Making a successful change: Overcoming fear and striking a balance

Making a change in life can be downright scary. Whether it is experiencing a major life transition (for example: going to college, starting a new job, or getting married) or making an intentional behavior change (for example: quitting smoking, increasing exercise, or changing eating behaviors), many people fear change for various reasons. In my experience, the three most common reasons people fear change are: 

  1. Thinking they may fail at making a change.
  2.  Knowing that making a change is stressful, anfractuous, arduous, and overwhelming.
  3. Feeling uncertain about the outcomes of a change.

Yes, all of these fears are valid. Yes, you may fail at successfully making a change. Yes, making changes can be messy and stressful. And yes, there is ambiguity to change - only time will tell what the outcome of a change will be.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t try to make a change or that you cannot succeed at making a change.

People usually become motivated to make a change when the pain of the status quo becomes more than the pain of not changing.  Once motivated to take action and address the behavior or situation, they are more likely to make a successful change.

The key in making a successful change (read: avoiding the pain of the status quo and the pain of failure) is finding a realistic and reasonable challenge or change and working toward it step-by-step. On a continuum from maintaining a competent status quo to failure at making a change, the key is to strike a balance in the middle. See the illustration below.

You see, while the status quo may be comfortable (that is until it isn’t, thus motivating you to make a change) because it’s your default or natural “resting state;” however, it may leave you wanting more from your life. Living the status quo can leave you feeling unfulfilled, unchallenged, or even feeling “stuck,” as you know that you have much potential to be realized. Left unchallenged, these feelings can escalate to misery and living your own personal hell.

On the other hand, failure can leave you feeling incompetent, unskilled (in fact, the failure may have occurred because you lack the skills needed to make a successful change), and uncomfortable or even in pain.

Failure is, however, informative – it provides you with the information needed to make another, more successful attempt at change. Like a scientist whose hypothesis was unfounded, it provides information to conduct a more precise experiment the next go-around.  That’s the important thing when faced with failure (and who doesn’t fail? You’re bound to have a least one failure in life; unless you’re always playing it safe by living the status quo) - it is best not to not judge yourself (see my blog on changing your life with self-compassion). Instead, act like a scientist and use the failure as information that helps propel you toward a successful change.

Successful change is made when the change is a reasonable challenge in which you have the skills necessary to rise to the occasion. Yes, the change may challenge those skills and push you to your limits; after all, this is where personal growth and significant change occurs. A reasonable challenge is usually uncomfortable at the start and with persistence and growth, it becomes more comfortable and, ideally, your new status quo.

Wishing you successful and positive changes. - Chelsea

Learn more on change and making successful changes in Chelsea’s upcoming book titled, “Designing Your Quality Life: Becoming the Architect of Your Most Meaningful Life,” which is due out later this year. This blog was adapted from the book.