When we feel pressure to change and we feel pressure not to change we resist change.

Seems logical, but if we want to really understand why we resist change we need to go deeper.

Why change?

I have asked this question thousands of times in coaching sessions and workshops.

Here is a sample of the answers I have received:

  • “To get more out of life”
  • “So I can look at problems from multiple angles”
  • “Changing my mindset is part of the learning and personal improvement process”
  • “To keep growing”
  • “To be better personally and professionally”
  • “To make change less painful and be able to accept it easier”
  • “Because I want to grow and help others grow”
  • “Change is the only constant”
  • “Fulfilment in life”
  • “True happiness”
  • “Success”
  • “Flow”
  • “To reach and exceed my potential faster”
  • “To be the best version of me I can be”
  • “So I can better communicate with others”
  • “To make conversations more positive and enjoyable”
  • “To be able to adapt to the changing situations of my clients”
  • “To work better with a team”
  • “To become a better version of myself”
  • “To progress”
  • “To adapt to other changes”
  • “So I can be better than I am now”
  • “To find new possibilities”
  • “To improve my capabilities”
  • “To improve myself”
  • “To become a better person”
  • “To be more agile”
  • “To be happier”
  • “To be better support to my team”
  • “To live a full life”
  • “My current mindset is not serving me to the fullest”
  • “So I can be the best version of myself”
  • “To better evolve mindset in a company”
  • “To achieve future goals”
  • “To find a long-term healthy balance between work and personal growth”

If you sit with theses responses for a while you will see that they are all about improving satisfaction.

Why not change?

Again, I have asked this question thousands of times in coaching sessions and workshops.

Here is a sample of the answers I have received:

  • “It is easier”
  • “Less conflict”
  • “Stay in the comfort zone”
  • “Less work”
  • “It feels safe”
  • “Remaining stagnant is counterproductive to growth”
  • “Consistency”
  • “I’m too scared”
  • “Happy in the status quo”
  • “Comfort in what you know… it is easier to do nothing”
  • “Being stuck”
  • “You might be comfortable in that space”
  • “Predictable results.. Even if it is not ideal”
  • “Tall Poppy Syndrome”
  • “Easy to stay where you are than step outside”
  • “It’s familiar”
  • “Fear”
  • “Comfort”
  • “Change is painful”
  • “To maintain my identity”
  • “I don’t want to face the unknown”
  • “It feels safer”
  • “There is less risk”
  • “Less work”
  • “It is predictable”
  • “It is stable”

If you sit with these responses for a while you will see that they are all about maintaining your security.

So, now we see the very human needs of satisfaction and security.

The common objective

What do we have if we meet our need for satisfaction and our need for security?

Here is a sample of responses:

  • “I can be better than I am now”
  • “Perpetual growth”
  • “A positive outcome”
  • “Learning”
  • “Happiness”
  • “Peace of mind”
  • “Emotional wellness”
  • “Success”
  • “Good life”
  • “Stable growth”
  • “Fulfillment”
  • “Flow”
  • “Awesomeness”
  • “My best life”
  • “No limits”
  • “Well-being”
  • “Best version of me”
  • “Fearless growth”
  • “Ability to develop and grow without constant worry”
  • “Self care”
  • “Self actualization”

In 1995 an organisational psychologist by the name of Efrat Goldratt developed a diagram that shows the relationship between change, security and satisfaction. She claimed “happiness” was the common objective.

Efrat was exploring this idea of change in a work context.

Looking at the list of responses above I think it goes much deeper than happiness in a work context.

At a more generic level the commonality in the list above is growth. To me, as a developmental psychologist, this makes a great deal of sense. The old adage, if you are not growing you are dying, rings true.

Another important distinction from Efrat’s Cloud is the placement of “resist change”. When we feel pressure to change and we feel pressure not to change we resist change. Resistance lies between change and not change.

Until recently I thought that growth was as deep as it would get. That was until I realised that security was related to the development of our Identity and satisfaction was related to our sense of Being. The commonality between our sense of Identity and Being is Dignity.

“Our universal yearning for dignity drives our species and defines us as human beings.”

Donna Hicks, Ph.D.

In her book Leading with Dignity: How to create a culture that brings out the best in people Donna Hicks reflects that dignity is our highest common denominator and yet, we know so little about it. She explains that when she asks people what dignity means to people they usually say that dignity is respect. Donna argues that dignity is more than respect, it is an attribute that we are born with – it is our inherent value and worth.

I argue that Inherent Dignity and Growth are closely intertwined. Inherent dignity is the outcome of growth. When people are not allowed to grow their dignity suffers.

Read: How to grow with inherent dignity

The problem of resistance to change

Let’s keep exploring the conflict. I will read this diagram back to you from left to right.

If we want growth (and the dignity that comes with it) we need satisfaction. To get more satisfaction we want to change things.

In the earlier stages of our development we want to change the things around us. We are driven by extrinsic change. While we are developing our identity it makes sense to see our satisfaction as being caused by extrinsic things. In the first half of life our identity is our source of stability.

Later in life we realise that real satisfaction comes from intrinsic change. Ghandi is often quoted as saying “Be the change you want to see in the world”. The real quote was …

“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.”

Mahatma Gandhi

As we mature there comes a time when we realise our identity becomes a constraint. It is often referred to as a mid-life crisis. But, I digress.

If we want growth we need security. Our identity plays a big part in our security. It provides us with a feeling of stability. When we want stability we don’t want to change things, we want not change.

If you take a step back for a minute you will see the problem. Our resistance to change is driven by the need for satisfaction, security and growth.

Ultimately we resist change because we want to maintain our Inherent Dignity. That is worth remembering if you want to develop your self or you want to lead others to grow.