The horrifying truth about our fear of change

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“Change.” Even the slightest mention usually causes a feeling of horror, often followed by resistance because of the perceived fear or risk associated with it.

Why is it that any worthwhile self-help program starts with admittance? 

Well, from what we’ve studied at the APA Solutions research center, it’s getting past the denial that you have a problem to begin with. As a brain-based leadership coach, I’m contacted all the time by decision makers who have some type of organizational people problem. However, I don’t want to give the illusion that the inquiry into our services means we have a rush of managers taking the monumental step to acknowledgment.

The truth is most callers are a lot more comfortable planning an intervention for some other member of their team than themselves. As I listen patiently, I recognize that the contact person is ill prepared for our data that supports the most common oversight. The majority of the time we see that the cause of unrest usually begins at the top, and those who lack the appropriate self-awareness usually don’t see it. A scary truth that typically burns a bit when first introduced. Instead, I can only hope that as a direct witness to another person’s coaching process, they come to the realization that there is a whole lot more to the organizational monster we call disengagement.

That doesn’t mean that once I’ve lead them to the proverbial water, I can get them to drink. The individual has to be invested in achieving self-awareness and the subsequent change. So why is change so hard to accomplish, even when it’s clearly in the best interest of the company’s well-being? For the purpose of this blog, I’m not going to get into the anatomy of the brain, but suffice it say, this 3lb muscle loves the status quo.

It’s basic brain functioning for the organ to be uncomfortable with change.

Human’s develop behaviors that are stored in our unconscious and act as our auto pilot. Trying to change the hardwiring that we’ve built over time is extremely difficult, which is why new concepts may cause an error message in our brain. These error messages can push people to become fearful, and retreat to the threat part of their brain (a region that has 3x more brain real estate than reward). Once fear sets in, emotions can overcome one’s ability to be rational, and animal instincts take over. That means one thing: a threat response eliminates the capacity or opportunity for higher learning. Now let’s think of this natural occurrence in terms of organizational or professional development. You can certainly understand how and why employees are not doing the happy dance.

Old habits may feel impossible to drive out of employee behavior, seeming as natural as breathing. The fact is, change is rarely an isolated event, but we usually see it this way. However, the research shows us that behavioral change occurs gradually, over time. By shifting ingrained thinking in an organization with visible expectations, and encouraging the investigation of how our brain makes decisions, one can begin to turn this organizational monster into a productive counterpart. The first step is admittance.

So, is the fear of change all in our head? You betcha!


Break through mental barriers and discover the keys to unlock successful professional and organizational change. Attend one of our upcoming mindset matters sessions for growth:  Details

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President and CEO

Joan Graci is an accomplished organizational consultant and executive coach with three decades of helping growing companies identify, retain, and develop top talent. Her time as President and Owner of APA Solutions, the premier brain-based human capital consulting firm of WNY, has been spent developing cutting edge, science-based solutions to the people pains of today.

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