(A) Voice of Her Own: #A-Z Challenge
“Why is change–even desired change–so stressful? To begin with, it requires psychic energy. It threatens the routines, habits, and fixed points of reference that provide comfort and stability in our daily lives. We are creatures of habit….Then, too, it’s never a single contained event. Our lives are complex tapestries of delicately interwoven threads. A tug in one direction usually has unforeseen consequences for the whole; change can alter the entire woof and warp of our existence….Change always brings the possibility of chaos–and of transformation.”
A Voice of Her Own: Women and the Journal-Writing Journey by Marlene Schiwy
I have long been fascinated with the topic of change. I used to teach about organizational change, and always got a laugh when repeating Michael Fullan’s comment that “the only person who likes change is a wet baby.”
My real interest, though, is personal change. Specifically, why is it that even desired change is so difficult for us, and what can we do to make it easier?
There are several posts on this site about ways to make change easier. For example, this one of 18 ways to overcome resistance, this one about making change the kaizen way, or this one about focusing on what’s working. And there will be more in the coming months. I’m going to keep writing about change until I understand it better, and I want to continue to share processes that work.
Today, let’s dig a little deeper into why desired change is hard on us. Mostly, we can blame our brains.
5 Ways Your Brain Messes with Desired Change
- There was a time when searching for problems was necessary to our survival. Now that kind of negative default setting just gets in the way. Change attempts based on fear and regret don’t work and never will.
- Our conscious mind is sure that we really, really want to change. But subconsciously, there’s something in what we’re doing now that is working for us. The problem is called immunity to change, and unless we figure out what’s keeping us stuck, we’ll stay stuck.
- Our brains attempt to conserve energy. We want results, not processes; quick fixes, not the inevitable “three steps forward, two steps back” of successful change.
- ‘All or nothing’ thinking often accompanies our change efforts. This can take the form of trying to change too many things at the same time, or of aiming for perfection when making even a single change. All or nothing thinking is a cognitive bias, a trick of the brain.
- Any change effort requires a whole range of supports. Internal supports include focused attention, self-control, motivation and willpower. None of these supports are unlimited and they can be exhausted pretty quickly. This is especially problematic when all or nothing thinking is leading the charge.
Those five brain issues are in addition to the interconnectedness and fear of the unknown mentioned in Schiwy’s quote.
It is little wonder that even desired changes are tough to achieve. That is not to say that we are defeated before we start. There are many things we can do to outfox our brains. But it’s good to know, I think, that difficulty with change is not a character flaw.
Which items on the list are most significant for you when you are struggling to make a desired change?