Why change is uncomfortable

The physiological impact of change

Although we regularly take inventory of many of the “things” in our lives, we seldom take stock of ourselves. Unless something happens externally which shakes us up internally, we move through life somewhat absent-mindedly as we go about our many daily routines. We go to the same places, do the same things, and even think many of the same thoughts as we step again and again in the familiar paths of our own footprints.

And for the most part, we like it.

We call it the “comfort zone”.

In the comfort zone, each day is like an intentional replay of the day before, so our lives end up being much like a movie we watch over and over again. We know how it starts, how most scenes will play out, and how each day’s movie will end because it ends pretty much the same every day. And we like it because it feels familiar, predictable, and safe. It may not necessarily bring us fulfilment or happiness, but it brings us what we know and can expect and, because it feels familiar, we come to associate it with good.

Of course, there are times we realize that familiar doesn’t feel very good; we may even realize it’s not that good for us, but we still value it because of the familiarity. At least we know what we can expect. At least we know what we can trust, and since we can only trust what we know, we’re better off resisting anything we don’t.

As a result, we resist change.

Everyone knows the comfort zone is not comfortable with change, so in order to remain that way, change is precisely what we resist. We seldom notice any resistance though, at least, not in ourselves. As long as we’re doing what we know and feels comfortable, we think everything is going along just fine, and if things are fine, resistance is not something we imagine ourselves feeling.

For some strange reason though, despite all this comfort and familiarity, we often find ourselves feeling stagnant, unmotivated, frustrated, unhappy, or even trapped. You know: the kind of feelings we associate with resistance, but when we’re in our comfort zones, it doesn’t make sense that these feelings could be coming from us. They couldn’t be the result of something we are doing, choosing, or even, resisting. So any unhappiness or lack of fulfillment we feel inside registers as being the result of things and people outside, and we start to believe these outside things and people are preventing us from experiencing our inner desires. Day after day we remind ourselves that the only thing standing between us and happiness is them; if it weren’t for them, there would be no resistance. If we could get them out of the way or, at least, out of our heads, then we could enjoy our comfort and keep everything just the way we like it. Then happiness could fall from the sky right into our laps while we keep everything the same.

Well, as great as that sounds, it doesn’t seem very likely.

What does seem likely is that this phenomenon we refer to as our “comfort zone” is actually the emotional underpinning of our discomfort, and it’s causing an internal conflict wherein our comfort with the same and the known is battling a deeper longing for a different kind of comfort or a more meaningful kind of life. But since it’s causing strange feelings to bubble up inside of us, we don’t know what to do other than resist.

Maybe this discomfort is trying to signal that we are changing.

But doing so scares us to death because change means we have to acknowledge that the gap between comfort and happiness is growing, and the only way to bridge that gap is to step outside of what feels comfortable. Once we do so, we’re bound to discover that not only are we the ones responsible for what’s happening, but it’s up to us to do something about it. Needless to say, that leaves us feeling very uncomfortable.

It’s so much easier not knowing or, at least, not admitting it’s up to us. It’s also easier pinning the cause on someone else because pinning it on our own inner mule means we have to deal with something that may lead to change inside of us. But after spending so many years doing and thinking the way we always have, change of any sort seems monumental, almost impossible, especially since we can’t even remember how most of it started. Maybe originally someone told us to because someone originally told them to. (So in that regard, it doesn’t seem very original.) Give or take a few periodic updates though, it’s fair to say we still talk the same way, dress the same way, believe the same things, think the same thoughts, eat the same foods rotisserie air fried in the same manner, travel the same routes; honestly, the list goes on and on. Now, we’re not saying our hairstyles haven’t changed, but many of the choices we continue to make in life haven’t changed much at all for quite some time.

And that’s because, at some point, we stopped thinking of them as choices.

But they all were.

They still are.

Regardless of where they came from or how they started, at one point or another, we chose them, but instead of seeing them as choices, or even as habits, we convinced ourselves that these things defined who we were, and then we used them to create limits for ourselves. Each time we did, we marked a territory that warned us to stay on one side of the mark and off the other. The longer we stayed on one side, the safer and more familiar it became until eventually, it became “our” side, and we began to think of it as our comfort zone. Of course, by calling it that, we made it feel even more so. Frankly, had we called it our repetition zone, or complacency zone, or even our zone where change is not allowed, it wouldn’t have felt nearly as comfortable.

Yet, all of this “comfort” came from what we told ourselves. We just probably never noticed it was the result of us saying the same things over and over again to the point that they became the words we lived by, our mantra, our very own theme song. It didn’t really matter what we were saying because we weren’t paying much attention. We were too caught up in the repetition of saying what we knew and was familiar. We were clinging to the known through repetition.

And we do this all the time.

For example, when was the last time you discovered that a song you’d been singing for years had different lyrics from the ones you’d always thought you’d heard? Once you learned the actual lyrics by the songwriter, you couldn’t help but think, “How did I miss that? That can’t be right.” You probably even googled it because you needed proof to back up what you’d just learned. How could it be that the version you’d been singing all that time was wrong? It always felt right. It may not have made as much sense, but it surely felt comfortable, and it felt that way because you kept repeating it. You never knew you were losing something in translation because you never knew you were translating, but you were translating what you thought to be true into what you believed to be true, and because you did it so often, you believed it.

That’s what happens when we repeat the same things over and over to ourselves day after day. We come to believe our own translations and all the limitations that come with them, but just like our favorite songs, we almost never ask if they make sense. We just assume they do because they are familiar, even though we were the ones who made them that way. And this is especially true when it comes to the things we tell ourselves about ourselves! Even if what we say makes absolutely no sense to the people around us, you can bet we’ll stubbornly insist that our “translation” is nothing of the sort. As far as we’re concerned, we’re “telling it like it is” because, when it comes to whatever we’re saying, especially to ourselves, we believe it makes perfect sense, and the more we say it, the more sense we believe it makes.

In other words, we use repetition to make sense of ourselves and the world around us, but the result is that the more repetitious we become, the less change we tolerate. That’s why our comfort zones tend to get smaller as our lives unfold. We pare down our preferences so much so that, before we know it, we’ve painted ourselves into the corner of a very small comfort zone, and it’s kind of hard to discover deeper longings or more meaningful ways of life from the confines of a narrow corner. Yet instead of translating it as restrictive, we translate it as safety, and because we do it repeatedly, we come to think of it as reality.

That’s why some of us feel completely comfortable scaling the sides of cliffs or doing construction work atop the world’s tallest skyscrapers. The rest of us may think these people are either daring or nuttier beyond measure, but the people doing them are just repeating thoughts and behaviors that they eventually came to identify as their own.

See, in spite of how complex we’ve made it all seem, our resistance to change, as well as any desire we may have to overcome that resistance, depends on our willingness to change whatever’s happening inside our minds and then repeat it to the point that it feels like what we know. Repetition is what we’ve been using to get to know most everything and everyone we encounter in life. Yes, we are creatures of habit, but we only became that way because we are teachers of habit, and we’ve been cluttering our minds with mindless repetition.

It’s our love of repetition that keeps us stepping again and again in the paths of our very own footprints.

Yet, all the while we’ve been telling ourselves it was our love of comfort and our resistance to change.

About the Author

Stella Bouldin is a copywriter who specializes in the hospitality and alternative health industries.

She has traveled extensively and consulted with business across the USA in the hospitality industry. Before that, she was a registered nurse (an injury ended that career). This was before she decided that she wanted to be a digital nomad and freelance copywriter.

She has spent the last few years learning and mastering her craft.