Destigmatizing the fear of change

Stop running away from change — Pic by Joshua Ness

“If you do not change your direction, you may end up where you are going.” — Lao Tzu

We fear the unknown because we don’t know the outcome.

An old man accidentally fell into the river rapids leading to a high and dangerous waterfall. Onlookers feared for his life.

Miraculously, he came out alive and unharmed downstream at the bottom of the falls. Everyone asked him how he managed to survive.

“I accommodated myself to the water, not the water to me,” the old man replied, “Without thinking, I allowed myself to be shaped by it. Plunging into the swirl, I came out with the swirl. That’s how I survived.”

Resisting change won’t turn the outcome in your favor. The old man survived the rapids not because he knew what to do but because he didn’t fight the current — he let go.

If you are afraid of change, things will get worse. You cannot control uncertainty. However, understanding what’s going on in your mind can reduce the pain. And drive more positive results, even if they are unexpected.

I hope this post helps you demystify change — become more aware of your emotions and fears so you can stop resisting the next time you fall into the rapids.

Change has a bad wrap

“Fear sees, even when eyes are closed.” — Wayne Gerard Trotman

If change is an integral part of our lives, why resist it?

That’s the paradox of change. We talk about progress as something positive; yet, unconsciously, we all believe that longevity equals to goodness.

We associate lifespan with higher quality, even though tradition gets us stuck more times than not. According to research, the longer something is thought to exist, the better it is perceived.

A tree described as being 4,500 years old was more admired than the same when people were told it was just 500 years old. The same occurred when comparing ‘two’ pieces of European chocolate. One was described as first been sold in its region 73 years ago; the other, 3 years ago. Though it was the same chocolate, can you guess which one was rated as better tasting?

Your emotions filter your perceptions — change has a bad wrap.

When it comes to dealing with change, research indicates that there are three primary emotions we experience: cynicism, fear, and acceptance. The first two are strongly negative, and the latter is vaguely positive. No strong positive emotions made it to the top.

I experience this a lot in my line of work. When clients call me because their teams are resisting change, it feels obvious but, also, too generic.

To be able to conquer the fear of the unknown, you need to understand which emotions come to play. Not all resistance is driven by the same feelings. There are many ‘sub-fears’ playing on. Even though most of them affect all of us, some might hurt one person more than others.

We all admire and fear change at the same time.

Remember that change is a paradox. The first step towards demystifying change is to accept that is okay to maintain favorable and unfavorable attitudes towards change simultaneously.

Do you suffer from loss of control with respect to familiar — and maybe comfortable — ways of doing things?

Do you worry if you were able to thrive in a new scenario or challenge?

Do you think that change demands more work and lack of clarity frightens you?

Let’s discuss what drives the real fear.

What are you really afraid of?

“Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.” — Bertrand Russell

The desire to change and to maintain sameness coexist. I consider myself an explorer and change instigator. However, even though I’m continually challenging myself (and others) to get out of my comfort zone, I also fall prey to this paradox.

Change is uncertain and risky (even for those who embrace it).

Learn to train your mind to become more aware of your emotions. Let’s start by addressing seven fears associated to change.

1. Fear of the uncertain

David McRaney, author of You Are Not So Smart, said that the brain seems wired to want to resolve unknowns. “When the brain is facing uncertainty, it creates certainty.”

Anticipation can cause more damage than change itself.

Dealing with change requires being open to the uncertain. To embrace the unknown one step at a time. To accept reality rather than fight back.

2. Fear of failure

No one wants to fail. Especially in our current society where we revere success. However, making mistakes is a necessary part of experimenting and learning.

Experience is the name we give to our mistakes according to Oscar Wilde.

The more afraid you are of failing, the bigger the chances of things going wrong. Mistakes are part of your human nature. Accept being vulnerable; to err is acknowledging you are human. Reframe mistakes as learning experiences. Instead of resisting them, ask yourself: “what’s the lesson?”

3. Fear of being ridiculed

We all like to look good in front of others. That’s why we wear masks sometimes: to be appreciated and accepted by other people. However, that approach is unrealistic — you are letting your ego take over.

When you stop caring about other’s opinions, you become free.

FEAR is an acronym for False Evidence Appearing Real. Who says that you are not being ridiculed even if you are not taking risks? Are you willing to let go of an opportunity just because what others might think if things go wrong? Don’t expect to master something for the first time. Feeling awkward is a necessary part of the learning journey, as I wrote here.

4. Fear of losing control

Our brains are wired to provide answers. Even when we don’t have a clue about what’s going on. That’s why we have a hard time letting go instead of freely surfing life’s strong currents.

We fear change because we feel related to a secondary role: we are no longer in the driver’s seat.

Researcher Dan Gilbert said: “We come into the world with a passion for control and we go out of the world the same way. And research suggests that, if we lose the ability to control things at any point between our entrance and our exit, we become unhappy, helpless, hopeless, and depressed.”

Life is always out of your control, even when you stand still. Wait for the outcome to unfold; embrace a ‘maybe’ mindset.

5. Fear of inadequacy

How many times have you told yourself you are not good enough? We all feel that at some point or another. Either because we are too perfectionist or because we compare to others. The grass is always greener on the side it rains the most. Facing the unknown challenges our convictions: are we up to this challenge?

If you hesitate, you will most probably fail.

To embrace change requires that you take the leap. Self-doubt erodes you clarity. Don’t anticipate the events. Trust your gut, trust yourself.

Marianne Williamson wrote: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.”

6. Fear of the extra work

We have an idealized version of life. We believe that things should be easy; we are not supposed to suffer. However, suffering is intrinsically part of being humans. Pain and joy are two sides of the same coin since the moment you were born.

The experience of living requires a lot of hard work.

When you don’t know what will happen, you let your lazy brain take over. Margaret King said that uncertainty is one of the most de-motivating things — we avoid it at all costs. That’s why we will just do nothing if we’re not sure.

Change requires extra (mental) work for sure but, sometimes, stop resisting takes less effort than we think. Like it happened to the old man, letting the current guide you is more natural than fighting it back.

7. Fear of being happy

We all want to be happy but we are afraid to be happy. That’s why, unconsciously, we boycott ourselves. The fear of happiness is a cultural thing, as I explained here. Sometimes we feel guilty to do great; that’s why we stick to the sameness rather than explore the progress.

“Fear is only as deep as the mind allows.” — Japanese Proverb

Happiness is a state of mind, not just a consequence of what you have or experience. Realizing that will make things easier when dealing with change. You can opt to resist what you don’t know, or you can enjoy the journey. Your choice.

Let go of the fear of change

“Curiosity will conquer fear even more than bravery will.” — James Stephens

Conquering the fear of the unknown is not simple, but it’s not complicated either. You must destigmatize change in your life.

Change has a bad wrap. Rather than putting all your fears in one basket, learn to discriminate. Out of the seven fears described above, which one is affecting you right now when you are about to make a call?

Don’t let fear paralyze you. Being afraid is natural, but it shouldn’t prevent you from embracing the unknown. Your life is like a movie.

You neither want to watch the same over and over nor anticipate what will happen. Intrigue and surprising turns keep audiences captivated. The same applies to your life. Be open to unexpected scenes.

Change is full of surprises. Don’t be afraid of the unknown. Look back and reflect on everything you’ve achieved and the relationships you’ve built. That’s change too. Things and people that were once unknown, have now become favorably familiar.

Stay curious. Ask questions rather than look for the answer. Go with the flow instead of trying to anticipate events. Instead of thinking of what you ‘can’t’ let life surprise with what you can and would.

Your fears are yours. You are in charge.

Marcus Aurelius said: “If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself, but to your estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”

Don’t be afraid of being afraid. That’s how you conquer the fear of the unknown.