The Line - Self Leadership - Development

Building Change Muscles

Navigating Resistance with Awareness and Curiosity

by Chrissy Heyne | May 2024

Last week I dropped my computer and the built-in webcam broke off. Given that I do 95% of my work via zoom and people tend to want to see the face of their facilitator or coach, I had a pretty quick realization that I might need a new computer.

Here’s what was happening inside my brain almost instantly: “I CANNOT GET A NEW COMPUTER!! I CANNOT HANDLE THAT TYPE OF CHANGE RIGHT NOW!!” Caps locks were used intentionally there as it felt more like a panicked shout than a gentle observation. The following thoughts raced into my brain in a literal nanosecond:

    • A new computer will slow me down – it’ll take me time to get used to it and I don’t have that kind of time right now (or that resilience!)
    • What if all the folders and icons are in a different place and I don’t know how to navigate or find them? (embarrassed by this one!)
    • I know how this computer works, I am used to it, and I like it! (worth noting this computer was old!)
    • There’s going to be a million different little things and I don’t even know what they are but I know there are at least one million of them!

A sense of humor found me pretty quickly as I was in the middle of preparing a webinar on leading through change (I can’t make this up!). Within 12 hours I was going to be facilitating to nearly 100 people about how to effectively navigate change and here I was having my own little adult temper tantrum about the idea of a new computer.


It’s All About Resistance


It’s important to note that one of the biggest pieces of our Leading Through Change experience is all about resistance. And we use the word resistance to include any amount of frustration, annoyance, anger, fear, displeasure, etc. Simply put, we are hardwired to resist change. Part of the brain—the amygdala—interprets change as a threat and actively tries to protect you. And there’s a few practical reasons for doing so:

    • The Comfort of the Familiar: Our brains love safety and predictability, patterns and routines. Any deviation from that introduces uncertainty or the unknown, which activates our brain’s threat response. Even the introduction of a positive change can evoke some resistance. Our brain is like, “yeah no thanks, we’d rather stay with what we know!”
    • Energy and Cognitive Load: Change is effortful and our brains are designed to be little energy-efficient machines. When change is afoot, we’ve got to process new information, adapt behaviors, and reconsider our mental models. Our brain prefers the path of least resistance.
    • Risk & Loss Aversion: Neuroscience shows us that we have a tendency to be really great at projecting our potential losses rather than gains. It loves to help us think through all the things that could go wrong in an effort to be helpful. Clinical psychologist Dr. Rich Hanson suggests that “Our brains are like velcro for the negative … and teflon for the positive…” The fear of losing what we have, even if it’s suboptimal, can outweigh the potential benefits of change. Moreover, our brains tend to magnify the risks associated with change, making it even harder for us to embrace it willingly.

Clearly, my thoughts about a new computer ticked all these boxes. I can trace all of those immediate reactions (aka resistance) back to one of these core needs of the brain. From the mundane (a new computer) to the monumental (hello, re-org), humans have a knack for resisting change in both big and small ways.


Good News and Bad News


The bad news is that this little biological human response is not entirely avoidable. For changes big and small, chosen and unchosen, planned or unplanned, there’s going to be varying levels of resistance that shows up.

The good news is that you can bring some awareness to that initial reaction and work to get curious about what’s going on and what’s needed to move forward more effectively. We can help to expand some of those neurological pathways and choose to respond thoughtfully. There’s no perfect equation for doing this, but some helpful places to start include:

    • Build Awareness: It’s normal human behavior to resist change. First, we need to accept and appreciate that fact. For me, knowing and expecting that resistance is going to show up has been incredibly useful in building some self-awareness. (I have post-its all over my house that say “Expect Resistance” as I navigate parenting teens!) I’ve had a lot of fun exploring my own resistance in the day to day- from navigating a different Meijer layout to a delayed flight to a snow day in March…. there have been plenty of opportunities! Some questions to consider as you bring awareness to your own resistance might include:
        • What types of changes kick up the most resistance for me? Why?
        • What does resistance look like for me? Internal? External? Anger? Fear? Shut down? Other?
        • What keeps me stuck in my resistance?
        • What helps me loosen my grip on my own resistance?
    • Get Curious: When you find yourself in a situation where your brain feels challenged, uncomfortable, or even threatened, it’s time to pause and ask yourself a “thinking question” or two. This involves asking a provocative, open-ended question that prompts you to think about the heart of the issue. This will help us to be open to working on the thoughts and beliefs that we have about change.
        • What supports or resources do I need to navigate this change/this resistance
        • What am I holding onto by resisting this change? What am I most afraid of?
        • Which elements of this change am I resisting most? Why?

    Build Your Change Muscles


    Change is a funny thing in that almost all of us recognize that without it, life would be boring-  we’d lack the ability to grow and transform, individually and collectively! And yet, when it comes knocking, we often find ourselves digging in our heals, clinging desperately to the familiar. Given the pace of change around us now and in the future, we’ve got an enormous opportunity to build some change muscles and work to respond rather than react to life around us. By building awareness and getting curious, we can show up better in the midst of change for ourselves and for those around us. Stay tuned for more content about change and if you are on the edge of your seat wondering how I handled getting a new computer… let’s connect on LinkedIn.

    Leading Through Change 

    Change is inevitable and happening all around us. Regardless of the change – big or small – our organizational success is contingent upon how we manage our personal relationship to change and how we actively support others to be able to do the same.

    Leading Through Change is a 6-hour experience designed for teams who need the necessary mindset and skills to respond to an ever-changing and dynamic workforce.

    Get in touch to see if this program might be just what your team needs in this season.


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