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What is resistance to change?

Some call it change, others call it progress, and there are also some who call it adaptation. Some people practically develop a phobia of change while others are almost dependent on the novelty it implies. The former prefer regularity, predictability and old-fashioned things. Employees love novelty, difference and uncertainty.

In any case, life itself is change. Schopenhauer said it: “Change is the only thing unchangeable.” This is why it is essential to develop a level of tolerance to change that allows us to face transformations without compromising our psychological balance too much.

What is resistance to individual change?

The concept of resistance to change in organizations is well known, but resistance to personal change is a less popular, though equally important, idea.

In psychology the concept of resistance to change refers to people who experience emotional distress caused by the prospect of a transformation or by the change that is taking place.

During the early years of psychology, resistance to individual change was analyzed simply as a motivation problem. Therefore, it was thought that to eliminate this resistance it was enough to convince the person to motivate himself.

We now know that when someone resists change it is because there are several problem areas, related to personality traits, life history or the current situation. In this perspective, resistance to personal change is an incredible opportunity to look within ourselves.

In fact, we can feel motivated to change but if something holds us back, like fear, motivation will not be enough to overcome resistance. That’s why a change is always an opportunity to discover yourself.

The cycle of resistance to personal change

Kubler-Ross suggested an emotional cycle that people can follow in mourning cases, but that perfectly applies to any other type of change in life that we refuse to accept.

  1. Phase of the shock. It is the state of paralysis or initial emotional blockage when we first expose ourselves to the perspective of change. In this state we usually don’t react, so that other people may think that we have willingly accepted the transformation, but in reality what happens is that our emotional system has “frozen”. Our rational mind has not yet worked out the change and what it means. To the extent that we take it, we can experience an anxiety crisis or other physical reactions.
  2. Phase of denial. At this stage we deny change, this implies closing our eyes to reality and to any evidence that transformation is needed or is taking place. Normally we continue with our lives, as if nothing had happened, with the naive claim that the need to change disappears. This happens because, grasping the daily routine, we regain the feeling of control.
  3. Phase of anger. When we can no longer deny change, the most common thing is to react with anger, frustration and anger. In this phase all the feelings repressed during the previous phases emerge. Also in this phase we usually ask ourselves “why does this have to happen to me?”
  4. Phase of negotiation. It is a phase in which we will try to find a way out, although it is usually useless because in reality we are still resisting change. At this stage we have not yet accepted the change, but we try to find “ways” to avoid it.
  5. Phase of depression. At this point we finally accept that change is inevitable. But we don’t accept it willingly, and we can react by getting depressed or irritated.
  6. Test phase. It is a phase where resistance to change is finally disappearing because we realize that we have to react. So let’s start looking for realistic solutions and new coping models that adapt to reality. At this stage we begin to make small experiments that bring us closer to change and allow us to observe it in a new perspective.
  7. Acceptance phase. It is the last phase in which we return to finding the balance lost with the change. Here we find and practice new models of adaptive behavior that help us rebuild our identity in new circumstances.

The 10 factors of resistance to change that keep you trapped in the past

We are aware that change is the only constant in life. However, we want to change and at the same time remain the same or do the same things. This dichotomy generates resistance, often on an unconscious level.

  1. Don’t understand that you need to change. In some circumstances we may not be very clear that we need to change, especially if we feel relatively safe and comfortable in our comfort zone. If we think that the things we have done for so many years will continue to work and there is no reason to change, we will oppose any transformation.
  2. Fear of the unknown. Fear of what is unknown and uncertainty is one of the main reasons for resistance to change. As a general rule, we only go into the unknown if we believe that what lies ahead is worth it, but if we are not sure what we will find, it will be very difficult for us to give up our position, where we feel safe and have everything relatively under control.
  3. Lack of competence and fear of failure. It is a factor of resistance to change that few people admit but it is the basis of this fear. When we believe that we do not have the skills, abilities or forces necessary to face the transformation, we often do not recognize it, but we react by resisting it.
  4. Attachment to habits. If we have done things in a certain way for a long time, it will be very difficult to change these models. It is not only about behavior habits, but also ways of relating, thinking or feeling. This is due, among other things, to the fact that in our brain there are already “neural highways” through which those habits run fast, so the change would require that we build new ones, but our brain usually always tends to apply the law of least effort.
  5. Taxation. When we perceive that change is imposed by someone and that we have no say or vote, the first reaction is usually rejection. Most people dislike the imposed changes, so if they are not consulted, the will to change will be minimal.
  6. Exhaustion and saturation. In many cases resistance to change is due to the fact that the tolerance to change level has been exceeded; that is, the person has been subjected to many transformations that has developed a refusal to them due to exhaustion and saturation.
  7. Cognitive dissonance. In some cases the change represents a breaking point with some of our beliefs or opinions, which generates a cognitive dissonance that we are not willing to assume.
  8. Poor motivation. Every change always requires the mobilization of certain resources, so if we don’t have enough motivation, or if this is not an intrinsic motivation, we will resist this transformation.
  9. The wrong time. In many cases resistance to change is caused by the fact that change comes at a negative time in life. It could be that the person is going through a difficult situation or that he has other plans and is not willing to face another change.
  10. Personal predisposition to change. There are personalities more willing to change while others remain tied to what they know. Personalities with neurotic traits, with an internal locus of control and low tolerance for ambiguity, are more resistant to change.

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