Is change really as scary as we think it is? I’ve struggled with how to deal with change my whole life. I didn’t enjoy the transition from being at home to going to school, I didn’t like going from primary to secondary school. When my first boyfriend broke up with me I cried for an entire year.
A lot of people actively avoid change and yet, it’s one of life’s certainties. From new jobs to new houses, babies to people dying, we can mould the world around us to avoid change as much as possible, but it’s going to catch up with us.
Covid is a prime example. Nobody foresaw that level of upheaval; a life entirely devoid of its usual substance. And, perhaps this is the Caroline who gave birth during a global pandemic speaking, but I don’t fear change as much as I used to.
We’re programmed to avoid change
Tim Ferriss (who writes the 4-hour Work Week) said people would rather be ‘unhappy than uncertain’. There’s a whole study by neuroscientists Dr. David Rock & Dr. Al H Ringleb which suggests that uncertainty created by change registers in our brain as an error. It means we can’t move past it until we’ve smoothed it out. We’re left in an uncomfortable chasm.
I can relate. I’ve often likened the uncertainty of change to waiting for a rollercoaster ride. When you’re on it, you don’t have time to think. When you’re waiting for it and you’re watching other people go round and around, you have all the time in the world to assess different outcomes. Ronan Keating was mostly right, but I’d argue that life is more like waiting for a rollercoaster, particularly for over thinkers like me.
When I was pregnant, I obsessed over other people having babies. I devoured birth stories and made comparisons between each one. When I was in labour, I had no time to worry about the outcome because I was in it.
I think it’s why people who are scared of flying put off going on holiday full-stop. They’d rather be unhappy with no holiday than deal with the uncertainty that fear brings.
It’s an adjustment
When thinking about change, many of us see it as a whole. James and I are currently thinking about moving house, and if I think about the move as a whole, it seems like a huge disturbance to our life as we know it. But, it’s not.
Yes, your house is different but everything else remains the same. We are still together as a family, we have the same possessions, we’ll go about our lives in the same way. Change – even in its most hideous forms – is rarely something that turns every single part of your life upside-down. When somebody dies, there are still anchors of normality as simple as having a bath at the end of the day or a cup of tea in your favourite mug which remind you of stability amongst the chaos.
It’s important to always look for those anchors of stability. It’s something that works well for me.
We are thinking of buying a major project house, and James said to me ‘imagine having a whole day of work or looking after Isaac and then having to start again in the evenings doing work to the house’.
My simple answer was that ‘we’ll adjust’. And you do, don’t you? You adjust slightly and continue. Change – for me, at least – has such negative connotations but a life ‘adjustment’ seems less staggering.
We’ve all adjusted before
In the first eight months of having Isaac, the only ‘alone time’ I had was when I had a bath. It usually lasted for about 10 minutes because Isaac would need feeding or need me for whatever reason, but I was completely content in this insanely small amount of free time.
Amidst night feeds, and changing nappies, and feeding 15 times a day, somehow I’d found solitude in ten meagre minutes each day.
If somebody had told me I’d have ten minutes to myself each day for the eight months after I’d given birth, I would’ve panicked. But, in it, it felt like a lovely break and was enough to revitalise me.
I suppose this is why I’m asking the question ‘is change really as scary as we think it is?’ because what we conjure up in our heads is actually much scarier than the reality.
What’s the saying? 80% of the things I worry about never actually happen.
And so, I think that the actual enemy in all of this isn’t change, but the expectation of change.
It’s a software update
I read somewhere that people should see change as a software update as simple as updating your phone. Thriving in a period of change is down to perspective, and seeing it as an upgrade (which will allow you to learn more and grow more as a person) is a healthier way of looking at life.
And carrying on with the analogy of comparing our complex minds to software, if we continue to see change as an error without exploring why the error has occurred, we’ll have very little room for growth.
If your computer shows up an error, you try to establish why it has happened, you don’t just sit and stare at the screen for the rest of your life.
When you’re moving house, you’re doing so because you need or want to. If you’re changing job, there’s a reason. These are clear cut. Sure, if somebody has died or you’re going through something truly awful, it’s hard to find a ‘reason’ and at that point I think it’s a good idea to revert back to an anchor to normality until you feel able to process it.
At our cores, we don’t change
You might be spinning in a world of change at the moment. You might feel like nobody understands how you feel and that me saying ‘change doesn’t have to be bad’ is a load of BS concocted by somebody who feels a bit stressed because they’re moving house.
If you do feel like this (and I’ve felt like this before), then you need to look at your core. The beliefs that hold you together on a good day are still there on a bad day. Your likes, dislikes, hobbies, people you love. They’re all there.
Aged 17 when I broke up with my first boyfriend (which is, of course, not my worst life experience but one I feel happy enough to talk about), I felt like a hollow shell, but then a friend would make me laugh at school, my dad would make me cheese and onion on toast and a hot chocolate, I’d get into bed to fresh sheets. And slowly, these things piece you back together.