Are you afraid of change hurting too much? Here’s a reality check.

mature: no longer subject to great expansion or development. –thefreedictionary.com

One of the signs of mental and emotional maturity is being able to process varying levels of a concept or situation; the opposite of simplistic, or “black-and-white” thinking and feeling. Personal change or development is, unfortunately, often bound by fear, a catalyst of immature thinking, and in this article, I am referring to a person’s integrated development.

This challenge can take place in many parts of life: entering into new relationships, job transitions, lifestyle changes, starting a new business, pursuing a dream, dieting, exercise, human development (adolescence, young adulthood, etc…), recovery from addiction, detaching from dysfunctional relations… pretty much anything representing change can be framed this way.

Here’s the reality check… the discomfort doesn’t last forever. In fact, it often lasts for far less time than you might think. I’ve found that the process of change usually follows a curve over time; requiring a period of transition, often with significant effort (usually to overcome the unfamiliar), but then tapering down to lesser change(s) and/or a maintenance routine (see graph below).

The intensity of discomfort (pain) and effort over time when embracing change. 

There has been much written on the debilitating and distorting dynamics of fear, but a generalized way of perceiving its effect is to remove reason, shut down rational thought, and set the stage for “fight or flight” responses. That instinctive ability comes from a reasonable origin; Seth Godin refers to it as the “lizard brain“, and he has much to say about why it’s present, what it does (or doesn’t) do for us, and (most importantly) how we can overcome it. Most recently, he’s been writing about why this is so important.

I picked that particular definition of “mature” (above) because I’ve found that development never stops, that there is always more change, and that change happens regardless. The notion that a person achieves maturity, and then no longer develops, doesn’t make sense to me any more; and I find that to be a limiting factor to many people in their pursuit of peace and happiness.

So, I have two questions for you: 1) do you really believe that, once you’ve achieved something, that you’re done, and 2) if you’re holding off on a change, are you really addressing the fear in a reasonable manner?

Believe me, I only know about this from first-hand experience. I know how debilitating and easy-to-rationalize fear makes things. I know how challenging it is to “buck up” and put out the effort to make change happen. I also know that the effort either dies down, or it gets easier. On top of that, the things I’ve feared doing have always either been easier than I thought, or became far less important over time.

As always, the first step towards making any change is being honest with yourself. If you’re struggling to confront something challenging, find or make a safe place and time for yourself (maybe with trusted friends or advisors), and get to work.

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