‘People don’t resist change; they resist being changed.’ (Peter Senge)

Most people have a less than cordial relationship with change. Some have a hostile relationship with it. But change is an undeniable part of life. Whether it’s change that we welcome or change that we fear—change is inescapable. In fact, it’s been pointed out that the only real constant in life is change.

We also recognize that progress can only occur when there is change. The very definition of progress assumes that there is a change from what preceded. George Bernard Shaw made an important observation. He said, ‘Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.’ Change begins in the mind. Until the mind accepts that change is necessary or preferred—the change will be resisted.

But let’s address the quotation itself: People don’t resist change; they resist being changed. But why would we resist the very thing we know in advance will bring progress? Someone observed that, ‘Our dilemma is that we hate change and love it at the same time; what we really want is for things to remain the same, but get better.’ But we know this is impossible. Things cannot get better without changing. But even knowing this we generally dislike change. We fight it, delay it, and argue against it. But why is this so? I think the great novelist Leo Tolstoy was on to something when he said, ‘Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.’ The fact of the matter is that nearly everyone wants the world to change. We want things in the world to improve. In both the larger world and in our own private world. But we want this improvement to take place without any change on OUR PART. But again, WHY is this so? I’d like to offer three reasons. I’m not suggesting these are the ONLY REASONS. But I suspect they cover the majority of reasons we resist change.

  • Change makes us uncomfortable. We resist the change that requires changing ourselves because changing ourselves is uncomfortable. We get used to the way we are. We become accustomed to the way we do things. We become entrenched in the way we think. Changing these things brings uncertainly and unpredictability. So we resist.
  • Change makes us fearful. Change implies that the future will be different than the present. And because unknowns create uncertainty, and because uncertainty creates fear—change makes us fearful. Fear does not sit well with us. We avoid it when we can. One way to avoid it is to resist change. So we do.
  • Change requires work. Even if we see that the change will be beneficial. Even if we know that the change is necessary. We still resist it because we don’t want to do the work required. We settle for not making the change because in the end it’s easier. We choose easy over hard. We choose neglect over resolve. We choose the easy and familiar path over the hard and unknown path.

If we were given a list of possible changes ahead that were positive in nature. Changes that would represent progress and improvement. It’s likely that we would embrace all of them. But if the change requires US to change, we may end up resisting it. We don’t really resist the change—we resist changing ourselves. Change makes us uncomfortable. Change makes us fearful. Change is hard work. The next time you’re faced with a change, it might be good to keep this in mind. It may help you plunge in. It may help you not only face the change, but actually embrace it.

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Copyright © 2016 by Samuel Rodenhizer
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21 thoughts on “‘People don’t resist change; they resist being changed.’ (Peter Senge)

  1. Samuel what a great site. You seem to pick the exact quote I need! I am teaching a class on change in the near future and you have inspired some change in my thinking about change. Thanks. Bob.

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    Like

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  4. Sam-–I was going to leave some wise acre comment relating to dimes and nickels versus dollar bills, but decided it would be too much of a change in my personality to go that route. Seriously, though, I agree with all three of your reasons to avoid change, with a caveat regarding the third one. Sometimes change requires less work, even though one may be a bit hesitant to adopt it. I think of the changes in the technology of agriculture in my relatively short tenure in that occupation. Today, the American farmer feeds 155 people a year, compared with 28 in 1960 (yes, I can remember that far back). This has largely been because of new technologies that have been discovered by research (I won’t talk about GMO’s or “organic” agriculture–“organic” is the biggest fallacy foisted upon the over fed American public, but I digress terribly). Anyhow, I do agree that change when it comes to ones spiritual relationship with God is difficult, and requires more work, with my spiritual walk being a prime example of resisting that change. How we relate to the unchanging Eternal Heavenly Father must change with our realization of how incredibly deeply He loves us, no matter how much we take that for granted. Thanks, and keep up the good work. We’re always on the lookout for a nice house for you down here!

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    1. Thanks, Dave. Good thoughts. And I agree that sometimes change is actually easier than staying the same. In fact, change often results in so many better things that we missed by refusing to change. That said, I think that often the case is a FEAR OF CHANGE. And it’s that fear that’s the “hard work.” Overcoming the inertia. We fear change, so we avoid it. There are many other reasons we resist changing ourselves. But I try to keep the post well under 1,000 words. Maybe I’ll address some of the other ones at a later time. Hey–you never know. Thanks again for your comments. It just turned cool here. It’s times like these when I would like to be in NC. Or Hawaii. Or somewhere in the Caribbean.

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