Anatomy of Change Series 1/3: Why Do We fear Something Unavoidable?

Google says that we live on the planet that has been evolving over 4.543 billion years.

From slow evolutionary changes, through faster seasonal, to even faster human-driven ones (industrial, technology, medicine & other sciences, or social movements); change is all around us.

“Change is the law of life and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.” — John F. Kennedy

And yet as individuals, most of us have a hard time adopting change. At work, in personal life, self-driven, and especially imposed, it’s never as easy as just merely deciding or accepting it to make it happen.

Why is this? If the universe is thriving because of change, why for us, humans, change does not just come instantly and naturally? Why does it scare us?

With the spring finally breaking through in Canada and nature fully transforming with the help of sun and rain, for the next 3 weeks, I decided to explore change. Today, I am trying to find answers to the why’s above. Next week, I’ll be writing about managing change at the individual level. What can we do as individuals to embrace change and make it easier for us to adopt it? The 3rd and last part of the series will explore leading other people through change.

Are you interested in the topic? I hope you are!

Join me then, and start our change journey now…

To understand why we react to change the way we do, we need to start by understating our own brain and especially how it evolved over time.

In a McGill University publication, the authors explain the evolution of 3 main brains that humans have: the reptilian brain, the limbic brain and, neo-cortex. They have shown up and evolved in different times of our evolutionary history but interact with each other in everything we do.

The first one: the reptilian brain

It first appeared in fish over 500 mln years ago and yes you guessed it, it’s the oldest part. It controls our body’s most vital functions like breathing, heart rate, etc. It is very reliable (no thinking involved) but tends to be somewhat rigid and compulsive.  Doesn’t it remind you of an older person stuck in their ways ;).

But let’s be serious, imagine having to think to breathe all the time? It’s a great relaxation technique and during yoga class, but if we had to do it all the time? Yes, you got it, not only we couldn’t do anything else, we’d not be able to survive at all!

Second: the limbic brain

This fellow emerged first in small mammals about 150 mln years ago and is responsible for our emotions. That explains why we are not the only emotional creatures on Earth. Our beloved pets and other mammals can also feel happy, angry, scared, or excited.

Our values that guide our behaviors sit in the limbic brain. That’s why more often than we realize, we make decisions emotionally and only ‘explain’ them logically after that.

The third one: the neo-cortex

It began its reign in primates “only” 2-3 mln years ago. It evolved the best in us, humans, with two large cerebral hemispheres that make us so unique as species. Here is were our languages sit, executive thinking functions, abstract thoughts, imagination, creativity, and self-consciousness.

And BAM! Here is what’s so impressive: the neocortex is flexible, and that’s why it has almost infinite learning abilities. And it’s in all of us, every single human being! That means we can learn any skills we want (even leadership skills) if we can only get past our natural resistance to change.

So why does change scare us, you ask?

It’s because the thought of it starts in the animal limbic brain that is hard-wired to look for danger, to keep us safe and alive. As neuroscientists discovered, the mere thought of change puts it on “threat alert.” That’s why we feel uneasy about any notion of change; that’s why, even not entirely consciously, we fear it. And because our brain needs and therefore focuses enormous amounts of energy on keeping us alive while on “danger alert,” it’s challenging for us to move the thought from the limbic brain to the neo-cortex. Only when we succeeded in doing that our reasoning kicks in, and from there, we can analyze the change calmly and let our creativity and imagination take it to the whole new level.

What’s the moral of this scientific lesson of mine then?

My goal with this post was to make you aware that our fear of change is irrational. It’s irrational because it starts in our emotional brain and is a result of archaic hardwiring that kept us alive as species for quite some time. Whenever we face or want to embark on a change journey, we need to allow our thinking brain to kick in so it can convince our emotional brain that change isn’t a threat but an entrance door to something bigger and better 😊.

“We can’t be afraid of change. You may feel very secure in the pond that you are in, but if you never venture out of it, you will never know that there is such a thing as an ocean, a sea. Holding onto something that is good for you now, may be the very reason why you don’t have something better.”

C. JoyBell C.

And how do we embrace and manage change for ourselves?

That’s a theme of the next week’s blog so stay tuned!

However, I don’t want to leave you empty-handed, so here is one small tip.

Always carry a journal with you. And whenever you come up with even the smallest new idea, write it down right away. It’s been scientifically proven that by a mere act of writing down the idea on paper, you are more likely to act on it. Why? Because you are giving precious time for your neo-cortex to kick in and feel excited about it. And at the same time, you are preventing the emotional brain from overtaking your thinking and trying to “protect you from dying” by finding reasons why you shouldn’t act on your million-dollar idea 😊.

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”  ― Albert Einstein

Thank you and see you here next week!

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