Making Changes in 2015: Pushing Forward with Resolutions Requires Overcoming Our Innate Fear of Change

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by Dr. Kathleen Quinn

We’re a month into 2015, and you may still be thinking about resolutions for the new year. In my professional view, the process of “resolution-making” can be a mistake. This is because setting a resolution, from the perspective of psychology, is often about setting up an object that you will spend the rest of the year resisting against. Our first response is to resist anything we are told to do.

Resistance can be a good thing; it is our psychological mechanism for self-protection. The response to any directive or suggestion that falls outside our normal patterned behavior is to push against it, buy time to think, sort out what we want and then comply. This response is also a mechanism to avoid “change,” which is the psychological equivalent of “death.”

Think about going through a typical day. For the most part we do the same things over and over, so much so that we often live on automatic pilot. Any shift in this behavior requires us to pay attention, which leads to the possibility of discomfort. Think of detours on the way to work, or think of how you feel when your neighborhood grocery store is being renovated and everything you’re looking for is in a different place. This happened to me, and I recall standing in my neighborhood store feeling lost and confused.

When an event moves us from our patterned, habitual behavior, we have a stress response with increased blood pressure, heart rate, epinephrine and increased respiration. We prepare to take action, fight or flight. It is this little bit of turmoil we encounter when we wish to change something about ourselves.

You can apply this thinking to the things you watch on television, listen to on the news, witness at work, participate in at home (and the shocks and trauma from childhood, which are often buried and triggered in ways we are not able to notice). This struggle with change is one of the reasons we stay in a workplace that is not healthy, or in a marriage that is destructive or in an abusive relationship. While there is threat, it is a familiar threat and easier to tolerate than change, which can be more threatening.

Resolutions, as you know, are all about change. When you look back at your list of resolutions for 2015, ask this question, “How am I going to change my fear and resistance to change?” That may require a more complex answer than questions like, “How much weight do I want to lose?” or “What do I want to do to improve my health?” It really isn’t about the weight loss or the healthier lifestyle; it’s about the change that must come before, during and after losing the weight or adopting the healthier lifestyle.

This applies to every single thing we want in our lives. The focus needs to be on facing the resistance and underlying fears that we have about the things we need to change for our lives to be healthy and whole.

Dr. Kathleen Quinn is board-certified in Integrative Healthcare and holds a doctorate in Marriage and Family Psychotherapy, and master’s degrees in Women’s Health Nursing, and Guidance and Counseling. Dr. Quinn’s clinical practice is Discovery Integrative Healthcare & Psychotherapy Centers, where she offers a variety of treatment services and consults with clients’ physicians, as needed. For more information, visit www.drkathleenquinn.com, or call 210-727-9234.

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