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Tip of the Week

Why We're Wired to Resist Change and How to Open Yourself to New Possibilities

By Rebecca Johnson Osei, PsyD

Have you ever known that a situation wasn't good for you, or that a change in a situation would result in something better, but still found yourself hesitant to make the change? If so, congratulations: you're totally normal! 

Humans are hardwired against change. According to evolutionary psychology, human beings are wired to act in ways that keep us safe and increase our chances of survival. This served us very well while we were living in caves and running from mountain lions, and it probably still comes in handy when we find ourselves out in an alley at 4:00 in the morning. 

But on a day-to-day basis, it may actually serve to discourage us from taking risks that could be beneficial. To put it another way, we work from the perspective of the devil we know is better than the devil we don't. If we can predict what will happen next, we can prepare for it. The unknown poses inherent risk and danger. By keeping things as static as possible we minimize the risk to ourselves. In life or death situations this is great. 

If it is a matter of deciding to move to an apartment closer to your job, to leave a relationship that is not very healthy, or to apply to a job that would allow you more upward mobility, this natural instinct may hold you back. All of these situations come with their own risks, but most likely death is not one of them and the possible benefits may outweigh the risks. 

Unfortunately, your subconscious brain can't differentiate between a life-and-death risk and one that is perhaps just emotionally or financially risky. Fortunately, there is a rational side to your brain that you can control! Here is one way to help make sure that you're thinking with your rational brain and not your evolutionary instinct to keep things the same:

Make a pros and cons list. Actually, make two!

  • What are the benefits and costs of staying in the situation you are in now, versus the benefits and potential risks of changing the situation? 

  • Do the benefits of your current situation outweigh the negatives of the current situation? 

  • Do the potential benefits of the new situation outweigh the risks? 

If your answer was "yes" to the first but not the latter then perhaps you don't want to take that specific risk, but it sounds like you are still ready for a change. If your answer was "no" to both, then why were you even thinking about changing? Sounds like you have it made in the shade! And of course, if the answer was "yes" to the second then you should probably go for it. 

It never hurts to get advice from a career counselor, financial advisor, relationship coach, or another expert. But, at the end of the day, you probably know what you want. You just have to figure out if it's fear holding you back or something else.

Dr. Rebecca Johnson Osei is the owner of Concierge Psychology, one of the first true concierge psychotherapy practices. By accepting only a limited number of clients, Dr. Osei is able to offer a flexible schedule with remarkable accessibility. Clients can expect discreet and individualized services to address a variety of concerns, including anxiety, stress, depression, relationship issues, work-life balance, and improving work performance and life satisfaction.  Permission granted for use on   

Tags: Behavior, Stress, Tips
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