Someone asked me once, “How can I start overcoming fear of change in my life? It seems like that’s the hardest part—not the change itself, but the fear of change.” I think she’s right, and overcoming fear of change (the anticipation of, and uncertainty about, what is to come) is often harder than actually taking action or seeing how things shake down.
First, I think it’s helpful to understand what our habitual responses to change (or fear, in general) are. If I’m to classify the most common fear routines that we go into by default, I’d say that they could be loosely categorized as the Perfectionist, the Martyr, the Saboteur, and the Pessimist routines—all of which encompass those sorts of behaviors (e.g., perfectionists might respond to a fear of change by going into perfectionism and trying to control the circumstances; pessimists might respond to a fear of change by going into “What’s the point?” negativity).
When you know how your fear routines operate, you can start overcoming fear of change in a different way—through the lens of habit formation, creating better habits that are rooted in the value of courage.
For example: Let’s say that you know you go into perfectionism when you feel fear. If you get clear on what perfectionism looks like, for you, what a perfectionist fear routine encompasses, then you’ll be able to recognize when you’re caught in the routine. That’s the moment when you can course-correct. “Ah, yes, I do this thing when I’m afraid of change. Let me ask myself, with presence, what I might do differently.”
Practices for Overcoming Fear of Change
What are the practices of courage when there’s a fear of change? Really, I think they’re always applicable, whether it’s a fear of change or financial uncertainty or just maybe-kinda noticing that our 45th President is a shit-show:
1. Access the body. You feel fear in the body, so deal with it in the body. Adopt mindfulness practices that keep fear sensations from completely overwhelming you during times of change.
2. Listen without attachment. Listen to what your fear says, without getting attached to it—without believing it. That’s part of how you stay savvy to the fact that the routine is running.
3. Reframe limiting stories. Nope, not reciting affirmations—reframing limiting Stories. It’s highly pragmatic to notice that fear tells Stories about how hard or difficult the upcoming changes will be, and you don’t actually know if the Stories are true.
4. Reach out and create community. Fear thrives in isolation, and it diminishes in community. Talk to others about your fears of change. Some people (mistakenly) believe that wanting to receive reassurance from others is a sign of insecurity. No—reaching out to receive reassurance is a sign of resilience and health!
Yes, change is scary.
You are normal.
You are not somehow “doing life wrong” if you find that fear of change has hobbled you.
Overcoming fear of change is really about being willing to be with the uncertainty—and, I might add, the idea that there are times when life is certain, ever, is just a perception.
In reality, all of life is uncertain. There could be an asteroid headed for us at this very moment. How we move through our lives in the face of uncertainty is by quite literally deciding that we will live, even as we know that no one escapes life without challenges.
Particularly with the courage habit step of reaching out to others and creating community, we remind ourselves that when we fear change, we are not alone.