Why is change so frightening? We grow, adapt, learn to be independent, yet the childlike fear of the unfamiliar stays with us as we get older. Think of those comfortable routines we were subjected to when we were young: mothers with their babies creating set feeding times and set bedtimes, then afternoon naps, daily playschool. By the time we join ‘big school’ we’re ready for more routine: breakfast at the same time, school assembly, home, bed at the same time. Regularity and familiarity are the touchstones of our everyday existence. Is it any surprise that when we reach adulthood, with all the attendant routines of jobs, studies, even visits to the parents, we have become entrenched in creating familiarity? It gets harder and harder to break free of our own expectations of ourselves.
Gap years and independent travel help to shake us loose a little but we quickly settle back into the comfort zone of regular jobs (if we can get them), established friendships, and most importantly, intimate relationships. How many people agonise over the difficulties they are experiencing in a
particular job, but stay put because it seems easier than risking the unknown elsewhere. Likewise, when things turn sour with a friend, a lover or a spouse, why does it seem easier to endure daily misery rather than break free? Because we have become dependent on the familiar. Like a daily drug of choice, we seek to maintain the status quo rather than start afresh. Our own minds are our own worst enemy.
Even though we may appear to be tough and confident and capable of self direction, when faced with the prospect of breaking with routine and moving outside our comfort zones, we shrink inwardly. Feelings of inadequacy and fear of messing everything up will assail us. Confidence will be replaced by stark fear of getting it wrong. Just like a drug addict, the mere thought of changing our lives will send us into cold turkey and we’ll grab onto all the familiar things that make us feel safe. We’ll stay in the job, turn down offers to move, remain in unhappy relationships. A bitter residue, like the taste of something that has turned sour,will be left behind. As a mark of our refusal to take chances, we’ll carry our chin a little lower, our shoulders will sag slightly and the corners of our mouths will turn down. Take a look around. You’ll see who you’re likely to become all around you: the sad eyed woman on the bus, the frozen faced man in the train station, the shuffling couple who can’t look at each other in the park.
Remember when you were a little kid and the friends you were playing with suddenly decided not to play with you anymore? You smarted for a minute or to, shrugged it off, and went and found someone else to play with. It didn’t kill you. Change won’t kill you, it just scares you into believing it might. When we avoid change, we become our own bully, cornering ourselves in a stagnant situation. Deep breath. Time to make that change?