To Change or Not To Change

The psychological costs of not changing undesirable aspects of your life.

Posted Jul 08, 2014

As humans, we typically hate change. We would rather stay the same than dive into the unknown. There is a feeling of safety in what is familiar; we are more comfortable in environments and relationships that we are used to than in those that require us to shift. This is true even if what is familiar is unhealthy or unfulfilling.

To avoid change, we frequently lie to ourselves (Warren, 2014a). We may blame other people for undesirable aspects of our lives or for our feelings. For example, we may blame our unhappiness on a laundry list of external factors and people–our spouse, boss, job, children, health, lack of money, weight, childhood, or education. Or, we may create reasons to justify why we cannot change–we don't have time, energy, strength, desire, confidence, or will power to do anything differently. We may even try to control our environment and other people to make ourselves feel safer: We may forbid our children from having close relationships with their step-parents; punish our husband or wife when they have a fun night out alone with friends; or act passive-aggressively in our relationships when we don't get our way.

There are times in life when we begin to get honest yet we don't want to do anything differently, because change is hard. In these moments, it helps to evaluate the positive and negative consequences of changing and not changing in the short-term and long-term.

Think about something in your life that bothers you. Anything–a romantic or familial relationship, smoking, drinking, sex life, eating behavior, career, income, the way you speak to people, your attitude. Whatever it is, ask yourself: Why don't I change this? What is stopping me from choosing to change this right now? What does it cost me to change? What does it cost me not to change? What are the costs today? Tomorrow? In five years? In ten years?

As we evaluate the costs of change, we are generally confronted with the fact that not changing benefits us in some way (Warren, 2014b). Perhaps it is easier not to change because we benefit from not having to confront our fear of the unknown. Perhaps we are holding onto resentment, hurt, and anger–and unwilling to let it go–because we benefit from believing we are right and by being a victim in some way. Perhaps it is easier not to change because we benefit from our lifestyle and are not willing to make choices that could jeopardize our financial security. Perhaps we do not want to change because becoming honest would hurt too much; we benefit from our dishonesty because it protects us from pain. 

The bottom line is this: As the philosopher Heraclitus wisely said, “The only constant in life is change.” It behooves us to embrace change as a reality of life. Getting honest with ourselves requires action. When we admit that we don't like something about ourselves or our lives, we must examine the costs of change to learn what keeps us from making different choices for ourselves right now

Copyright Cortney S. Warren, Ph.D.

Selected References:

Warren, C. S. (2014a). Honest liars—The psychology of self-deception: Cortney Warren at TEDxUNLV.

Warren, C. S. (2014b). Lies we tell ourselves: The psychology of self-deception. Sevierville, TN: Insight Publishing.