Change can be uncomfortable. And fear of experiencing that discomfort is something that keeps many people stuck. (1)
Stuck in the status quo. Stuck coping with situations and circumstances that deep down they wish were completely different. Stuck in patterns of operating that - with the ever increasing pace of technological innovation and globalization - will potentially make their organizations and/or personal skill-sets obsolete in the coming years.
Why is change uncomfortable?
The reason change can be so uncomfortable is that we human beings crave certainty. It's one of our brains' basic drivers of behavior, along with status, autonomy, relatedness and fairness. (2) (Try this free assessment if you're curious which domain is most important to you.)
For much of my life, the strong desire I have for certainty has led me to plan, over prepare, stick to routines, and apply structured approaches, all in an attempt to control as much as possible of my experiences. (I've even, on occasion, created hour-by-hour itineraries for multi-week vacations! Fun, eh?)
Our natural fear of the unknown is a basic survival mechanism that our brains employ to keep us safe. The discomfort that accompanies this instinct is there to try to deter us from doing novel things that could potentially turn out to be life threatening. Unfortunately, in modern day life, this response doesn’t always serve us well.
Change is often both beneficial and necessary; for personal growth, to tackle new challenges as they arise, to engage successfully in a constantly evolving world.
The illusion of Certainty
Our brains may crave certainty as a means to protect us but in reality, we don't truly have control over anything outside of ourselves. (Influence, yes. Control, no.)
As much as I like to plan and so on in order to create a sense of certainty in my environment, one of the most powerful lessons I’ve learned recently is this:
Certainty comes from within.
It’s a feeling you can cultivate within yourself and is available to you anytime. It doesn't require the perfect plan or sticking with the status quo.
REFRAMING THE DISCOMFORT OF CHANGE
Instead of viewing the discomfort that can accompany change or novelty as something to be avoided, try reframing it as an opportunity: it's fertile ground for your growth.
What might you cultivate in that rich soil? More patience? Insight? A new skill or behavior? A new perspective? Who might you become?
For me, the journey to learn to embrace discomfort rather than resist it has had to do with cultivating trust, courage and acceptance - in myself, in the value I have to offer, and in my ability to be adaptable and resilient no matter the circumstances.
Many a time when taking on a new, uncomfortable challenge or change I've whispered to myself, "I'll be fine. No matter what."
That's something I can feel certain of.
(1) "At any given moment, around one-half to two-thirds of the adult population appears not to have fully reached the fourth order of consciousness." Kegan, R. (1994) In over our heads: The mental demands of modern life. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.