonyms for ‘change': fix, freeze and set were at the top of the list. These words don’t sound particularly enticing, do they? Do we really want our lives to be frozen in place or fixed to stay the same? When explained in this way, not changing is kind of scary, isn’t it?
With this new awareness and perspective in mind, pause and take a deep breath. Ask yourself, “How can I see change – both generally and specifically as it relates to my life – in a different way?” Change is hard, we but can do this.
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About The Author
As a former marketing strategist and avid reader, Sofia Adler is a lover of storytelling (especially the stories we tell ourselves). Sofia graduated from Colgate University with a Bachelor’s degree in sociology and is currently getting a Masters degree in Clinical Psychology and Education with a concentration in Spirituality and Mind/Body practice from Teachers College, Columbia University (expected December 2018). Sofia is a 200-hour RYT yoga instructor specializing in vinyasa and restorative practices and has participated in multiple yoga philosophy trainings.
Sofia has completed an array of additional courses and workshops on coaching, mindset and the spirit, mind and body connection, all of which have influenced her coaching approach and style.
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