Friday, October 09, 2015

Why We Fear Change

Stuck in a lousy job, neighborhood, relationship (you're not really going to marry that person you're dating, are you?) or other unpleasant situation you just can't seem to leave? Still hoping that sports team is going to start winning? That the buggy software package you have invested in will be  fixed "real soon now"?

Even when we're stuck in a rut, and making a change seems an obvious move, we often don't like change. Here are some reasons why change is often rejected.

The Status Quo is Comfortable. The familiar, even when  substantially negative, gives us a feeling of security. We are used to this way of life. We can predict what Aunt Wilma will say. We know the dimensions of our current life and have learned to cope with our life situation as it is. Comfortable and familiar misery, it might be, but comfortable and familiar it is.

Fear of the Unknown. All changes are uncertain in their benefits and outcome. For example, leaving an awful job for another job includes the possibility that the new job will be even more awful. Those who find change difficult or impossible are afraid of  what the new situation might be. They are quite aware of "unintended consequences," "unexpected costs," and "unimagined downsides."

Fear of the Change Cascade. Making one change almost always involves changing a number of related things. Move to a new city and you've got to change friends, favorite stores, churches, schools. If  you change climates, you might also have to change your entire wardrobe. To live a mature, coherent life, you must adjust  your ideas to harmonize with the change you've just made or are planning to make.

Fear of Loss. We humans tend to be risk averse, and whenever we contemplate making a change, we look at whatever good we are giving up as well as the bad. This cognitive bias makes  us favor the known positives (however little that may be) over the risk of not gaining  a suitable positive replacement. We sometimes look at the choice of change as a guaranteed loss (giving up the current situation) trading for an uncertain gain (the unknown).

Habits are Easy. Do you ever drive down the street from your house only to wonder suddenly if you have closed the garage door? And when you drive back to check, you see that you did remember to close it? Habits, once established, allow us to run on automatic and not have to think about every movement. If it's Tuesday,  it's time to read, watch, go bowling, or whatever. Habits take a load off our minds and allow us to think about something else while performing ordinary tasks. But if you change, your habits might cease to be relevant or even workable. New habits will need to be formed.

And yet, to live is to change, and to change is to live. Many changes are forced upon us and we must make new choices--choices that alter our lives significantly. Recognizing these reasons we often see change in a negative way will help us revise our outlook.

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