Overcoming Resistance to Change


Change can be hard. People express resistance to change, both consciously and unconsciously, especially when it comes to behaviors. Stanford psychiatrist Dr. David Burns, who wrote the best selling book Feeling Good, explains why this resistance occurs and how to overcome it. And it is the key component to his brand new technique that piggybacks off of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), the gold standard for behavioral change. This new technique also helps speed up the change even faster than traditional CBT, according to Burns.

When people are resistant to change, he explains, they identify with something, like being depressed or anxiety ridden. It has become their identity or their safe space. But this negative identity is often rooted in positivity, and that is the key. To unpack the negative association and see that it is rooted in something good. 

Here’s the technique – ask yourself this question when you are feeling down, sad, depressed, stressed out: “What does that negative thought or emotion tell you about yourself that is positive”? 

For example, if you are depressed because of a loved one being hurt because of your negligence, what does that tell you? Not that you are bad because you were negligent, but that you are feeling bad because you absolutely love your loved one. You care for them and don’t want to see them in pain. So that actually shows you you are a loving person.

Or if you are stressed to the gills over something at work or at home, it’s likely because you really care about that person or situation and want a good outcome. You want the best for that person or event and are afraid it may not occur because, again, you are a kind, loving person. 

Reframing Thoughts

The technique is to reframe the way we feel and put a positive, realistic light on it and accept that it’s OK to feel this way. We can dial it down because there’s a lot of good that comes from the negative feelings. Unfortunately, bad things happen all the time. It’s part of the world we live in. But that doesn’t mean we are bad, or that we can’t ever make mistakes, or that we can’t ever screw up but correct our errors. 

This kind of thinking is like making a deal with the unconscious mind or the resistance to change. It’s not to completely get rid of depression, anxiety, sadness or negative emotions. But, rather, it’s to dial them down. It’s to focus on the positives that result from those feelings that are rooted in those feelings.

This relates to the philosophical notion that the greater good can and usually does come about from something bad. Good can always prevail. Remember, it’s not what happens to us in life, but rather, how we process what happens to us. 

Our Resistant Brains

The reason we are so resistant to change goes back to our brains and the way we evolved. Our brains like comfortability, habits, familiarity. If we’ve developed a mindset of negativity or sadness or anxiety, this is our comfort zone. It is hard to step out of our comfort zone and this is where the resistance comes into play. Especially when there are strong negative emotional ties to change.

And this is also where the positive, yet realistic, affirmations come into play. The feelings are normal and are usually because of something positive in nature. And the technique is just to focus on that and to dial them down. It’s unlikely that they will ever go away and that is OK. It’s all about better management embracing change getting a little bit better and moving forward. 

So the next time you are feeling down, really ask yourself why. When you dig to the heart of the matter, you may find that your negative thoughts and feelings are actually rooted in something positive. You may be resistant to change because you think you failed or are not good or not worthy, but that is not likely the case. Change is always possible.

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