When we are in the process of renewal it means that we need to make some changes and that could be scary business. Let’s unravel this aspect of renewal.
One of the realities of life is change, yet many of us are afraid of it. Some can face it and overcome it while others buckle under it. But in the end, we all experience our level of fear when it comes to change. It's literally why the “comfort zone” got its name.
So, you're not the only person who feels terrified of change, it's the way the human brain is wired. Your brain is responding to a level of uncertainty brought about by the change process – It’s telling you to avoid change and discomfort because it's much easier to deal with that than it is to address the unwanted emotions that come with pushing through change.
Change feels scary and that is a natural feeling. Something much bigger underneath the surface may be holding you back. For some, fear can be paralyzing, to the point that it makes any change a disaster.
The official label for a genuine fear of change is Metathesiophobia. It is the persistent intense (and persistent) fear of change. People with Metathesiophobia may experience feelings of anxiety, panic, stress, or dread when faced with change, and may go to great lengths to avoid situations or environments that they believe may bring about change.
Some people stay in terrible relationships because they are terrified of being alone. Of course, that is not the only reason people remain in negative relationships. It could relate to fear of what might happen if they leave or lack of confidence to leave. Whatever the reason, fear is the basis for why people often don’t leave a toxic relationship.
To anyone looking in from the outside, it's obvious that the person in the terrible relationship should end it and move on. But it's not black and white – there are children involved, there are financial overlaps, and it can be scary to unwrap all of that.
Some stay put in a miserable job that has never brought them a day of joy because they are afraid of moving to a new position or too scared to start a new career. Fear holds people back from starting a business or moving into the non-profit sector. Often they are ready to make a leap to a new career or business venture but fear holds them back from making the move.
Again, to anyone looking in from the outside, it's obvious that the person in the miserable job should get out of that situation. But, there's accrued vacation time to think about, the benefits of long service, and everything that leaving would change. And, that too is scary.
For all the talk about the grass being greener on the other side, a lot of people are way too scared to find out if it is true.
So, why are we so afraid of change?
Your brain finds peace in what is known rather than what is unknown. If you don't know what to expect, your brain will start to fill in the blanks and it always cooks up worst-case scenarios. Fear of failure is often a big part of that. It's easier to sit out than join in when you don't know how it will turn out.
For someone who grew up in a home with a negative worldview, holding onto that cynicism throughout adulthood could easily engender anxiety and fear about trying new things. It's common for people to hold onto pieces of their upbringing, and a lot of times, they're unaware of the root. They just stick to what they know because that is what they've always known. Simply put they are stuck in the past. They have not learned to unlearn their past so that they can fully live in the present and go forward without the anxiety and fear that holds them back.
Just because you have been afraid of change in the past, doesn't mean you have to keep being afraid of change.
It requires work to get to that point, it takes courage to move forward. But, you can overcome your fear of change by putting yourself out there in small ways to start.
The stages of change start with anticipation and you begin to embrace the excitement of it all. You now become aware of your fear but have yet to commit to the change. Next comes the decision to take action. You begin to prepare to make a change but you are not ready to move on it. Finally, you decide to take action and you actively take steps to work through your fears and anxiety. You reach the breakthrough stage where you accept the change and reward yourself for following through. Finally comes consolidation where you are working to maintain the change over the long term.
However, in working through the change it may not be so linear but more of a circuitous route. For instance, just when the change you have worked so hard to make seems to be your norm, regression begins to set in. Everything seems to get worse again and you are slipping back to your fears. It’s at this point that you need to realize that things will get better and that you have already made huge steps to reach your breakthrough. Now you need to take heart and work through your relapse.
One other aspect of change relates to your spiritual mindset. Often people are not at peace with themselves and have difficulty meeting change because they are afraid to look within. The process of personal change is always about looking inward and becoming comfortable with who we are and why we exist. When you journey through the change process don’t forget to reflect on the spiritual aspect of your life and how it relates to how you feel about change.
In conclusion, get started by breaking it all into little, easy-to-digest pieces. Set goals so that every change you embrace moves you closer to achieving those goals. If your brain cooks up the worst-case scenario, have a plan in place to counteract it. And, if you need help to work through the change process don’t be afraid to ask for help. Get over that fear too.
As always continue to become the best version of yourself and thank you for reading.
Over the years I have coached many managers, business owners and employees about facing their fears. Here are three typical examples: Jane operated a business which "failed," and now wants to start another, but is "fearful" of "failing again;" a group of employees said "they feared their boss; and, Joe lost his job and now "fears" for his future.
When I asked my partner about her thoughts on fear she said, "fear is the big elephant's mouse in the room." So let's take a look at this little rascal that makes the mighty elephant afraid.
First there are many positive things to say about fear. Fear keeps us from making stupid mistakes, spending money foolishly, and taking unnecessary risks. When an impending danger faces us we rightly react instinctively with a "freeze, flight or fight" response. But when fear stops us from going forward when we should be going forward, or running away from something when we shouldn't, or being overly anxious about something that is trivial, then it's time to take a hard look at how fear holds us hostage. If you are experiencing these later situations here are eight key questions to explore:
Now that you understand the nature of your fear, answer these four questions to begin moving forward.
Let's take another look at the three scenarios mentioned at the beginning of this post.
"Fear of failure."
There are probably many reasons why the first business wasn't successful. What could this person do? She should avoid the "failure trap" and think about how the first experience has taught her many good lessons. Looking at "failure" from this point of view may point her to greater success in her new business. She can also identify the weaknesses and the strengths of the first experience and treat them as learning opportunities; and then. avoid the mistakes and build on the strengths as she prepares for her second journey.
"Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly." Robert Kennedy
"Fear of the boss."
What can the employees do? First they should review why they fear their boss and confront their own fears; secondly, respectfully approach the boss and discuss the negative consequences of his behavior has on them and the culture of the organization; and thirdly, if the situation doesn't change they could seek alternate employment or, accept the givens and recognize that this is the boss's problem and not the employees.
"A boss creates fear, a leader confidence. A boss fixes blame, a leader corrects mistakes. A boss knows all, a leader asks questions. A boss makes work drudgery, a leader makes it interesting." - Russell H. Ewing
"Fear of the future."
No one can predict the future with any certainty but one thing I do know is that there is "life" after leaving a place of employment. In this case the person can look at her previous employment with an objective eye and review the results he achieved, understand his own work style and skill sets, and build a resume that outlines these qualities and achievements. This is an opportunity for him to seek the type of employment he always wanted, find a better "employment fit" for his profile and skill sets, or become self-employed. Rather than fear the future, embrace it with a positive attitude and recognize it is filled with opportunity.
"The past, I think, has helped me appreciate the present - and I don't want to spoil any of it by fretting about the future." Audrey Hepburn
Consider all the courageous people who overcame their fear and accomplished great things for themselves and human kind. Yes, they were afraid but they broke through their fear barrier - often with the help of others and a Higher Power. Confront the mouse in your room and you may find it's just a tiny thing anyway.
Author: Richard P. Fontanie MSW, FCMC
Revised article from Fontanie Learning Solutions