In my training as a counselor, a good amount of attention was given to answering the question of how and why people change. So I think I have a pretty good handle on what makes a person want to change and how they go about doing that. But the question that was not asked so much, and the one I was unprepared to deal with was this: Why do people, in the midst of difficult circumstances, choose to keep things as they are, rather than changing? Why don’t people change? In short, I believe the answer is fear.
People like the predictable. It makes them feel safe, because at least they know what’s coming. It’s comfortable and people also like comfortable. The unpredictable, the uncertain is full of, well, unknowns. It is uncomfortable and most people don’t like it. At many restaurants that I frequent I have a favorite dish, and I will order that dish most of the time. Even though there is probably a much more enjoyable dish on the menu, I am less likely to try it because I am not sure if I’ll like it. I don’t want to trade something that I know I like for something I don’t know if I will like. The same is true for most people in life.
Most of the time this preference for the known makes life simpler and easier. We don’t have to make a lot of decisions because we just do what we normally do. Where this breaks down is when adversity hits, or when habits are unhealthy. When we become aware that what we are doing is no longer working, or no longer good for us, we are faced with a decision: change, or continue doing the same thing. I drive the same way to work every day, just like most people. However, occasionally traffic can be bad. There may be a wreck or a stalled vehicle in the road. I can choose to still go the same way, but it is going to be pretty ineffective, or I can choose to change my route in order avoid the problem area and make it to work on time.
Now why might I decide not to go a different way? Why might a person decide, despite adversity, to continue in their old way of doing things? Because it’s easy (or I should say easier). Continuing in one’s old ways means not having to face the uncertainty of change. Even though life is difficult the way it currently is, at least it is predictable, known. I can’t foresee whether or not changing will actually make things better, even if all of the information points in that direction. Therefore, it is easier to persist in what I am currently doing and find ways (healthy or not) to deal with the pain than to push off into the unfamiliar realm of change.
What it all comes down to is fear. People choose not to change because they are afraid of what might happen. Even when life is grim, and everything inside is screaming that change will help, fear of the unknown holds the person down, preventing them from improving their life. Fear is the shackles that tie a person down so they can’t discover the life for which they’ve been yearning. It is the quick sand that halts progress and slowly pulls a person down and suffocates them. It is the iron bars that allow you to see what might be, but prevent you from ever grasping it.
So what can you do? Throw off the shackles that bind you, pull yourself out of the quicksand that keeps you frozen, break free from the jail that is fear and take hold of the joy and satisfaction that life offers to those courageous enough to change.