The only person who likes change is the baby with a wet diaper.
In 1987, Bruce Springsteen released the song, “One Step Up.” He sang: “We’ve given each other some hard lessons lately. But we ain’t learnin! We’re the same, sad story, that’s a fact. One step up and two steps back.”
That’s the way it is with change some of the time. You take a step forward. You try to achieve a change goal — lose some weight, improve a relationship, or re-organize your company — but find yourself two steps backward. It happens.
So you end up feeling more discouraged and disappointed than before. The risky mention of change becomes so scary and uncomfortable that you may be tempted to resist all change. And that’s unfortunate.
After all, all progress is the result of change, but all change is challenging. As Arnold Bennett observed, “Any change, even a change for the better is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.” You just can’t let the fear of change stop you from moving forward.
As I’ve studied the phenomenon of change, as I’ve consulted with organizations on their change processes, and as I’ve spoken on the topic to countless audiences, I’ve learned there are five fears. And I’ve learned if you can identify the fear and take a bit of action, you can conquer the fear. So here they are.
=> 1. The Fear Of The Unknown
To some extent, the status quo is always comforting. Stripped of the familiar routines, you are bound to feel lost and disoriented.
On the other hand, change champions realize that every worthwhile change involves jumping into the unknown. And that’s okay. They know that learning to cope with the unknown builds their self-esteem, and they know that if they let fear win, they couldn’t possibly respect themselves.
=> 2. The Fear Of Failure
The fear of failure causes some people to quit soon after they start the change process. They give up at the first signs of difficulty, or they whine, “It’s too hard.” They have the irrational belief that they should be good at something the first time they try it.
Change champions are different. They accept the fact that change involves risk, and risk involves failure. But they also know that those who risk get the most rewards. Change champions allow themselves the freedom to try, to fail, to learn, to try again — without beating themselves up. Their goal is to try something new, instead of being immediately successful at something new. They strive for progress instead of perfection.
=> 3. The Fear Of Commitment
Some people, the non-achievers in particular, like to “keep their options open.” They even use that terminology to justify or explain their behavior. And it sounds so good. It sounds like they’re being so very flexible.
In reality, it’s a fear of commitment that’s stopping them from focusing their energies on one person, career, or goal. It’s the person, for example, who just can’t commit himself in a relationship. After all, he says, “What if somebody better comes along?” And so that individual never has a truly deep and meaningful relationship.
Or it’s the person who never fully commits himself to a particular job — because “what if the company takes advantage of him?” And then he wonders why he never moves up in the organization.
To those who are suffering from the fear of commitment, commitment doesn’t sound like much fun. After all, commitment forces a person to ask tough questions: “What do I really want? And what am I willing to do to get it?” It might seem easier to avoid the questions and just drift from one thing to another.
By contrast, change champions know that 99% of their success comes from making commitments and developing loyalties to people, places, and causes. They set big goals in motion and depend on a close, inner circle of advisors to guide and encourage them as well as hold them accountable. Successful people accept the feelings of vulnerability that accompany commitment — in exchange for the contentment of success.
=> 4. The Fear Of Disapproval
We all want to be liked, and we all want to have an easy and pain-free life. We all want to avoid conflict.
Unfortunately, if you attempt to make some change, somebody is not going to like it. You’re going to be criticized, put down, or attacked. And if you have a huge need to be liked, your change efforts could be in jeopardy. Your fear of disapproval could be so great that your change efforts may never get started — let alone completed.
Change champions know that changing something, anything, will entice critical remarks from others. Despite this, change champions don’t let the doom-and-gloom forecasts of others get in their way. They refuse to please others at their own expense. If they know it’s the right thing to do, they move forward.
=> 5. The Fear Of Success
This may be the strangest of the five fears that get in the way of change. After all, everyone wants to be successful, don’t they?
Well, yes and no. A successful person draws attention to herself. And a successful person expects more from herself as do others. That may not feel comfortable.
Still others will be jealous of her success. They may even hope she fails in the future. And so the person saddled with the fear of success keeps herself from putting too much effort into her change initiatives.
Change champions focus on the positive. They look forward to the excitement of being successful at home and on the job. And if other people can’t handle their success, they figure that’s their problem. They’re going to enjoy what they earned.
Change is a part of life. Well-managed change brings growth and learning while the fear of change brings stagnation. And fighting change means predictable failure. So maybe it’s time to get past the five fears.
Action: You’re about to start another year. And every new success you have and advancement you make in the new year will be the result of change.
You’ve got to be careful, however, so your change efforts are not blocked by one of the five fears. Identify the fear that tends to be your biggest block. Then list five things you can do to tame or eliminate that fear.