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Afraid of Change? 6 Ways to Embrace It

Change doesn't have to be bad, even if it's unwelcome.

Key points

  • Even as we long for change, we tend to prefer the safety of our routines.
  • The negative impact of change tends to be overestimated, and therefore avoided.
  • A mindset of growth, careful risk-calculation, and novelty-seeking can help leverage anxiety control so you can get on with living your life.
Ivan Bandura/Unsplash, used with permission
Source: Ivan Bandura/Unsplash, used with permission

We are afraid of change.

Whether it's facing post-pandemic back-to-work, an unknown event forced into our calendar, or the simple change of season requiring the perennial change of wardrobe and routine. Most of us don’t like change, and we seldom foresee its good side, even as it appears a prerequisite for almost all that strengthens us in life. Despite its likelihood of portending something positive, in the face of change, we resist. We cling to what we know—even if stuck in our routines—because we are afraid that we won’t like, and worse, can’t handle what is ahead.

Ironically, it is resistance, and not the process of change itself, that actually burdens us. Fighting change ignites fear and anxiety, robs us of novelty needed for health, and is exhausting. In the end, most of us adjust, even if we kick and scream. If you feel yourself resisting risk and feel afraid of change, here are a few things to keep in mind that can help ease your dread.

1. We overestimate how bad things might be. Thanks perhaps to negativity bias or simply a habit of catastrophizing, we are prone to overestimate future pain, which in turn drives up anxiety and resistance. If one listens to every worry and avoids all risk, success will remain out of reach, and anxiety will continue its escalation, having been reinforced by avoidance. The trick is to learn how to work with your anxiety and discover where your anxiety could be holding you back, rather than just protecting you. There are times when anxiety’s message needs to be considered but then overturned in favor of action. Action is where the relief is, not avoidance.

2. Taking risks and embracing change allows us to grow. To grow and adapt is to stretch outside our comfort zone, that is to say, depart from what's comfortable. People in business understand that success in any competitive endeavor involves risk—to take advantage of an upside, one has to be willing to invest when others won’t. This means being uncomfortable. Not all discomfort or risk is advisable, of course, and risks need to be considered carefully. Risk-taking isn’t about taking any risk, it’s about taking smart risks.

3. Calculating risk allows you to take control. Still not sure what’s a smart risk, and what’s just a bad idea? Try taking anxiety out of the equation by asking yourself what you would do if you couldn’t fail. This should help you rebalance the thinking parts of the decision from the emotional parts. If you are risk-averse and struggle with letting anxiety get the better of you, look to balance facts in calculating a decision.

4. Novelty helps. Ironically, it is precisely when we are overstretched that we are primed for change, and ready to be inspired by novelty. Novelty requires energy, but can deliver it too. Curiosity, a different perspective, and intrinsic motivation are all helped by new situations and experiences. These are the things we need when we are stuck and overwhelmed. So if you need a boost of motivation, look to find novelty in the changes ahead.

5. How you fail is more important than if you fail. In business, in relationships, and in life, failing is part of learning, and sometimes delivers the most powerful learning there is. Thanks to evolution, we are primed to notice and learn from our mistakes so as not to make them again. But that shouldn’t mean we set out to avoid them altogether, an impossible goal. Instead, we should aim to manage how we learn from our mistakes. This is what it means to have a growth mindset, to expect failure and change as part of the creative process.

6. Balanced stretching produces the most growth. We can’t grow if we don’t stretch, but we won’t grow unless we rest. Balancing exertion with rest is the key to managing a growth process effectively, and keeping ourselves strong. This means managing your body and your human resources. Making good nutritional choices, moving your body, and prioritizing sleep are the three most important things you can do to maintain optimal mental and physical health.

Change inherently feels uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean it is bad. Make the best rational decision you can, channel courage—that is, believe something is more important than your anxiety—and take action. Simply making a decision is an action, and action always feels better than avoidance and risk aversion. That's not to say this is easy, but it works. If you struggle with change, how might you spark your curiosity for what's ahead, and allow yourself to lose a bit more sight of the shore?