Why People Fear Change — And How To Take Action Even When You're Afraid

Photo: Jacob Lund /
Woman in gym ready to embrace change

You’ve soul searched.

You’ve made list after list of what you really want.

You’ve written out your top goals and priorities.

You’ve made a vision board and taped daily affirmations and mantras on your walls and mirrors.

Then it comes down to action and you just can’t seem to do things that enable change in your life.

Why is that? Why do you fear change?

And how can you fight that feeling?

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You're comfortable with the devil you know

The older you get, the harder it can become to make changes in your life, both big and small. While you may have been eager to take risks when you were younger, you may feel like you have more to lose now or that a change feels impossible or too scary.

You may have weathered a lot of unwanted or unexpected changes and feel beaten down or fearful of uncertainty or making life worse.

Stability and consistency may feel more important than change. It can then feel more comfortable to stick with being uncomfortable than risk taking a chance on making life different.

This can keep you stuck in inaction. You may find yourself trying to adjust to the pain you are in to avoid the fear of the unknown that comes with change.

Coach yourself into action: If this sounds like you, find a time to slow down and reconnect with a memory of a time when you took a brave and bold risk that led to new openings in your life. From this place, what next small step would this brave and bold part of yourself take?

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Self-doubt and your inner critic

Your inner critic wants to keep you safe. It’s his/her #1 job and priority! Expect your inner critic to really get loud and annoying when you’re thinking about or planning a change.

They may fill your head with self-doubt monologues, keep you up at night going over every possible thing that could go wrong, or try to convince you that you can’t do it or have what you want.

They will tell you you’re not good enough or prepared enough, or try to convince you of all of the horrible outcomes.

Coach yourself into action: You can acknowledge the inner voice that wants you to stay safe and for things to just stay the same. Listen to the fears and doubts then thank your inner critic for trying to keep you safe. With this new awareness, you can move through the fear slowly with small action steps while you learn to quiet your inner critic at the same time.

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Fear of failure and rejection

Fear of failure and rejection can keep you at a standstill in your life. You can feel as if you don't have any agency. You may wait for others to call the shots or make decisions for you or take only what is easily available rather than actively going for what you want.

This way you don’t have to deal with the crushing feelings of rejection and failure, but what you really want remains out of reach.

In this way, life may feel more passive and things happen to you rather than you acting and being the driving force behind your decisions and actions. It’s easy to fall into a victim mentality and blame life or others for not getting what you really want.

Coach yourself into action: Practice being bold and asking for what you want in small ways. If this feels too scary in the work or relationship area, try it at the store, or when asking for a service. Work at not defaulting to what others want or you think may please someone else. In this way, you begin building the mental and emotional muscles for asking for what you want and getting more used to rejection and failure without it crushing you. You are slowly training yourself to not accept what is merely just available.

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Lack of (the right) support

Ingenuity and a go-it-alone attitude can seem honorable in our society and the idea of a self-made person can sometimes translate into “I have to do this myself.” 

The truth is that most successful people had lots of help getting where they are now. Not only that, they are able to filter out what is helpful support from less helpful support - the latter of which may turn into unsolicited advice or shaming under the guise of “support.”

If you have gotten very used to others (parents, close friends, etc.) weighing in on your decisions and giving advice (aka. their opinion on what’s “best” for you), you may get stalled out in indecision and second-guess your instincts and intuition.

Coach yourself into action: If this sounds like what you’ve been going through, pause before you disclose your new change. Take time to slow down and tune into your breath and the sensations in your body. Focus on each choice separately. Where do you notice any sensations in your body? Does a certain choice feel expansive or contractive? Painful, stuck, or free? When you take time to build awareness in your body around decisions involving change, you can begin making decisions by letting your heart and intuition guide you, rather than trying to “think” your way through a change or decision.

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With all change comes loss

There are often amazing positive outcomes when you make a change, but something will always be left behind. Many of us have experienced trauma or traumatic stress with change, a divorce, the death or illness of a parent, or having to move many times as a child, for example.

Any change — even for the better, can set off feelings of panic. Your nervous system may get triggered into fight or flight mode fearing danger, abandonment, and loss. I

t can seem impossible to make a change because the overwhelmingly negative and fear-based feelings linked to survival that accompany the change can hold you right in place - in a relationship, job or other life situation that may no longer be serving you.

Coach yourself into action: Meditation and journaling can be beneficial when you find yourself in a frozen state due to anxiety and fear of loss with making a change. Both help your parasympathetic nervous system to calm down and find more space to adjust to new changes. Finding a coach or therapist trained in supporting clients through transitions can help you move through the change process with less anxiety.

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Stephanie Lazzara is an ICF-certified holistic life and relationship coach. She offers one-to-one coaching to help her clients move through life transitions, loss, and heartbreak. More info about Stephanie is available on her website.