We are hard-wired to perceive change as a threat. Our primitive brain likes to keep us safe and has enabled humans to survive through time. When our amygdala (part of the brain) detects fear, it sends messages to our bodies to go into fight, flight or freeze mode. This explains why some of us become angry as a result of a change being imposed on us, fearful and wanting to run away from a situation rather than face it, or paralyzed and unable to think clearly or to move forward.
So, how can we reduce our fear of change given this biological reality? Norman Doidge in The Brain that Changes Itself provides powerful evidence that our thoughts and perceptions have the power to change the structure of our brains. In other words, if we create new beliefs around change and internalize them, we also create new neural pathways that enable us to respond positively to change rather than view it as a threat. Candace Pert in her landmark book Molecules of Emotion provides strong evidence that our thoughts and emotions affect our bodies.
Given these facts, how can we reduce our fear of change? Here are some proven strategies. We can:
- Understand how we respond to change and why – A simple exercise is to rate yourself on a scale from 1 to 10 related to how you respond to change: “1” being it scares me to death and “10” being I thrive on it. Another way is to spend some time reflecting on the barriers you have towards change and writing them down. A number of barriers to change have been identified in the literature including: becoming paralyzed by fear, procrastinating, blaming others, believing we can’t do something or are not worthy, always focusing on problems rather than solutions, getting stuck in old habits or denying change is happening, and not being willing to put in the effort required to make a change. Ask yourself, What barriers do I have to embracing change in general, and in this particular situation? E.g. changing jobs, leaving an unsatisfying relationship, accepting a new leader in my organization. Notice past patterns in your life.
- Become aware of our beliefs around change – Close your eyes and think about a recent change; one that you didn’t choose but was imposed on you. Examples include: lay-off, separation, relocation. Notice what words come up for you. Write them down. Begin with the stem “Change is”_______ and fill in the blank. Do a brain dump and write down all the words that come up to define what change means to you. Examples are “Change is scary”; “Change is to be avoided at all costs” …
- Try on some new beliefs about change; such as “Change opens me up to new possibilities”, “Embracing change is a creative process”, “Change provides me with an opportunity to learn and grow”. Post one of these positive beliefs where you will see it at least 3 times a day – on your computer, bathroom mirror…and say this belief aloud each time you see it. Do this for 21 to 30 days and observe what you notice.
- Become aware of how we perceive change and replace our negative feelings and emotions with positive and empowering ones. Ariane de Bonvoisin in “The First 30 Days – Your Guide to Making Any Change Easier” identifies six “change demons” and their antidotes. The six change demons are: fear, doubt, blame, guilt, shame and impatience. She explains that the change demons “help us navigate through change by alerting us if we are off course and encouraging us to choose a different emotion to help us get where we want to go.” Being aware of which emotion you are feeling and replacing each one with positive and empowering emotions and antidotes are key to learning from and navigating change and dealing with uncertainty. The six change demons and their antidotes are:
||surrender (to not knowing)
||honesty (taking responsibility for our role in situations)
||honor (your dark or shadow side)
- Introduce small changes into your daily routine. Take a different route to work. Eat something different for breakfast. Walk or cycle to work instead of driving. Do this for a month and observe what you notice. Change is like a muscle. The more change you choose in your life, the more flexible you tend to become.
What change demons are your facing? How do you typically respond to change? What strategies will you begin integrating into your life to reduce your fear of change?
I welcome your comments below. Feel free to share this post with others.
I recently visited the Okanagan for a conference and to reconnect with old friends. It felt so good to spend time in the presence of folks I had gotten to know over the 8 years I had lived near Kelowna. You know how you feel when you haven’t seen or spoken to someone in a while and it seems like only yesterday since you’ve chatted? You pick up easily and effortlessly and feel relaxed, accepted and valued in their presence. Having moved from a place I had lived longer than anywhere since I left home at 18, I realize that I had started to put down roots. Do you relate? Moving to a new city within the past year, I so miss the deep connections I have with old friends.
So what is connection and why is it so important?
Brene Brown defines connection as “… the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”
A growing body of research shows that our learning, health and wellbeing are profoundly shaped by our social environments and connections with others.
Matthew Lieberman in his book Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect makes a strong case that the human need to connect with others is as basic as our need for food, shelter and water. Lieberman draws on findings from his own research and others to demonstrate that “being socially connected is our brain’s life long passion; … (and) “he argues that the need to reach out and connect with others is a primary driver behind our behavior.” We are wired to try to understand others and connect with them.
A strong body of research shows that social support, which includes emotional connection with “… a trusted group or valued individual, has been shown to reduce the psychological and physiological consequences of stress, and may enhance immune function. Social networks, whether formal (such as a church or social club) or informal (meeting with friends) provide a sense of belonging, security, and community.”
Rita Pierson, an educator for 40 years, makes the case in a humorous and brilliant TED Talk, that a positive relationship and connection between teacher and student is important for learning to occur. It’s not just about “pouring information into children’s heads”.
Knowing these facts about the value and importance of human connection has amazing implications on the way we facilitate learning in schools, collaboration and productivity in workplaces, and a sense of harmony, security and belonging in communities.
Reflecting on your life so far, can you identify educators, peers, bosses and friends who have strongly influenced your life in positive ways? What characteristics did they possess, and what positive impacts did they have on you, your health and wellbeing, learning, and/or sense of security and belonging?
I welcome your shares and comments below. Feel free to share this post with others.
For many years my life was all about work. I worked crazy hours, went to bed thinking about work and awoke with work on my mind. I would “hit the ground running”, rather than take time to “ground myself” and quiet my busy mind. In interactions with others, I was often thinking of the next thing on my “to do” list, rather than being totally present with the conversation. I was like a “spinning top” always “doing” and rarely “being”.
I typically took work home on weekends when I had a “real” job; and worked night and day when starting my consulting businesses and later my coaching business. I would finish one project, check it off the list and “get on” with the next one, rarely taking time to bask in the joy of my accomplishments.
Reflecting on those days, the birth of my two children were likely my “saving grace”. They “made me” take time off on weekends and some evenings to spend special quality time with them. If I hadn’t had kids, who knows what a “crazy” person I might have become!
Do any of these scenarios ring true for you? At this phase in life, I’m called to reach out to and support driven women who have made work a priority over their own health, their relationships, the rest of their life … . I know from personal experience the toll being a High Achieving Woman can take on your body, mind and relationships at home and at work. I’m called to share strategies that work with women like yourself and to create a global community and platform for women to share their experiences and support one another. I now know that there is more to life than living it “like a spinning top”.
Do you relate to any of the above? Do you have any similar experiences you’d like to share? I welcome your comments in the box below.