As you go through life, you’re faced with a lot of choices, many of which come with repercussions which can sway from the really good (you know, that mental high) to really bad (pretty obvious this is bad). For the most part making simple choices, like what to eat for breakfast, is a breeze; but making choices which affect your livelihood, like what the hell to do with your life, more than likely scare you because of the potential for some major repercussions. Ladies and gentleman, welcome to the fear of change.
The Driving Force of Fear
Before diving into where the fear of change comes from, it’s important to look at the driving force behind the general idea of fear.
Like an intricate and perfectly planned out chain reaction, a decision you ponder riles up feelings of uncertainty, which then riles up probably the most dreaded human emotion we have: fear. There’s two types of fear we can experience. When it’s real and simultaneously sudden, you can almost see it taking effect – your palms get sweaty, you get a blank stare, and your face goes pale. This is the type of fear which saves your life. If you’ve found yourself in a burning building, the fear kicks in: hey, let’s mosey on out of this hot building before things go south in the next 13 seconds. Makes perfect sense here; fear saved your life, and that’s the way it should be.
Then there’s the fear which creeps up on you, overriding your mental well-being and rendering you sack-of-potato useless. You can go days in a miserable state of mind, with no end in sight. Sounds worse, right? Yet at the bottom of it all, it has nothing to do with your life being on the line.
Unfortunately, as the human race evolved and became much more than just cave men and skilled laborers, a different kind of fear crept into society – the kind that instead of saving you, is slowly killing you. The kind where your brain makes stories up in your head in order to give yourself affirmation that somehow being stuck in a job where you’re miserable is just awesome because it’s a paycheck. Or that being with a person who doesn’t respect you is the best idea because you won’t be able to do any better, so saddle up and get ready to ride it out.
Turning to this made-up source of fear is probably the worst thing you can do. You grip so tightly onto the story you sell yourself, you can’t let go because you’re busy seeing 39,386 steps ahead. Things have to be lined up so perfectly, there’s no way around it. To most people, the idea of taking a step without knowing how it’s going to end up is the equivalent of taking a step on a thawing lake at spring time.
You fear that maybe, just maybe, the ice may decide to change structural integrity on you and crack as you’re walking on it, sending you falling to your freezing death in the depths below.
You have a fear of change, and no one can blame you.
Where the Fear of Change Comes From
Choices usually come in two forms. The first are the the mundane choices, like choosing dinner. Do I want Chipotle or that other top-rated local Mexican joint with the Taqueria in its name? Should I wear the red shirt or the blue one to work? Should I even go into work? These are generally the easy choices that won’t affect the flow of life. You think of something, make a decision, and don’t think twice about it as you move on with your life. Good or not so good outcome, who really gives a crap. If that top-rated local Mexican joint with the Taqueria in its name has shitty food, it won’t be the end of the world.
On the flip side are the second form of choices; the complex choices. Like what the hell you’re supposed to do with your life. You know, maybe a new career or a new side hustle. Something more fulfilling in your life. But the hard choices make you inevitably question your sanity because you’re trying to weigh the repercussions in your head before they happen. Like, what if you spend thousands of dollars on a new career, quit your current job, make all that effort… and the new job ends up sucking? You don’t want that. No one wants that.
You dread making these bigger choices since the outcome isn’t guaranteed and there’s a lot riding on it. This is essentially the textbook definition of anxiety — the fear of the unknown. That word ‘anxiety’ sound familiar? It’s almost like some form of impending doom, as if it was guaranteed to go wrong.
So guess what happens when you get scared of making a change and let anxiety get the best? You put off making decisions, because as long as you don’t make a decision, there’s no need to fear impending doom, right? But then something funny happens: you get stuck. It’s actually not that funny.
The fact is, change is hard. Here’s five ways to tackle your fear of change.
1. Understand Making Choices Happens All Day Long
As you go through your usual routine, it becomes such second nature to make choices that you probably don’t even recognize or register. You’re always making simple decisions, and many times they lead to certain results. But naturally, there are times when a choice you make or a choice you are pondering leads to uncertainty. Things like relationships, careers, money, and even habits or stupid crap like where to go on vacation. And this is where we, as a race full of adults trapped in kids’ bodies, get tripped up. Like the stereotypical movie character running from Mike Myers in the forest, yea – you’re probably tripping over nothing.
So what exactly is “tripped up”? You freak out. You freeze. You choke. You get emotional (in many different forms). Anger, sadness, anxiousness, you name it. And nine times out of ten, the trigger is simple: you’re uncertain (and in turn, fearful) about what’s to come before or immediately after making a choice.
2. Understand That Life Is Ruled By Uncertainty
If you think you can coast through life with a rock solid sense of security and comfort, and you haven’t experienced otherwise yet, you’ve got bad news coming.
Your life, unfortunately, is mired by peaks and valleys, most of which come from things completely out of your control. It’s just how life works, and there’s no way around it. Don’t even try to figure out a way to prove this hypothesis wrong; you’re wasting your time. Yes, you. Take off that white lab coat and pair of goggles thinking you’re embarking on some science experiment.
Uncertainty is the name of the game; change happens all around you. The quicker you’re able to face the fear of change head-on, the faster you’ll break free from your comfort zone. Much easier said than done. Even though the step you take may not propel you in a straight line towards your given goal, it gives you the benefit of breaking free from bad habits, comfort zones, and stereotypes.
Because comfort zones are the absolutely killer of dreams and ambition. Comfort zones happen when you don’t make changes and coast. Eventually, they’ll inevitably lead to regret. You don’t want that.
3. Know When To Take A Step For Change
Most people’s problem isn’t knowing that life involves taking random steps outside of the comfort zone when there’s a fear of change; most people’s problem is knowing when to take that step.
Lucky for you, there’s an easy solution on how to gauge if you should take a step. The results are guaranteed 100% of the time, backed by millions of people around the globe: if you feel you need to take a step but aren’t sure because you’re afraid and shaky about it, then you actually should do it.
How do you know if you’re going in the right direction, though? This is probably the trickiest piece for most people. The road is far from paved and always tumultuous. But one thing happens as you approach your goal, whether it’s a new career, a new side hustle, or anything else: you’ll find things aren’t always smooth. And the closer you get, the less smooth it can get. Until one day, you pass the hump and everything seems to click.
Call it a test, call it an exam, call it whatever you want – it’s called life wasn’t meant to be easy.
4. Make Decisions Faster And More Often
Everyone’s fear of change is simple: it’s rooted in the unknown and no one likes uncertainty. This causes everyone to put off high-caliber decisions until further notice, because it’s easy. And it’s not easy to learn how to make decisions, if you already suck at it.
So what’s a man or woman to do? Just start making decisions, no matter how small they might seem. You already do a lot of this without much thought luckily. But you’d be surprised just how much you might sweat decision making (especially, as mentioned, you’re not the greatest at making decisions).
If you’re sweating out which toilet paper to buy because one has a steeper discount but the other one is triple ply… learn to pull the trigger and live with the decision. Your butt will give you a good idea, sooner or later, if you made the right choice. If you didn’t? Buy the other brand next time.
5. Talk To Others Who Understand
All of us (or at leas most of us) understand making decisions isn’t easy, but only a select few will understand and show empathy for your particular situation. Find those people, and communicate your fears.
Holding yourself accountable through another person is one of the greatest gifts we have as humans. There’s a stigma out there which says you should learn to be self sufficient and never ask for help. You should learn to be self sufficient; but you should learn to ask for help, too.
And this is where those valuable people fit into your life. And if you want to take it up a notch and can afford it, therapy offers all of the above, plus the opinion of an expert. Remember, therapy isn’t just for lost causes or deadbeats. That stigma left the door many years ago. Therapy is for anyone, even people who have plenty of success already.
If you are able to embrace the idea of uncertainty, embrace the idea that if one thing leaves or isn’t the right choice (whether it be a person, some money, a job, etc.), then life will be so much richer for you. You will no longer be motivated by fear of change, but driven by a sense that as life changes you are ready and able to handle it. Handle it knowing that things will get better, new opportunities will come up, and you aren’t screwed.
But first, you have to be OK with not always knowing what’s happening next.