Why Change is Difficult

Have you ever wondered why change is so difficult despite the benefits of a successful change? We always feel comfortable, in control and safe in our comfort zone and remain stagnant. We resist change but enjoy the benefits after a successful transition. This is a human dilemma. For those still struggling with change, I recommend the book Feel the fear and do it anyway by Susan Jeffers. There are various theories dealing with change. According to Rock, D., & Page, L (2009) “Change is also delicate and fragile, chaotic and complex” p.151. Therefore, when change occurs, it has to be nurtured, and maintained. If not, people relapse into their comfort zone. Let us examine a few reasons why change is difficult.

Cognitive dissonance is one of the reasons why change is difficult. This in simple term is the disconnect between our actions, thoughts, beliefs and attitudes. This happens when we behave in a way that is inconsistent with our beliefs. This conflict happens all the time and each time it happens, we tell ourselves that it will not happen again but it is repeated several times over. We only find peace when we align our actions with our beliefs or change our beliefs to align with our actions, both of which are difficult.

Societal expectation is another reason why change is difficult. Holding different opinions or beliefs to societal norms could result in conflicts that we might not be prepared to handle. In this situation, we try to conform even when it is against our beliefs. This also happens in organisations where people have to conform to “the way we do things around here” called culture. In such a situation, you either conform or leave.

The “need to be me” is another reason why change is difficult. Some of us have created this façade or have this aura around us that we are proud of even when it works to our disadvantage. We will rather suffer internally by carrying on with certain behaviours for which we are known and will sacrifice our peace of mind to maintain our “image” which in some cases, to no one gives a damn. Change in such circumstances can be very challenging and courage is required to make that shift.

Values and beliefs are other factors that make human change difficult. These are built over a period of time and to change them can be challenging. The way to overcome this is to do away with values that no longer serve us and embrace new values that help in the achievement of our life goals. The challenge here is identifying those values that no longer work for us and the new ones that will have to embrace. This is usually a blind spot that might require an external party to point out and assist to identify and transition to the new values. A coach can be very helpful in this respect.

In neuro-science, the area of our brain called basal ganglia is responsible for our repetitive actions which have been formed over time and require less effort and energy. New information is sent to and processed by our orbital frontal cortex which requires significant amount of energy to process for which most of us are not prepared. The lazy thing to do is to default to what we already know and are used to, our comfort zone.

There are several change theories that can help our change process but my favourite one is Kurt Lewin’s Three-Step Process of change, Rock, D., & Page, L (2009, p156):

  1. Unfreeze

We need to identify and accept what we want to change before change can occur. This is our blind spot that most of us are not aware of and requires someone of wisdom or a coach to help us unpack. Identifying and accepting our blind spot is the first step to change.

  1. Change to the new level of belief

This requires changing our way of thinking and the way we view ourselves. It should start with identifying what and why we want to change with the benefits acting as our motivation to embrace the “new normal.”

  1. Freezing of a new level

To make the change permanent requires effort, constant practice and reminder to sustain our new mental pathways.

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