Why We Sometimes Resist Change (Even When We're Miserable)

Change. It's an inevitable part of human life. Every single day we wake up is different from the day before, regardless of how monotonous our lives might feel at times. 

If you look back at our history, change is a constant. We physically evolved into the species that we are today, country lines were redrawn countless times, people migrated all over the earth. Over time, inventions were created that forever changed the way we consume food and information, as well our ability to communicate with people on a global scale. Even in the last 5 years our lives have changed drastically with the rise of social media and usage of the internet across the world.

We are so used to change and its inevitability that you'd think we would accept it's presence in our lives, right? And yet, there are times where we are so caught up in our own lives that change seems terrifying and we resist it. Hard.

Sometimes, we are so happy in our current situation that we are afraid of anything changing, afraid that the other shoe will drop and the outcome won’t be a positive one. Other times, we are so defeated by the place we are in that the effort of trying to change our situation feels futile and tiring.

I find that it is here, when we are miserable, that we often put up our strongest resistance to change, even when deep down it’s what we crave most.

We know on a soul level that we want change. We want to get past whatever it is that is keeping us down. But because we don’t see a clear (often read “easy”) path out of our current position, we decide staying put will take less effort.

Think about it… when have you found yourself in this position?

I know that I have been here many times before. For your sake, I’ll only list out a few of the most salient examples:

  • That time (okay, fine, it was multiple times) that I stayed stuck in a job that I hated, making excuses for why I should stay: there aren’t any jobs out there for me; interviewing is such a pain in the ass; maybe it’ll magically get better. Yeah… right…

  • That time when I are so heartbroken that the effort to get myself past the heartbreak didn’t feel worth it: healing is too painful and messy.

  • That time I told myself I’d make use of my coaching skills in my corporate job for 3-5 years and then start an actual coaching business, even though thinking about that timeline made me want to vomit: nausea is manageable, right?

In each of these, my resistance to change was an attempt at creating a safety net for myself. An attempt to keep fear at bay.

Yes, I wanted to be happy in my job and feel like I was making an impact, but staying in my misery felt the least difficult since I had no idea what I wanted to do next. Crying in the bathroom stall somehow felt easier than actually taking the time to figure out what job would make me happy. What if I couldn’t actually find happiness at work?

Yes, I didn’t want to feel the pain of heartbreak forever, but staying in it got me the attention from friends and family that I was craving and that felt better than having to fully process all of my hurt. Pitying myself (and having others take care of me) was less scary than healing. What if I healed but never found love again?

Yes, I wanted to start a business and be a full-time coach, but toeing the “what’s expected of me by society” line and a steady paycheck felt easier than letting myself jump. Staying in the corporate world felt safer than going it alone. What if I jumped and failed?

While I was trying to create a safety net for myself each time, in reality I was actually letting fear run the show. I was staying put because I was too afraid of what change would look like. Too afraid of answering that "What if?" question. 

And yet, I believe that for all of us there comes a tipping point at which time fear is no longer the strongest voice in the room.

All of a sudden there is a moment when the circumstances of our given situation are too heavy for us to hold anymore. A moment where we are done with feeling so crappy and a light clicks on in our heads: “I’m ready!” Just like that!

Or at least it seems to be just like that.

More likely, our brains and bodies have been working through this fear of (but admittedly necessary need for) change without our conscious mind knowing. That light that clicks on for us so suddenly is our body’s push saying, “Okay it’s time to move on now. Let’s go! You can do it!”

For all three of my example situations, there was absolutely a tipping point where my whole being finally said “Go!”

That’s when the magic happens.

When we let down that resistance, when we let the world know we are ready, that’s where we make real progress. It doesn’t mean you necessarily know what the exact change is that you need to make. Rather, it’s about being willing to make a change.

Most of my clients come to me at their tipping point. They know that they have to make a change, that they can’t keep just going through the motions every day, but they have zero clue where to start. And that’s okay! That is a completely normal and understandable place to be in - the unknown can be scary.

The key is listening to that tipping point: recognizing that you need change and not retreating back into resistance mode just because you’re not sure what your next step should be. That means looking fear in the eyes and saying “I hear you, but I really need to make a change and you’re not going to keep me from doing it.”

Again, you don’t have to have the answers, you just have to have faith in change. This faith (or trust, whatever you want to call it) that you put out there signals to the world around you that you are ready to get unstuck. It doesn’t mean it won’t be hard - change is very rarely easy - but your willingness to push forward and do the work will open doors.

Once you've listened to your need for change and committed to it, the good news is that there are many avenues at your disposal to help you actually do the thing.

Here are my top 3 to help get you into action:

Start talking about change

Let the people in your life know what’s going on for you. No, you don’t have to walk into your boss’s office and say “I’m miserable here, help me find a new job!” But, you can start talking to other people in your life about your desire for change.

It can be as simple as telling friends and family “I want to look for a new job” or “I really want to move” or “I’m ready to finally address my body image issues”. Whatever the source of your stuckness is, just talking about it can help create momentum around it.

For example, one of my clients is looking to move and one of the pieces of the puzzle we’ve been working on is having her start to connect with important people in her life about it (outside of work). This way, she’s top of mind if they hear of any job opportunities she might be interested in in the city she wants to move to. Not only has she received support for her decision, she’s also started getting introductions to people who live in that city and can help her network for a job there.

You never know what can come from simply putting the energy out there.

Read and research

I’m a huge believer in reading as much as possible on subjects that interest you and help you grow. Seriously, my bookshelf is overflowing... 

Go to the library or hop on Amazon and get books that feel related to your journey. There will be words, phrases, chapters even, that will stick with you long after you’ve put the book back on the shelf. Those words might just give you some clues as to how you want to move forward.

If you already know the change you want to make, start doing research on it. Look at what jobs are out there in your field. Look into GMAT prep classes. Read articles about the different neighborhoods in your dream city. Starting to acquire logistical knowledge about the change (especially when it's something like moving or finding a new job) can make it feel more concrete and less overwhelming.

Hire a coach

Okay, yeah, maybe I’m a little bit biased here given this is my job but…

I’m a firm believer in having a neutral third party who is in your corner, supporting you throughout the process.

While my advice above about talking to friends and family about the change you want to make is definitely helpful, they can often be invested in the outcome. Having someone who is 100% on your side with no historical baggage tied to your decision making process makes it easier to listen to your own voice and desires.

It could be someone like me who helps you get clear on your core values, passions and what you really want out of your life and career so you can start making those things happen. It could be a health coach to help you get back in touch with your body and implement healthy exercise and eating habits. It could even be someone who specifically focuses on helping women who are starting businesses while also being a moms if that's where you're at in life.

The point is you don’t have to work through change alone. There are lots of resources to help you. Hopefully those two sentences make whatever change you’re facing right now feel a little less scary.

The biggest takeaway: don’t resist change.

I know it can feel terrifying, but don’t resist the opportunity to grow as a person. We so often create our own stuckness because we’re unsure which direction to move in and are afraid of the unknown. And yet, this keeps us miserable and stagnant.

You can’t bloom into the person you are meant to be if you keep shirking change at every turn.

So, when you start to feel your tipping point, follow it. Don’t ignore it because change feels too difficult. Jump on the bus and ride around town with it for a while. See where it takes you. It is when we are willing to do this that we grow and create the lives that we truly want to live.

Have you reached your tipping point? Are you ready to embrace change rather than resisting it? If so, how can I help you go for it?

Be well,

Carolyn