Resistance to Change – Why it’s good and how to use it

If you change the way you look at things... Most people see resistance to change as a problem to be fixed or an obstacle to be overcome…

But what if resistance to change was useful instead of a hindrance,  positive instead of negative, a gift rather than a curse?

It would certainly take a bit of perspective shifting, but when we can see our resistance as a helpful tool or message, it opens up a whole new range of options and ways forward.

SO WHAT IS RESISTANCE TO CHANGE?

People will resist change when they perceive it as a threat.

In traditional change management, and within organisations, many of these perceived threats can be quite obvious or easily identified. However, when you are dealing with self growth, personal development or more intimate challenges, the threats and fears can be very subtle, hidden or even counter-intuitive.

Certainly in my experience of being coached and doing a lot of deep self development work, and coaching and supporting others through major transitions, resistance to change is more likely to be felt as an almost physical block – a really strong sensation that wants you to run in the opposite direction or scream at the person who made have dared challenge you with it!

But we can’t always see the fear lurking beneath the surface that causes us to feel such a strong response. We may not realise that a new idea, perspective or even a positive change we want to make can threaten our sense of identity, confidence or connection with others.

[NB: it is important to distinguish between true ‘gut-feeling’ intuition which can guide you gently but insistently away from something, and the sucker-punch sense of fear that drives resistance to change. The intensity and accompanying emotions can help you determine which you are experiencing – anger, hostility or ‘absolute’ sense of No! often point to fear-based resistance.]

WHY RESISTANCE TO CHANGE IS GOOD

Ironically, when we experience resistance to change with less obvious cause, it is more often than not an indicator that this is exactly what we need!

We subconsciously perceive it as such a high level of threat purely because it is so ‘on the money’, so pertinent.

What it is telling us is that we are on the right track and – more importantly – that there is some subtle fear we need to uncover which will help us achieve a huge breakthrough!

The odd thing about fear is that once we identify and acknowledge it, it loses a lot of its power over us; whilst a hidden fear has the ability to sabotage our change attempts – no matter how much we think we want them.

So when we can recognise our resistance to change, we are receiving a vital message that we can use to help our development. Even in an organisational setting, exploring the fears behind resistance to change can identify concerns or challenges that can open up entirely new opportunities or alternative solutions.

HOW WE CAN USE OUR OWN RESISTANCE

Awareness is always the first step, so learn to identify how resistance to change feels for you:

  • Is it a physical sensation in your body? Whereabouts? Describe the feeling – is it: intense, sharp, nauseating, winding, overwhelming, immobilising?
  • Does it have an accompanying emotion? Panic, anger, avoidance, hostility, rejection, other?
  • What is your first reaction to do? Argue, run away, ignore it, attack it, deny it?

Next, acknowledge that you might be experiencing resistance to change, and that it could be a useful message for you:

  • “I’m feeling real resistance to <this change/idea>… it has made me feel really <insert emotion/physical sensation> and so I’m going to assume that it is exactly what I need to explore right now!”
  • Tweak the statement to make it work for you – if you aren’t convinced your resistance could be a positive message, then change the end to be something like “… and so I’m going to explore it even though I want to run in the opposite direction!”
  • This is often accompanied by that bemused but slightly frustrated feeling of being unsure whether you need to laugh or cry!

It is important to be gentle with yourself and acknowledge the perspective shift in allowing yourself to be open to the idea that resistance to change could be a gift and positive flag.

Finally, explore what the underlying fear might be that your resistance is signalling:

  • Remember: the fear may not be obvious or may be counter-intuitive, so you might need to follow the threads of your resistance/argument/excuses to dig around for it. Try writing down your top 2-5 objections and look at the clues they give you.
  • Others often find it easier to see our fears than we do, so you might find it helpful to enlist the support of an understanding friend, coach or other professional ‘listener’ to get to the heart of it.

By identifying the fear that caused our resistance to change we reduce its ability to continue holding us back. However, sometimes simply acknowledging the resistance and its confirmation that we are on the right track can allow us to keep taking steps that dissolve the fear and lead to the action and change we desire.

Have you experienced any resistance to change lately? We’d love to hear whether you recognised any of the above descriptions of it, or what types of situations caused your response! Or have you have an about-turn after you realised that the thing you were resisting might actually be helpful afterall?