Making big change to the course of your life is not easy. We all know it’s hard to make the decision to change one job for another, or leave a long-term relationship, or move to a new home.
The reason these changes are so hard is because of the fear they produce in us. We are designed by nature to avoid uncertain situations, and what happens when we make a change is that we’re moving from certainty into uncertainty.
The thing about our fear response to change is that our mind doesn’t always differentiate between fear that’s keeping us safe, and fear that’s holding us back. Our mind just feels. I have been confronted with this anytime I’ve tried to put my cat in a cat carrier. His response is, and always will be, to become afraid and try to pull my face off with his claws.
This probably seems like a completely reasonable response to him.
But that’s what sets humans apart from our furry little friends: We have the ability to make choices about which fears we listen to, and which ones we push past. While we might make the choice to push past a fear of change because of where we want to go, that doesn’t mean we’re not still afraid. How we manage that inevitable fear can make the difference between change that works out, and change that leaves us wanting to pull our face off.
How to Manage Change
Make decisions at the right time, then trust them.
When you make the decision to change, do so in a situation when you feel relaxed and rested rather than stressed and anxious. Ensure you have enough time to think about how and why you want to change, and what you’ll do to accomplish the change.
Then, make a conscious decision to change and stick to it. At certain points you will doubt yourself and the fear of change will slink like a predator back into your mind. But when that happens, you owe it to yourself to trust your original decision – since you made that decision with a clear head unburdened by fear.
You will be afraid of change – don’t waste time wondering why.
Never underestimate the power familiarity has over you. Even if the change you’re making is one that you wholeheartedly want and believe will be good for you, this doesn’t mean it won’t still be scary. Hell, even leaving behind a miserable situation can be scary because even misery can be familiar. But know that it is an entirely human response to have two or more conflicting emotions about a single thing.
This, my friends, is called ambivalence.
Feeling ambivalence isn’t where we go wrong. It’s a perfectly human response. We go wrong when we try to reason our way out of the fact that we’re experiencing conflicting emotions. Or, we waste energy being frustrated about the ambivalence we’re feeling – so not only are we simultaneously afraid of change and glad for change, we’re also frustrated by it.
Choose to accept that your ambivalent feelings are reasonable, human and understandable.
Talk your way through your fear of change with other people.
Those folks you have around you – friends, partners, family, colleagues – they are a great resource to help you out through times of change. Lean on them. Talk to them. Share how you feel, what you want to change, how you want to do it.
They don’t always have to have the answers, either. In fact, decisions about a change in your life life need to come from inside you. But the people in your life will act as sounding boards, they will keep you focused, and they will offer support when you need it.
The only catch is that you’ll need to talk to them about it, rather than clamming up and doing it all on your own. *Writes note to self, sticks on fridge.*
As humans we have an incredible capacity to adapt to change. It’s built into our very genes. It’s what got us to where we are now. One of the basic fundamentals to building strength at the gym is to change your weight-lifting routine regularly because it confuses your muscles and encourages them to adapt and get stronger. The same is true for big life changes. They make us the strong, resilient individuals we are.
But fear about change can have a consuming effect on our lives to the point where our choices are made as a response to fear. The last place you want to make decisions about change, or try to execute those decisions, is from a space where you feel like you’re suspended in mid-air, dangling over the open mouth of a cat carrier. But once you’ve identified that fear for what it is – a perfectly human response – you are better able to set it to the side and move forward.
You have it in yourself – as we all do – to change your life for the better. Trust yourself. You’ve got this.