Why are we so afraid of change?

Recently I have been reflecting a lot about change as it has been presenting itself in my life. My husband is engaging in a career change, there is a change of staff at Brussels Mindfulness, my oldest son wants to go to boarding school, I will be turning 50 this year ... I noticed that at first this created some anxiety and resistance. I felt tense, my mind went into a worrying mode and as a result my nights were getting shorter ...

Change can be scary

Let's face it: humans are creatures of habit. We don't like change. It scares us. We'd rather stay in a job that does not satisfy us or in a frustrating relationship than go for a change. It needs a high level of suffering before we start to accept that change is in the air. We find comfort in the same old habits and stick to routines even if they are not helpful. Change is a process towards the unknown and that is per se suspicious. Sticking to the known creates a feeling of being in control. Even if we don't like it, we still know it and therefore think we are in control.

But it's not that we don't like any change at all. Some changes are welcome, and we even hunt for them- like a new car, a holiday, start to exercise or  plan our vacation. But then there is the change that we don't want and that happens to us randomly, like getting old or sick or losing our job...

This is where we would like to keep things exactly as they are. In Buddhist psychology it is said that our suffering mainly comes from us trying to control things that are outside of our power.

No growth without change

But there is no evolution without transformation. If we do not step out of our comfort zone and allow change in our lives, we cannot grow. That is why a crisis has potential for transformation and flourishing. When we are suffering, we take the first step towards change. Some seek out for help, i.e. engage in therapy or coaching, or end a toxic relationship or situation in their life. A crisis can be a turning point towards something new and more helpful - something that helps us evolve. And when we think back about those moments in our lives, we probably consider them as needed and catalytic towards improvement.

Many years ago, I had a burnout and related to that, I lost my job. At that low point in my life, everything seemed like a disaster and I was in quite a dark place. But the suffering that came along with it pushed me to look out for help and new ways of dealing with life. I enrolled in a mindfulness course and started to think in new directions. It was not easy, as I had to let go of some comfort in my life. But as I let go more and more, there was space for something new. This new energy enabled me to recreate my life. I found that although I liked working in EU affairs, my passion was in personal development. And as I became a mindfulness teacher, things slowly fell into place.

So, looking back at this point of crisis in my past, I am grateful for it because it helped me live a more authentic and happier life. Many of my clients and participants tell me the same - that after some years they are glad about the big moments of change and crisis in their life, whether it be divorce, job change or even health-related issues.

Learning to surf the waves

So how can we learn to better deal with change and maybe even invite it - in small portions - more often into our life?

First of all, it is important to question your thoughts when change comes along knowing that the brain's negativity bias will make you believe it is suspicious. It can be interesting to ask yourself questions like: How can this change help me to grow? Secondly, see if there is a way in which you can embrace the change. Try to let go of some old habits and allow new things to unfold in their own time. Practising mindfulness can be a great help in this process. Learning to cultivate an attitude of kind acceptance of whatever is present and asking yourself the question: How can I support this process of change? As mindfulness teacher Jack Kornfield says, "You cannot stop the waves, but you can learn to surf them".

Change your habits to increase creativity

Finally, if there is not much change in your life now, you might want to encourage it a little. According to author and mindfulness teacher Mark Williams, we should engage daily in so-called "habit breakers" to make sure that our brain does not get stuck in old thinking patterns, but becomes more flexible and open for creativity and innovation.

Here are some ideas on how to integrate conscious change into your life:

  • Regularly altering your seat at the dinner or meeting table and seeing people from a new angle.
  • Do something you never did before, i.e. speaking to a stranger in a public space, booking a massage or going alone to the movies...
  • Change the order of your morning or evening rituals or the way you do things, i.e.taking another route to work or opening the door with your other hand. 

These little changes can help your mind to become more curious, which is a prerequisite for creativity. It is about noticing what is happening inside when you break out of your routines of doing and thinking. This will enable your mind to become more flexible and open to anything that life will throw at you in the future.

So, what is the one thing you could do today to invite some change into your life?