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Why we resist change

POSTED June 13, 2018 9:29 p.m.
A few friends and I decided to call it quits on sugar for the month of June. I don’t consider myself a huge sweet tooth, but I’ve been tiptoeing around cinnamon rolls all day, guzzling down sparkling water and eating cheese in hopes of staving off the cravings.

Change is hard. I don’t know anyone who enjoys it, except maybe my mom, who used to rearrange the furniture in our house every month.

Change, whether we choose it or not, pulls us out of our comfort zone. It can make us feel powerless and uncertain. Up ahead is the untested and unknown.

Two years ago, our family made a cross-country move. I’ve moved more than a dozen times in my life, but this change was brutal. It came right when our family was in a good place. We had found excellent schools. We loved our neighborhood and friends. Every member of the family was thriving. I was not looking for or wanting change.

Homeostasis is the body’s ability to quickly adapt, according to an article by Amanda Habermann in Psychology Today. It keeps our temperature and metabolism in check so we’re not fluctuating up and down. What this means, however, is that our bodies are hardwired to resist change. Because of inertia, our bodies fight against alteration in routine. Anyone who has tried to start a new exercise routine or curb their eating habits can attest to this.

Our minds and bodies have also learned to make a series of unconscious choices, according to an article in the Harvard Business Review by Rosabeth Moss Kanter. When we climb into the car, most of us don’t deliberate about whether or not to wear a seat belt. The action is automatic. If we had to make new choices about everything we did, we would be exhausted by 9 a.m.

Change, however, involves making conscious choices, and that means a lot of work. Whether or not to eat that doughnut. How many reps to do at the gym. Whether or not to approach a stranger upon entering a new church congregation or school. These things are painful. Conscious choices often require fighting against the status quo, the path of least resistance.

“Any type of change, like incorporating a physical activity into our routine after a period of being sedentary, can go against the neural pathways that have become automatic to us,” writes Habermann in Psychology Today. “That is why we tend to fall back on our default or automatic behaviors when we try to implement changes.”

Even when the promised future holds something shinier, better built, more capable or hopeful, we drag our feet. We often misjudge what the future will look like. As Henry Ford famously said, “If I had asked the people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

As much as I resisted our family’s move two years ago, I can look back and see the positive effects. I was certain things couldn’t get any better than what we had, and yet, things are better. I was able to build on past experiences to find the right schools, neighborhood and music teachers. Our children have made great friends. We love our jobs and our new community.

More than anything, our family found that we could do hard things and come out strong. Our resilience meter increased a few notches.

This time of year marks a whole host of commencements. Students are graduating from college and high school and looking toward their future. It is as exciting as it is uncertain. How we handle the changes ahead will test our character and grit. When we adapt in positive ways, we grow as human beings.

When I was getting ready to move, and expressing my heartbreak on Instagram, a longtime friend sent me a message.

“Remember in high school when you were in that play where you dressed silly and stomped around the stage? I remember thinking — Tiff is so brave. You’ve kept being brave and I’ve kept watching. Remember when you went to Russia? Remember when you lived in Miami? You are so brave. SO BRAVE.”

I think of this message often when I come up against change. It is good to remember the times we were brave. It is good to remember that we can do it again. We are all of us brave. So brave.

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