Why Do We Fear Change?

When I was 19, I read my first Nonfiction book with the intention of shifting the way that I used my mind, body, and soul. It was titled, “Kick Your Excuses Goodbye” by Rene Godefroy. This created a spark, and internal thirst for knowledge and answers that seemed unquenchable. I began to follow that up with titles such as “How to Win Friends and Influence People”, “The Greatest Miracle in the World”, “As a Man Thinketh”, and “The Power of Positive Thinking”. Finding me at the perfect time, these books allowed me a solace, a safe haven to crawl into when the world seemed the opposite.

These books also had the effect of setting me down a lifelong quest to attempt to quench that thirst that every so often seems unquenchable. Sometimes though, as I am climbing willingly and fearlessly down the path of growth with every word I read and lecture I hear, I find a roadblock. I stumble across a seemingly unpassable crevasse or un-scaleable cliff. I found myself face to face with a sample of knowledge, information, or insight that threatens to shake and crumble the foundation of who I am. I stumble upon knowledge that forces me to question everything I have ever known and accepted, and reframe it in a new light.

Often, when this happens, I’ll run. Metaphorically, but also literally. I’ll set the book down, or pause the lecture, and find myself unwilling and unable to pick it up for a few days. I struggle to identify where the tension is coming from inside, and how it is possible that I accept the two seemingly incompatible ideas. I postpone, neglect, and ultimately distract myself until the thirst pops up again and I am faced with a seemingly impossible choice: cease the learning for fear of the uncomfortable reality that something inside me must change, or continue learning and go down the vicious path of self reflection until I find where the tension lies.

As I pondered last week’s article, I couldn’t help but question my premise for why people fear change. The idea that change is stunted because of a knowledge of future shame seems too weak to hold the foundation of a world of history of aversion to change. A lifetime of watching myself and those around me shy away from the uncomfortable decisions, fill their conversations, media, and external input with cognitive dissonance, or only sources that cater to the pre-decided beliefs that we already hold, and develop excuses like cement between the reasons why today is not the day this begins has led to believe that maybe shame is just one tiny facet, one slice in the whole pie.

I don't think it is change that is scary. Change is like the end goal, the peak of that mountain that we are climbing up. It isn’t change that forces me to walk away, or holds me hostage. No, it is the process of changing that provides us with the fear strong enough to erase the whole process for our conscious minds, the same way it isn’t the peak that scares us, it is the process of reaching the peak. Understanding this, we can accept that when people say they fear change, it is not the change itself, but the uncomfortable middle ground that you find yourself in while the change is occuring. See, maybe we won’t change, maybe we won’t allow information that counters our previously held beliefs to enter our atmosphere, because we have accepted those beliefs, and have accepted yourself as someone who holds those beliefs, as part of our identity, and without them, or it, we would have to do the hard work of redefining ourselves. This is a much scarier and uncomfortable task in the short-term.

Sometimes, life takes this choice away from us. A situation out of our control occurs that forces us into a downward spiral where the only two options are to change, or live a life essentially parallel to death. In these situations such as a spouse leaving us, or someone we love dearly dying, we acknowledge that the discomfort in changing is high immediately, but over time the comfort that comes with these decisions allows us to ease a life of long-term, gradual suffering. But when we have a choice, when life doesn’t decide for us, why do we choose the opposite?

I write this, as I hide behind the screen of my computer, refusing to open the book that lies 8 inches to my right. Who I am after I stop being a vegetarian? This is who I have been for so long, that what if I am unable to handcraft another identity that pleases myself, and end up filling shame and regret towards the killing of an old me. What about the tolerance filled, peace advocate? As these blocks that I have built the foundation of who I am on began to crumble, and my whole sense of self implodes, what stands in the ashes? How do I pick up the book and willingly throw myself into the fire, and be comfortable with whoever comes out of it?

I first force myself to understand the reason that mythological dragons hoard gold. In a lecture titled, “Slaying the Dragon Within Us”, Dr. Jordan B. Peterson explains why dragons have always had the gold. “Dragons hoard gold because the thing that we need is to be found in the place you least want to look…. The thing we fear holds the thing we need.” Understanding that through this process of voluntary fire, though however uncomfortable it may be, breeds a new sense of self that we need.

After this change, after we choose we will no longer be the partying college student, or the ignorant drunkard, or the angry father, or the disillusioned mother, then we have to decide, or allow ourselves to form a new self. This is the hard part. I believe that I was wrong, and that this is subconsciously why we will not change, because we know that the intense hours of self reflection that come with accepting that this person who you are now no longer speaks to your soul are hard and make us uncomfortable. So, like the majority of the population with discomfort, we avoid it.

This is why the path to enlightenment is so seldomly used. Because it is about facing the thing you don't want to face. There is no easy path to the peak of self that we imagine at a young age. I was naive in my visions of a mid aged Jason coasting through life because I decided at 19 who I was going to be. The way to grow and the path of growth leads through the darkest of forests, and we must consciously accept that in order to ever succeed, we must not only fail, but we must live a life of voluntary discomfort.

This book, that gleams in the corner of my eye as I type is my dragon. We all have one. That relationship that we know we should fix, but we don’t want to face the awkwardness. That apology we should give, or that habit that we should break are all dragons, and through the process of slaying them is how we reach our gold. This is why we don’t change. The shame is just icing on the cake, or a metaphorical downpour of exterior self-inadequacies raining down on you. The real roadblock is the dragon.

“The gateway to wisdom is precisely through the portal that you do not want to climb through” -Dr. Jordan B. Peterson.