Why We Fear Change (and how to overcome it)

Humans are hard-wired to resist change. Our brains process a life-changing event, like a new job, a big move across country, or news of pregnancy, as being so unsettling that it registers as an error that needs to be corrected. Even when it’s a change that we desired and took weeks, even months to plan, we experience this fear. It may explain why the “cold feet” phenomenon happens to people right before their weddings. The nervous feeling in the pit of the stomach seems inevitable, regardless of intentions or planning.

What is it about change that we fear?

Think about a change in your life, especially a positive one, that you have made and all the steps it took. Moving across country, finding a new job, going back to college, getting married. There was probably a moment where you felt doubt or fear. Why? Can you put your finger on it?

Sometimes we just fear the unknown and hate the thought of leaving our old life, our old friends, our old habits behind. Sometimes, it’s just a mourning of that lost life in favor of a new one, no matter how bright and shiny its appeal was in the beginning. Sometimes, we know it’s the right choice and feel nervous or scared anyway. Our brains don’t like the unfamiliar.

It doesn’t matter that humans as a species are adaptable. It doesn’t matter that you’ve spent careful thought and consideration to make this choice and recognize that it’s good for you. We like the comfort of routine and that feels safe. A disruption of that–large or small–feels uncertain and scary.

Afraid to even try

What about the changes you’ve thought about, and know you want to make, like starting a new exercise plan, or pursuing a new career, but you just can’t pull the trigger? What are some of the reasons why you can’t?

“I don’t have the time”, “I’m too tired”, “I can’t afford the gym”, “I need to pay off this debt first”, “I’m not qualified for these jobs”, “I like my schedule at the current place”, “I know how the system works here”.

Do you recognize these for what they are? None of the above reasons are legitimate. Really, you don’t have the time to exercise? Even though it’s something you say you want and you know would be good for you, and you talk to your friends who work out and say things like, “I’m so jealous. I wish I could work out!” What’s stopping you? No, really.

We make time for the things that matter most to us. Time is usually the biggest bullshit excuse in the world.

This year, I decided I wanted to change my priorities and focus more on working out. I looked at my own schedule vs my current priorities to see how they matched up. I didn’t think I had the time to exercise, but I really did. I just spent most of it playing video games. The reality was that I didn’t want to give up that time. I like doing it and I shouldn’t necessarily “give it up” completely. But I felt I’d be giving up “too much” if I only spent one hour playing instead of four. That statement is laughably dumb now. Four hours of video games was not getting me closer to where I wanted to be in life.

If you’re hesitant or on the fence about something though, it’s a no. Until you make it a yes. Anything but commitment and action is a no.

How to make the change

I encourage you to pull the trigger on the new workout routine, writing your novel, a new career path, starting a family, going back to school, launching that new business, starting a new hobby, pursing that dream/goal–whatever it is! If something is calling you, but you’re too afraid of the change (or afraid to fail), here’s some scientifically-proven starter tips:

  • Write down an affirmation related to this goal. Something tangible you can refer to and say, “this is why I want to do this. This is why I’m going through this scary stuff.” If you’re that passionate about it, you’ll continue to feel inspired. Make a vision board, if you’re more visually-motivated. Be specific. Get to the core of how your life will be better. What will change? How will you be different in 5 years if you started pursuing this goal right now? If you became that person you wanted to be right now, what would your day suddenly look like? Write some affirmations related to that.
  • Assess your current priorities. Not what you actually value, not what you dream of–where your time is currently going. As stated above, my goals and actual real-life priorities did not match up. I noticed video games were a time sink and I made the necessary adjustment. I didn’t quit them; I adjusted how much I played. I’m also prone to surfing social media even though it makes me feel like crap, time-and-time again. That’s somethingI’ve been working on, too. What is in your current routine that doesn’t sync up with your long-term goals or dreams? What’s taking up your time that you can get rid of or cut down?
  • Cut through your other BS excuses. Working out is a good example. Saying the gym is too expensive or that you don’t have any equipment at home is just a fancy excuse. YouTube is full of free workout videos, including ones that don’t need weights or any other materials. I also encourage you to give yoga a try. They have styles for building strength, building flexibility, or for weight loss. I use a blanket, not even a real yoga mat. No equipment, no gym fees, no excuses! I keep using this example because it’s one I’ve personally worked through, but any other goal or dream will have BS excuses, too. See if you can root out excuses that are born out of fear of change, like not knowing where to start or how to do something. If you can learn it, then it’s not a real obstacle!
  • Find a mentor. It doesn’t have to be a real life coach that you meet up with, but it does help to have someone you can go to when you need advice and support. I use the term mentor because I find it helpful to seek out people who have done what you’re doing and been through what you’ve been through. It can be online, with a total stranger. I’m such a big advocate of online forums, whether on a standalone website for your industry/field/interest, on Reddit, or Facebook. It’s a great way to get myriad opinions and backgrounds, while maintaining the comforting, introverted buffer of the internet. Alternatively, there’s LinkedIn, to directly connect with and message people in the field, or something like MeetUp, with organized, local groups to meet with in person. Some, or all, of these may not apply to your specific goal, so you may have to get creative with how to find like-minded individuals to connect with. But the internet is a vast and wonderful place!
  • Get started, even if it’s not perfect. You don’t have to have every step in place. Sometimes you just have to take the plunge. There won’t always be details that you can flesh out to the very end. You won’t always know everything at the beginning. Sometimes you just need to get in, get the experience, and fall back on that mentor of yours when you run into a wall. You don’t know what you don’t know until you know it. Don’t let the end overwhelm you before you’ve taken the first step!

I hope you go for the change you’ve been wanting. I hope everything works out the way you want.

What is it that you want to do but are too afraid to start? What has been holding you back?

Published by Jessica

Writer, YouTuber, streamer, gamer, yogi, self-improver--still trying to figure it all out

5 thoughts on “Why We Fear Change (and how to overcome it)

  1. Though I’ve made some big changes in my life in the past, I can definitely say it terrifies me. I like routine. I like to know what’s what. I take comfort in what’s familiar. But, you’re right when you say sometimes it’s necessary to move ourselves in the right direction.

    “We make time for the things that matter most to us.” This is so true. I KNOW I have time for other things, but I simply don’t want to do it, so I don’t make the time for it.

    1. I definitely like routine, too. It can be so hard to take the leap sometimes! I was inspired to make this post after a positive change in my life occurred. I still found myself wanting to back out, despite all the benefits. It’s funny how we seek to blog and help others, but it’s us all along who needed the help haha!

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. I have been putting myself out of my comfort zone recently and allowing myselfto experience change rather than shy away from it. It really does have a positive effect on your life if you can embrace change and learn not to fear it xxx


  3. i dislike change with a passion.
    and i hate going through the heartbroken stages before i feel comfortable enough that the “change” was a good thing.

    1. The hearbroken stages are the WORST. It’s so uncomfortable. I’ve tried to confront those negative feelings more, but it is something I desperately want to avoid

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