When the fear of staying same, is worse than the fear of change
(This article is an extract from an email I sent to subscribers in 2018; sign up here or at the bottom of the page to receive these letters every fortnight)
As autumn 2017 started, I felt broken down and miserable, and I didn't know how to help myself feel better. I was trying so hard, but nothing seemed to be working.
Thankfully, I was able to take a holiday alone, and the distance plus thinking-time helped me to realise that I could not allow my life to continue in this way. I had been avoiding working through my problems because I was afraid of the life-changing decisions I might need to make to secure my happiness. But during my time away, I realised that I was much more afraid of nothing changing.
“Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same but get better.” – Sydney J. Harris
Often we have to make changes in order for things to improve; if we don't, they'll probably get worse. So I decided that it was time to take charge, and stop being a somewhat of a ‘victim of circumstance’. I wanted to take responsibility for myself, rather than passively hoping or that things might improve. We might not be able to control everything in our lives, but we can control how we deal with things in the long-term.
“Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” – Barack Obama
Fear protects you. But it can also hold you back.
"Change" is a broad term and can apply to many things; from moving house to starting a new job, maybe the beginning or the end of a relationship, or dealing with illness or death. All require adjustments to your daily life, and can be stressful, even if they're positive changes. Conversely, some seemingly negative changes can yield positive results in time.
“Change the changeable, accept the unchangeable, and remove yourself from the unacceptable.” – Denis Waitley
It therefore makes sense that we will feel rarely feel completely happy when making changes; this is our brain's way of protecting us.
When change presents itself, you never know quite how it is going to turn out, which creates a sense of fear. In fact, your brain prefers predictable negative consequences over uncertain outcomes.
Perhaps we will feel happy about a change, but we might simultaneously feel sad. All change impacts us and the world around us. We must feel as certain as we can that this impact is worth it, as we will likely leave behind a part of ourselves, for "we must die to one life before we can enter another" (Anatole France).
But why do we fear the change we crave?
Fear of uncertainty and the unknown.
Anticipation can sometimes cause more damage that the change itself, and the brain seeks certainty, sometimes defaulting to the easiest and fastest option (within your comfort zone) rather than the best option (McRaney). This sometimes includes avoiding any extra work or the sense that you're starting over.
To avoid this fear, we need to be open to the uncertain, and embrace the unknown one step at a time.
Fear of failure and loss.
From time, effort, money and relationships, change can involve loss. When we have invested ourselves, we do not want to lose all we have put in. We do not want it to be a mistake, a failure, and so we struggle to let go of things.
But, making mistakes and / or having to move on is an important part of our development and growth. Oscar Wilde said that "experience is the name we give to our mistakes".
Fear of other opinions.
We don't like it when we look stupid, or do something that other people may not understand. We naturally worry about what people think of us, linking back to a primal need to belong to a tribe.
The thing is, we cannot pass up what is right for us simply because of what others might think. And we cannot avoid trying something new because we fear looking silly; after all, mastery is not found in the first attempt. We can only try, and be glad that we're trying to do something that makes us happy. (And maybe we can have a back-up plan, just in case!)
Have faith in yourself.
Fear is there to to protect us; it signifies that we are about to step out of our comfort zone, take action, and do something meaningful. It will probably show up when we are going to do something new. It might bring along stress and discomfort.
Ultimately, you cannot be sure that making a change will improve things, but you'll never find out if you hide out in your comfort zone. To succeed and thrive, you sometimes have to push yourself to navigate through fear.
“I cannot say whether things will get better if we change; what I can say is they must change if they are to get better.” – Georg C. Lichtenberg
Taking responsibility for myself in 2017 led me to walk away from my business, travel widely, get proactive about my health and mental wellbeing, start Be Stubborn, and ultimately find my way to a life that although still filled with challenges, is one that makes me happy. I found the peace and contentment I craved.