How to Ease Resistance to Change
Metathesiophobia. It’s a word you may be unfamiliar with, but undoubtedly describes something you’ve encountered at some point in your life: a fear of change. At some point, we are all subject to a reluctance to commit to or pursue change, even if the benefits of doing so are clear.
Research has found that being overly worried about the consequences of change is the ‘most detrimental’ thing with regards to succeeding in a career, largely due to the fact that many people will ultimately choose to refrain from trying something new, even if it could result in greater levels of job satisfaction or an increased salary.
However, this propensity for metathesiophobia permeates more than just our working lives; whether it be diet, lifestyle choices, holiday destinations or restaurants, nearly all of us have been guilty of choosing familiarity over something new, even if it is potentially a superior option.
So, why is it so hard to commit to change? Why do we routinely put up barriers to progression, and instead decide to settle for less? What is it that is getting in the way?
A lesson from physics
It may help to consider this psychological trait from the perspective of physics. For an object to move, the forward propellant must be greater than the resistance (friction) working against it; therefore, to gain any momentum, it is necessary to add more forward force or reduce the friction to increase acceleration.
Behavioural science has shown us that our capacity to embrace and chase change works in a similar way. Our reason (motivation) for changing is the forward force, and the tendency to stay as we are, or resist, is the friction. It is, of course, far easier to remain static and continue as we are, it’s the safe option after all. And yet it’s when we make the leap and push beyond our comfort zone that we often end up enjoying the greatest levels of satisfaction and fulfilment.
Business change and why fear arises
Within the business world there are many reasons we may resist organisational change – from fear of losing status, fear of letting go of the familiar and learning something new, concerns over the unknown, convincing ourselves we will fail and worries about the financial consequences associated with such failure. While it is, of course, natural to have reservations and concerns, it can be limiting, even damaging, at both an individual and a business level if fear continually wins out over ambition.
Again, this brings us back to the concept of resistance.
Change resistance can exist in many forms, although the fear of losing something is generally present in some form or another. Each of us has a basic need for survival, and to that end security is paramount; we need to feed ourselves and our family and keep a roof over our heads, so anything that even comes close to being considered a threat is something to be avoided. Loss aversion – which describes the human behaviour of focusing on avoiding loss over seeking gains – feeds directly into this narrative.
And, while it’s entirely sensible to consider consequences and not leap feet first into each and every opportunity we may be presented with, it’s also useful to remember that to remain as we are also carries consequences and whilst appearing to be the safest option, is often not the best for us. As any life or business coach will remind us, real growth lies at the edge of our comfort zone.
There will always be resistance when it comes to change and life is all about figuring out the most appropriate ways to create that forward momentum while simultaneously remaining in control and embracing challenges when they arise. Change can be frightening, but what has ever been achieved when things stay the same?
Mark has over 25 years’ experience of fast paced transformational change, often in highly complex and political situations. He co-founded Applied Change 10 years ago with a clear purpose to push the thinking on human behaviour and human centred change. Most recently he’s been working closely with University of the West of England (UWE) Psychological Sciences Research Group to develop simple, practical models and tools that re-orientate our approach to business change, starting from the human perspective.