So why is it that whenever we confront change around us, our first reaction is not to embrace it but to resist it? Furthermore, the larger the change, the more likely we are to resist it. Yet change, as Einstein noted, will come anyway.
If change is so pervasive and unavoidable, probably the smartest thing to do would be to prepare for it...but by definition one cannot prepare for change because change always has unpredictable consequences as well as predictable ones. We can prepare for some of the consequences of change – but since we cannot control the process, we cannot control the outcomes. And that is why we resist it.
As we go through life we learn skills and behaviors which build on one another. As we build more complex behaviors, we begin to take the simpler ones for granted as they become automatic. For example: when we are learning how to walk, each additional foot we walk without falling is a major milestone...when we start running, those milestones are seen with a different perspective.
But what is something change in such a way that we need to re-learn how to walk? Plenty of medical conditions force people to do exactly that every day. In most cases, the first reaction is to refuse to go through with the process of re-learning; in some cases even leading to profound depression and denial and anger. Why is that?
Every behavior that we learn to the point of internalizing it represents one less thing to worry about. We don't worry, under normal conditions, where to put each foot as we move forward, but if we need to relearn the behavior we are forced to make a conscious effort to perform a task we took for granted – it introduces a sense of insecurity and may even lead us to question our own ability to do what we thought was automatic.
In our daily lives, something similar happens when we interact with others. The more we interact with specific people, the more used we get to the ways of that interaction and we come to take it for granted. We even get to miss them when they are not present. This would be true for both, personal as well as business relationships. Interactions with each individual around us are part of how we interact with our environment – be that a family, a neighborhood, an organization, a community, etc.
But as our environment grows in complexity it becomes more likely to be regulated by rules – call them laws, expectations, etc. When those rules change they can also have the effect of making us feel inadequate by forcing us to relearn something we had been taking for granted. We don't think every day about driving on the right side of the road...but what if one day the DMV decides to change the rule and tell us we're supposed to drive on the left (as in England)? It would force us to make a conscious effort to modify our behavior.
Some changes are easier than others, but they all have something in common: they demand that we forget something we knew and adopt something new. Adopting or accepting something new means we can no longer relate to it the way we related to what we left behind. Immigrants from non-English speaking countries such as myself would know what I mean when I talk about the months of headaches it takes to get used to function in English on a daily basis. And they will also understand me when I mention the anxiety that it generates to learn to communicate in a language not your own in order to be able to function in the society where you live.
Anxiety is not an easy thing to deal with because it comes from questioning some fundamental assumptions we make every day about how the world works. It challenges our sense of comfort. And that is why change is scary.
But going back to Einstein – if we accept his premise, change is going to come anyway; computer programs will change and we'll need to learn how to use them; technology will continue to change and to change our environment; people close to us will continue to move on to other places or to die, forcing us to accept their absence in our lives.
So how can we control change? - the answer is that we can't. But we can prepare for change in the best possible way based on what we know about what it is to come, and then make adjustments for the unexpected.
Yes, the other alternative would be to deny change and continue to function as we always did as if it was business as usual...but as change progresses, sooner or later we will fail because our actions will not be appropriate in the new environment created by the change we denied.
I would propose to you that life is defined by change...and therefore scary. How we deal with that fear is what defines us as individuals. In the words of one of our sages...
“All the world is a very narrow bridge, and the most important thing is not to fear at all” (Rabbi Nachman of Breslov)