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Science Says This Is Why You Fear Change (And What to do About It)

An escalating amount of research indicates that change is tough on us. De-escalate the issue with the 4C's of Change.

Puripat Lertpunyaroj/Getty Images
Puripat Lertpunyaroj/Getty Images

Overcoming a fear of change can be as difficult as overcoming a fear of failure. I mean like untangling-your-earbuds-when-you’re-in-a-hurry difficult.

But if change makes you nervous know that you’re hardly alone and that it’s a very natural discomfort in our lives.

Case in point: one study had a group of people view a painting that they were told was done in 1905. The next group viewed the same painting but this group was told that the painting was done in 2005. The 1905 group rated the painting much more aesthetically pleasing than the other group.

We like that which has been around for a while. That’s the obvious reason for why we don’t like change.

We also fear the new because of the uncertainty it brings. As popular podcaster Tim Ferriss says, people would rather be unhappy than uncertain.

Neuroscience research teaches us that uncertainty registers in our brain much like an error does. It needs to be corrected before we can feel comfortable again, so we’d rather not have that hanging out there if we can avoid it.

We also fear change because we fear that we might lose what’s associated with that change. Our aversion to loss can even cause logic to fly out the window. This is why research shows that gamblers at a horse track who are having a losing day are most likely to bet the long shots, at terrible odds, on the last race of the day. They’re faced with the realization of loss and are willing to bet on a horse with 20:1 odds, a bet they’d never walk in thinking they’d make—all because of our violent aversion to loss.

But I can offer help for the sea of change you may face with the 4C’s of Change (pun intended).

This C is intended as some tough love; it’s not help, per se, but is an extra motivator. Research indicates that a fear of change is one of the single most career limiting moves you can make. This fear cascades down in a number of behaviors that have been linked to stunted consideration for top management positions. Not good. So let’s deal.

You must believe you have the competence for change. Research shows that among all those who suffer from a fear of change, about half fear they won’t be able to handle or thrive on the other side of a given change, while the other half fear the process of, or being prepared for, change itself (and how painful it will be).

The truth is you must believe you have the competence to handle both; you’ve done it before, after all. And you must fundamentally believe that change will only make you better. This requires letting go of how good things used to be and to stop joining anti-change groups that spend their time complaining about the change.

Change management experts indicate that those who think of change as a personal software upgrade are the ones who thrive in periods of change.

It’s critical that you understand the case for change if you want to better deal with it. If you’re not clear on why the change is being instituted, get clear. This goes to that tendency for us to want to treat change/uncertainty like an error. If we understand why the change is happening, we’re less likely to view it as an error and will have a much better time with it.

You can even go so far as to get involved in the change so that it’s not just happening to you. Unhappy people fear change, while happy people create positive change.

Finally, keep in mind the core of you—something that will not change with the pending change. Change makes us feel untethered and like we’re flailing in the wind. Find your anchor and recall what the pending change won’t change about your world that’s important to you (like your connection with your family, your core values, or your commitment to serve others).

While change isn’t easy it’s inevitable. May as well learn to navigate the seas with the 4C’s above.

Originally published at www.inc.com

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