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Overcoming Resistance to Change

Research shows that one of the biggest barriers Australian leaders face with their employees is resistance to change. But this resistance is not confined to the workplace. In fact, we are hardwired to resist change as the amygdala part of our brain interprets changes as threats, thus releasing the hormones for fear, fight or flight. The problem is that while this response was necessary for our ancestors who needed protection from predators, it doesn’t always serve us today. With saber-toothed tigers long extinct, our amygdala can be self-defeating, robbing us of the chance to see change as an opportunity for growth.

Psychologist Daniel Goleman coined the term “amygdala hijacking” in his 1995 book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ to refer to this immediate and intense emotional reaction that is out of proportion to the situation. When the amygdala overreacts habitually to so-called threats (which may not actually be threats), a person can feel unhealthily stressed and anxious. But learning coping mechanisms and planning ahead can positively influence how we respond in times of change so that stress and fear don’t lead to resistance. Whether you are facing a career shift or kicking a toxic habit, here are some methods of managing resistance to change.

Reframe anxiety as excitement

When your first response to change is anxiety, one shift that can be helpful is reframing this anxiety as excitement. This is not too far-fetched if you consider that the physiological characteristics of anxiety and excitement are similar: elevated heart rate, butterflies in your stomach, sweaty palms, etc. In a 2014 study, Harvard professor Alison Wood Brooks found that when people verbally labeled their anxiety as excitement, they didn’t just feel more excited, they also performed better.

Develop mindful self-compassion

One of the reasons you may fear change is a lack of confidence in your own abilities. According to Drs. Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer, mindful self-compassion can help reinstate this confidence and soothe fear of failure. They explain, “[S]elf-compassion is a reliable source of inner strength that confers courage and enhances resilience when we’re faced with difficulties. Research shows self-compassionate people are better able to cope with tough situations like divorce, trauma, or chronic pain.” One suggestion they give to develop mindful self-compassion is to write a letter to yourself as if you were writing to a beloved friend facing the same obstacle. Return to the letter frequently to comfort you when fear arises again.

Become aware of inner dialogue

Though a certain amount of worry and analysis can be helpful in times of transition, leading you to make a SWOT analysis or pros/cons list, you should become aware of how much of this worry is a result of your critical inner voice. Psychologist Lisa Firestone, author of Conquer Your Critical Inner Voice, says “The critical inner voice represents an internal enemy and may be thought of as a threat to self-actualization and self-fulfillment.” She suggests utilising a voice therapy technique in which you voice your negative thoughts in the second person (e.g. “She feels incompetent” instead of “I feel incompetent.”). This will help you become aware of negative inner dialogue and access the hostility that underlies this self-defeating system.

Ask for help

Overcoming resistance to change may require outside help, but what if you’re also resistant to assistance? Dr. Mark Goulston explains that this resistance can be about a lot of things¬—reluctance about burdening other people, grandiosity, a martyr complex—but it can be overcome. By discovering what is within and outside of your control and getting clear about what type of help you require, you can break through resistance to assistance and resistance to change at the same time, creating a lasting impact on your life.

Learn about how the Hoffman Process can help you identify self-defeating behaviour and open you up to new ways of thinking, behaving and feeling. Through a visceral embodied journey, you will learn to recover your natural self-confidence and self-esteem and respond to life’s situations from a place of conscious choice.