“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” “I don’t know, we’ve always done it this other way.” “How do you know you’ll like it?” “It sounds nice, but I just can’t.” “I don’t think I could do that.” “But what if it doesn’t work?” …and the list goes on.
Have you ever been presented an opportunity to make a change, but you didn’t take it? Did you react with one of the phrases above? Did part of you want to try, but the part of you that holds you back was too strong? If so, you might need to work on overcoming the fear of change.
We all have fears. Some of us are afraid of heights, while others are afraid of spiders. But one fear that many of us have in common is the fear of change.
Identifying the Fear of Change
How do you know if you fear change? If you avoid change without a good reason, or because it seems too hard, you might fear change. If you worry that changing something will ruin everything, you might fear change. If your reason for saying no is “I’ve never done it before,” you might fear change. Change can mean trying something new or different. It can mean adjusting your goals or even your destination.
Here are some examples where the fear of change may be a factor:
- You don’t like your job, but you don’t look for a new one or confront your boss.
- You have a great new job offer through a friend, but you don’t take it because you’ve “been with this company for 6 years.”
- You see a cheaper brand of cereal at the store, but you don’t buy it because “it might not be as good.”
- You’ve never taken a different route to work, even when you know ahead of time there’s a terrible accident blocking 3 lanes on the freeway.
- You always order the same thing at a restaurant, even though other menu items sound good.
Obviously there are other factors that could go into the examples above, but hopefully these give an idea of the common theme. The bottom line is this: if you consistently opt for the known over the unknown, you might be afraid of change.
But the Unknown is Scary!
How do you know the unknown is scary? You’ve never tried it! Sure, there is the chance that you’ll try something and be disappointed. But there’s also the chance that you’ll like it and have a whole new world of possibilities opened up to you. Either way, you can be glad you tried something new.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t weigh risks and benefits. I actually encourage that, and when the benefits outweigh the risks, I say go for it! Don’t fall back on an excuse like the ones listed at the beginning of this article. Saying “I’ve always done it this other way” is not a reason. That has nothing to do with risks or benefits; that’s the fear of change talking.
Most of us do try new things now and then, whether we realize it or not. We form habits in different areas of our lives, and in some areas, we are okay with change. In other areas, we actively avoid it. For example, at work, you get assigned new projects all the time. Do you tell your boss “I don’t think I can do that…” ? No, you do the work, because you’ve accepted that daily work assignments can change. You’ve weighed the risks of losing your job versus collecting a paycheck, and you’ve chosen the latter. We are okay with that, even if it turns out to not be our best work. Even if we have to try a new approach to solve the problem. So why can’t we apply that to other areas? Why can’t we embrace change in other areas where it’s hard?
Fear Can Be Conquered
Fear only has as much power over you as you choose to give it. I think that some areas of our lives feel more untouchable because any change there seems momentous. It feels like it’s an area where we can’t afford to be wrong, and so we never try. But it’s okay to be wrong sometimes. As Confucius said, “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”
So how do we start overcoming the fear of change? The best way is to start small, and make it a habit to try new things. Start by ordering something different the next time you go to your favorite restaurant. It might be good or it might be bad, but it will be a victory because you finally tried it. If you want to go further, try ordering several different meals before going back to your default choice. Try a different coffee choice at Starbucks. Take a different route to work. Intentionally make a small change in your daily routine, and you’ll find that the world doesn’t implode.
As you get comfortable with making little changes, you’ll be able to take on bigger and bigger changes. It will be hard at first, but it will also get easier every time you do it. Each change you make chips away some of the fear that was cementing you in place. You’ll feel a little bit more free with every new change.
A Few More Thoughts on Change
When you decide to try a small change, it can either go well or it can go poorly. Just remember that either way, it’s a positive step. We can learn from both failures and successes, as we can learn from likes and dislikes. I encourage you not to be the person who tries one small change, doesn’t like it, and then refuses to try anything ever again. “See! That’s why I don’t try things!” Please understand that change is a good thing. It helps us to grow by stretching us a little bit and exposing us to new things.
If you are afraid of starting new relationships, how will you ever find your mate? How will you ever find a fishing buddy? If you are afraid of changing jobs, how will you reduce your stress? How will you shorten your commute or get a jump in pay?
The fear of change says “I don’t want anything bad to happen.” But by avoiding change, you are also avoiding the possibility of something good happening. Bad is going to happen to us either way. Don’t be afraid to find the good — it’s definitely worth it!