How Resistance to Change is Creating Your Future

Written by on March 15, 2015 in Adaptability, Breaking Barriers, Self-Awareness

Resistance to Change


What if I were to tell you that 10 years from now your life would be exactly the same as it is today? The same job and co-workers, the same neighbors, the same home, the same routines, and experiences day-after-day, after day.

How would you feel? Would you be relieved that you never had to deal with the pain and uncertainty of change?

If not, if you have any desire at all to continue growing, you need to know that this may be what’s in store for you if you are resisting change.

When you accept change, let go and free yourself from fear of the unknown, you will begin to see your life as an exciting adventure. ~Author Unknown

The Nature of Resistance

If you’re like most people your initial response to change will be determined at least in part by whether the event in question is your idea or is unplanned and being thrust upon you.

Also, it’s not uncommon to be more or less resistant to change depending on the area of your life affected. For example, you may welcome new experiences at work, but prefer a highly structured routine in your personal life.

Regardless of the circumstances or nature of a particular change, if your natural inclination is avoidance then there will inevitably be a period of denial followed by various obvious (and not so obvious) efforts aimed at resistance.

Now I should add here that not all resistance is bad. Assuming you have some control over the decision and outcome, there’s nothing wrong with making sure the change in question will be right for you, but there’s a big difference between being judicious and outright avoidance.

Following are a few of the more common strategies we use to avoid change.
  • We say we want to change but take no action.
  • We pretend we don’t really care one way or the other.
  • We adopt the role of victim.
  • We use (or invent) obstacles to justify why change is too difficult or not possible.

And let’s be honest, sometimes our reluctance to change is no more complicated than we happen to be quite comfortable with the way things are now.

We work hard to find a good balance and circumstances that allow us to feel a sense of control and satisfaction with our lives and once we find that sweet spot we’ll do just about anything to keep from rocking the boat.

And for as long as that works it’s perfectly okay, but we don’t always have control over when we’re going to be faced with unplanned change, and sometimes we risk settling for less than we deserve or are capable of achieving in life if we avoid reaching for better circumstances.

Either you become an agent of change, or sooner or later you’ll end up a victim of change. You simply can’t survive over the long term if you insist on standing still. ~Norm Brodsky

Understanding Resistance Triggers

There are primarily two circumstances that trigger resistance to change.

Trigger 1 is simply based on lack of information about the dynamics involved with the change. We may be open to a change taking place, but if we are unclear about what will be required or how it will affect other areas of our life then our initial response will involve at least some resistance.

In this case, taking the time to identify areas of concern and fill in the blanks is often enough to soothe frayed nerves so that you can begin to look for the opportunities within the change. But if there are underlying issues involved then more work will be required.

Trigger 2 is psychologically based and goes well beyond the obvious implications of the change in question and into the area of such things as fear, deeply held attitudes (a fixed mindset), limiting internal beliefs and past experiences.

Following is just one example of how an unresolved internal issue can serve as a trigger to resist even the most positive change in your life.

Undermining Your Own Efforts

It’s finally happened, you got that promotion you’ve worked so hard for and now you’ll be moving into management. The problem is you are struggling with a negative internal belief that is causing self-doubts. You’ve begun to question your capabilities and whether or not you are smart enough to live up to the expectations that go with this promotion.

Every time you attempt to think about your new duties you feel stressed and begin experiencing mental reruns of every mistake you have ever made, which immediately fuels doubts about your abilities, supporting your negative internal belief and effectively undermining all that you’ve accomplished so far. “What if I fail, what if I really can’t do the job? Maybe I should tell the boss I’m not ready for that promotion after all …”

Awareness, particularly when it comes to limiting beliefs and negative self-talk, can help to alert you to troublesome triggers and resistance, but it’s important to understand that it takes time and consistent effort to clear self-defeating attitudes.

Some beliefs are naturally going to be harder to overcome than others since they may have been with you for years, but there is no question that it is well worth the effort.

3 Steps to Begin Shifting Your Attitude Toward Change

No matter how resistant to change you may have been up to now, it is within your power and ability to re-train your body and mind to recognize when change is actually going to be a good thing for you by following the following 3 steps.

  • Acknowledge when you are avoiding change.
  • Accept that your rattled emotions and resistance is a natural human response.
  • Gently push past the urge to resist and identify the potential stumbling block(s).

The goal is to intentionally create a new behavior that will allow you to progressively experience more confidence and control when faced with a change – no matter how small and regardless of whether it’s unplanned or initiated by you.

Real change only happens when you want it a lot more than the fear of staying right where you are now. Until you reach that point you will only commit to the level of dipping your toe in the deep end of the ‘change pool’ and lie to yourself that this proves you are at least trying to change. But of course, YOU ARE NOT. ~Scott Abel

The bottom line is once you realize that you have an inherent resistance to change you have two choices.

You can continue the way things are and risk never discovering your full potential, or you can choose to make the quality of your life important enough to make the pain of holding on to the familiar greater than the fear of letting go.

Will you be the passenger or the driver in your life journey?
About Marquita A. Herald

Marquita Herald

Marquita is an author, resilience coach and the chief evangelist at Emotionally Resilient Living. She’s also an unapologetic workaholic who loves red wine, rock n’ roll, road trips (and car dancing!), peanut butter cookies and (especially) a dog named Lucy.

She’s saddened and frustrated by excuses and cruelty and believes authentic compassion is the most powerful force in the world.

To learn more about Marquita and the mission of Emotionally Resilient Living click here.

Thank you for sharing!

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  1. Good point Tuhin, but I am going to disagree with you just a little. I do believe there is a mindset that is certainly change resistance, but at the same time I think it’s less about age these days than it used to be. Think about all the people starting new careers in their 60s and 70s and going back to school and getting degrees in their 90s, or running marathons in their 80s and 90s. I know people in their 20s who are still living at home, so I really do believe that more than ever before it’s about our overall attitude about life than age. Thanks so much for taking the time to contribute to the conversation. 🙂

  2. Tuhin

    Change is the only constant process in the universe, I feel.
    All those civilizations and countries around the world which have understood this concept have developed at a rapid rate. Same applies to our personal lives too. But the irony with the world is that while the older generations find comfort in resisting change, the younger ones are more keen in appreciating change..
    Tuhin recently posted…Discovering the inner self: 7 ways to spend time aloneMy Profile

  3. So Kire were you a jingle writer or something? 🙂 Seriously, love the “denial” quip not so much the diaper analogy because I think there are actually a LOT of people who honestly want change, they just don’t know how to go about engineering the right change or how to manage the process. Thanks so much for sharing and contributing to the conversation. 🙂

  4. Glad you found value in the article Anna. There’s no question that change will happen with or without our cooperation, the issue is learning to make change our ally and find the opportunities for growth in the experiences. Thanks so much for contributing to the conversation! 🙂

  5. So glad you enjoyed the article, and thank you for your kind words. I have to say that I am totally with you when it comes to change. I find that if there isn’t enough going on, I’ll find a way to shake things up. 🙂

  6. Kire Sdyor

    As someone who spent many years in industry with the function of bringing about positive change there are two statements I have always carried with me: “Denial ain’t no river in Egypt” and “Only an infant with a wet diaper wants change”.
    Kire Sdyor recently posted…Fashion NightmareMy Profile

  7. Anna Khan

    this is such an important topic and I think this post is worth reading.
    I think change is inevitable no matter we try to avoid or not.
    I strongly believe that;
    there is nothing permanent like change.
    We resist change depending upon our situation and reservations.
    As we never know what future will bring for us so its better to give way to change.
    It is necessary to know the triggers that stop us to accept change and the three steps you have listed to know if change is good are worth following.
    Anna Khan recently posted…Visit to International Book Fair: #RiyadhMy Profile

  8. You hit my winter-boredom-doldrums right on the head at the very beginning of your blog. I can’t even stand six months being the same, let alone look ahead and think that in ten years will be the same! Bravo to providing a pathway to change.
    Rose M Griffith recently posted…In Any Relationship, Isn’t it Important to Keep Secrets?My Profile

  9. Wow what an inspiring turn around Arleen, good for you! Sometimes it takes a few positive experiences to open our eyes and it sounds like that’s what’s happened with you. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughtful insights, always appreciated! 🙂

  10. Thank you Tim, I appreciate your kind words and I’m so glad you enjoyed the article! I like your phrase “change obstinate” and in fact I think I’m going to have to tuck that one away for future use. 🙂

  11. Arleen

    For years I have been one who hates change. I don’t like having to start over. I am starting to see that change is good. Accepting change opens new doors. Fear of the unknown is always scary. I can’t say I don’t like a challenge of something and love when it turns out the way I like it. So now I am “bring it on”
    Arleen recently posted…“Don’t Satisfy the Customer Surprise ‘Em” Lessons from Dr. KriegelMy Profile

  12. Tim

    This was such a well written article Marquita and an important one at that. So many of us are resistant to change for no good reason. When we look back on our lives and see how much change has really happened and we are happy where we are, you would think that would be enough incentive to keep the changes coming. No. Change is something to be resisted. I think it’s human nature but as you point out there is change resistance and then there is being change obstinate.
    Tim recently posted…A Double Decker LifeMy Profile

  13. Haha! Too funny Beth and good for you for being so open to change! 🙂

  14. Great point about purpose Pamela. Actually outside of those rare few who seem to be born with clarity of purpose, most of us stumble around for awhile trying to find direction in life. I shared a story a couple of weeks ago about a successful insurance salesman who felt something was missing in his life but couldn’t figure out what it was. Finally he decided to do something he’d always wanted to do – write a book. He had no purpose in mind at the time other than to find a way to offset his restlessness. Long story short, that insurance salesman was Tom Clancy and the book was Hunt for Red October and the rest is history. My point is sometimes we have to take the scenic route to find our purpose in life. 🙂

  15. So glad you found value in the article Erica! Truthfully I believe that everyone can relate to the second trigger on some level. The key is awareness and finding our way to overcome these obstacles. Thanks so much for contributing to the conversation. 🙂

  16. How exciting Jeannette, and what a wonderful adventure you have in store! You are so right when you pointed to that defining moment when you crossed the line between thinking about moving and being committed to the move. It’s really quite liberating when you get to that point and amazing how things begin to fall into place. Thanks so much for sharing your story and I look forward to hearing more about your move in the future. 🙂

  17. Thanks for stopping by Meredith, and I agree with you about the unpleasant notion of having a static life. Ugh! 🙂

  18. I hear you Doreen and completely understand. It really is quite amazing to me when I look at my former partner today and see that he is quite content living the same life he lived 25 years ago. Otherwise he’s a great guy and I’m glad we parted on friendly terms, but I chose not to let his resistance to change slow me down, which is the reason he’s my “former” partner. Thanks so much for sharing and contributing to the conversation. 🙂

  19. You are so right about life lessons Lenie. The irony has not been lost on me that I look back over all of the jobs I’ve had in my life and the one I hated most is also the one where I learned the most. Thanks for contributing to the conversation! 🙂

  20. You bring up an excellent point Donna in that it’s more and more common for people to retire and “come home” to their dreams and find the courage to experience new things. It would be really nice if we could get to that point a little earlier in life. 🙂 Thanks so much for contributing to the conversation, and for sharing your travel adventures on your great blog! 🙂

  21. You are so right about denial and the rewards of overcoming our limiting beliefs Jacqueline. It may be easier to go about our lives trying to ignore these things but if there is one lesson that applies to every one of us it’s that there will come a time when we look back over our lives and regret the things we didn’t do more than the things we did. Thanks for contributing to the conversation. 🙂

  22. You are so right about the frog analogy Mark. There really are no big secrets when it comes to creating meaningful life changes, but so many people keep looking because they want to find a quick, painless way around having to do the work. This is especially obvious in book reviews when a reader leaves a critical review admitting they read a “lot” of self help and complaining there’s nothing new. In fact it’s the reason that in the introduction section of my own books I always include a disclaimer that there are no magic formulas or quick fixes so if that’s what the reader is looking for they really should not buy the book. Always value your insights Mark. 🙂

  23. Beth Niebuhr

    Yippee! An unhelpful trait that I don’t have! I love change and even let my life evolve as it likes. Mostly. I don’t just try everything that comes along but I do love a new challenge.
    Beth Niebuhr recently posted…Taking Advantage of MistakesMy Profile

  24. Susan Cooper

    I love that Norm Brodsky quote. That being said, I’d much rather seek out changes that are going to benefit me and be the agent of those changes, than wait to be a vacuum of change that is not of my chosing. 🙂

  25. Pamela Chollet

    This is such a timely topic. I’m amazed at the number of people who are looking to change something about their life. It’s interesting why change is easy for some but not for others. Your post gives the “I’ll just stay where I am” people great insight into why change isn’t occurring. I find part of the resistance to change is a lack of purpose. People what to change but they can’t define the purpose for the change; there’s no meaning attached to an action.
    Pamela Chollet recently posted…Yours Free: A Cheat Sheet For Saint Patrick’s DayMy Profile

  26. Erica says:

    Marquita, I absolutely loved this article. I completely identified with trigger #2, but for me that trigger is very sneaky. In the past, I haven’t envisioned past failures, but just gotten anxious and stressed which, upon investigation, I’ve identified as fear. I’ve turned down promotions in the past, but luckily had a great boss who insisted that I take them. Lucky me. Anyway, I will re-read this article next time I feel myself getting nervous over change.
    Erica recently posted…Why I avoid Vitamin Water, Alkaline Water and other fad health drinksMy Profile

  27. Marquita — this post arrived at an appropriate time for me as I’m about to embark on one of the biggest changes in my life. A died-in-the-wool New Yorker I’m selling my apartment and moving to Florida. It was not a decision I took likely. I knew I was finally over the hurdle when instead of constantly telling people I was “99% sure I’m moving” it became “I’m moving to Florida!” Still, it is an emotional decision, but my nephew helped because he’s going through major changes himself and he said it’s important to have “clarity of purpose.” That was a big ah-ha and when I resolved that the other pieces fell into place.
    Jeannette Paladino recently posted…Become a Master at Creating Text ImagesMy Profile

  28. Meredith

    In general, I don’t think I’m resistant to change. I kind of like a little adventure now and then. But I do think that when I don’t know much about the change, it’s a lot more stressful. I can’t imagine my life ever being the same for a 10 year increment!
    Meredith recently posted…Simple No-Sew Bunk Bed TentMy Profile

  29. I’ve never been one to resist change, but for some reason, the partners I’ve had have been resistant so the only changes I have been able to make in my life are those that only affect me singularly, and not the pair as a whole. In some ways, I feel that has held me back in moving forward on some of my goals. But things happen (or don’t!) for a reason, right?
    Doreen Pendgracs recently posted…the importance of a good night’s sleepMy Profile

  30. Lenie

    I have had many changes in my life, most of which I’ve embraced but there are always ones that are thrust on you – usually the negative ones – that aren’t that easy to accept. Looking back however, let’s you see how those negative changes often ended up changing your life in a positive way. And, like you said – you can’t stand still.

  31. Donna Janke

    I don’t think I have an inherent resistance to change although there have been times in my life when a need for security may have made me a little more averse than change than I usually am. Over the last 2 1/2 years, I’ve retired from a professional job, devoted more time to my writing, taken up blogging, downsized, and spent winters in a warmer climate. Change has been good. Who knows what changes I will embrace in the next few years, if I can let go of any fears holding me back?
    Donna Janke recently posted…Microdwelling Exhibit: How Little Space Do You Need?My Profile

  32. This is such a great topic…so much debate, so much denial! LOL Most of us think we embrace change…I am among those. I like variety, but then I really get my hackles up when the change involves moving a dining room chair! Go figure………..But the hardest changes involve the ones inside I think. Growing as a person, letting go of a long-held belief that no longer has meaning or no longer serves in the way it once did. But changing those things, I think are often the most rewarding in that they allow a fuller life.
    Jacqueline Gum recently posted…More Rules… Where’s The Justice?My Profile

  33. Mark

    First of all, I truly love and appreciate the quote by Norm Brodsky M!

    That really sort of sums up what you’re sharing here, rather brilliantly.

    You know as I was reading your three steps, in order to begin shifting our attitude towards change.

    As I read each one, I was smiling because, those are the big three things, we so often simply do not want to do!LOL!

    It’s kinda like knowing you have to swallow the frog, even though you realize and accept that you do!

    It still doesn’t make doing it any easier and or pleasant!LOL!

    And I also love Scott Abel’s reference to dipping our toe into the “change pool!”

    Yea, we love to dip as oppose to fully committing, don’t we?

    Thanks for sharing such an insightful post M!
    Mark recently posted…How Top Local Businesses Rock Email Marketing Without Relying On Their Websites To Do So! Part TwoMy Profile

  34. Glad you found the article helpful Dave. Don’t be too hard on yourself when it comes to the planning because – and I know this from firsthand experience – when you go somewhere you’ve never been before it is impossible to know let alone plan for each of the steps that will be required to get you to your destination. Outside of the all important “take the first step” element, a strategy I like to use is benchmarking. It’s typically used by larger businesses, but it can also be used very effectively when you’re going for an especially big or long-term goal because the nature of it is to re-evaluate and reset goals as you reach each new level taking into consideration what you’ve learned up to that point. Hum, now that I think about it, that might be a good topic for a future article! Thanks Dave 🙂

  35. Dave

    The first three paragraphs, however harrowing they may seem, are necessary words to hear, thank you! This has been a long standing challenge for me – resisting change. As you say, there are so many factors that go into the personal reasons that we choose to resist, but I can certainly identify a few of my own personal triggers inside your words 😉

    There’s another challenge with change, for me at least. I may have grandiose plans, or maybe even smaller ones. And as elementary and common sense as it seems, I need to break down the steps that facilitate that change into small and manageable actions. If I try to change everything at once, it doesn’t work out too well – and it’s often so overwhelming that you resist for that reason – it’s just too much to handle all at once.

    Your three steps Marty – accept, acknowledge, and push – are spot on and easy to remember. Thanks for more great insights Marty, perfect timing – as usual 🙂
    Dave recently posted…Remote controlMy Profile

  36. Well said Phoenicia. Thanks for stopping by and contributing to the conversation. 🙂

  37. I hear you Irish, I’m also a planner and a researcher by trade and it is so darn easy to get lost in the “process” of doing things. In fact I’ve always been a “wanderer” so it’s not surprising that my vacation of choice is a road trip with very little itinerary built in so I can just explore. As far as work though, what helps me is to set a deadline when I start a project and to stick with it. Admittedly, there have been a few times I’ve had to go back and make “adjustments” but it’s the one strategy that’s helped me to tame my perfectionist tendencies. 🙂

  38. Welcome back David and thank you for your brilliant and insightful comments! I especially relate to your final paragraph which is so true about how communication in general seems to place more emphasis on fear of loss rather than the desire to grow. Thank you so much for taking the time to contribute so much to the conversation. 🙂

  39. Phoenicia

    Excellent article.

    We can choose to embrace change or fight it. Fear of the unknown can be daunting but change is inevitable if we want to move on in life.
    Phoenicia recently posted…What season are you in?My Profile

  40. Irish Carter

    Hi Marty,

    I think there are some things in my life that I fall into this trap of resistance. For me, I am so set to sit down and plan it all out and then put things into action but the things that are extremely long term often are the things that I resist the most. Not everything but some things. It’s one of my weaknesses that I need to work better at.

    I hope things are going great for you. Have a great week.

    Irish Carter recently posted…Saving Money on Home DecorMy Profile

  41. This is such an important topic, Marquita, and you really put it into clear focus.

    Psychologists always list “security” as one of the primary motivators of human behavior. The downside of it, as you demonstrate here, is that security can also mean stagnation.

    There was a 20th century psychologist named Kurt Lewin who described growth and change as a process of “unfreezing” resulting in “change” and returning to the state of “freezing.”

    I think that’s how progress is made, in a dynamic series of going beyond security, then returning to it just long enough to engage in a new bout of breaking through the barriers that would doom us to stagnation and disappointment.

    Oddly enough, the impetus to break those barriers doesn’t flow nearly as often from determination to succeed as it does from fear of failure. I think that’s why great copywriting is usually focused more on our fear of losing out on something, rather than on our desire to obtain it. Fear is far more motivating, and I think your article here points that out very convincingly.
    David Merrill 101 recently posted…Mentoring For Online SuccessMy Profile

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