The Paralyzing Fear of Change And How To Overcome It

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The Paralyzing Fear of Change And How To Overcome It

What are you most afraid of? When we were kids it was things like the dark, strangers, Aunt Edna’s kisses, and broccoli. Now that we’re out in the world adulting, those fears (while mostly likely still valid) have been replaced by bigger fears.

Public speaking. Rejection. Heights. Failure. Winning. Losing.

While our fears differ as adults, there’s one fear that many of us hold close to the chest and never let go of: the fear of change.

No, I’m not talking about the fear of coins as currency (though that is a classified fear called cuprolaminophobia). This change is the kind that happens in our everyday lives: we move, we get married, we change jobs, we get a haircut, we gain new clients, we have kids, we sign up for new email lists, we pick a new bookkeeping software. Some change is big and some is small. But the fact that things were one way and then all of a sudden are a different way is what defines “change”.

Actually, let’s define “change” formally, since defining words often aids in removing their power. I spoke with Nancy-Jane Smith, counselor and host of the Live Happier Podcast, and asked her to shed some light on this difficult word.

Change is inevitable, it is simply moving from one state to another. Change becomes hard because we resist it. We’re resistant to it because change reminds us that basically we aren't in control. Change leaves us open to insecurity, fear and shame all the ‘negative emotions' we spend much of our life trying to avoid.  Even ‘good changes' can spike those emotions.

So if a fear of change is something we all deal with in various degrees and can expect in our lives and businesses, why talk about it at all? Why worry about overcoming the fear if everybody’s feeling it?

Because overcoming a fear of change can make or break your brand.

Out With The Old

Believe it or not, there was a time when Old Spice was less Swagger and more Sinking Ship.

In late 2009, Old Spice was the “old man” brand of America. “Ugh. My Uncle John hugged me at Thanksgiving and I smelled like Old Spice for two days,” was a sad phrase muttered across the country. Despite having changed their logo from a turn of the century ship to a modern day yacht, sales just weren’t high and Old Spice’s target audience was (literally) dying off.

All of that changed on February 4, 2010. Breaking out of their commercial box (typically aiming their commercials at men), Old Spice took on the real buying power in the American household: the women. Remember this guy?

Doing a near 180 on their marketing strategy saved Old Spice from the back of the medicine cabinet for good. That commercial, the “Old Spice Guy” commercial, got 5.9 million views on the first day alone.

5.9 million.

Old Spice, of course, responded with more Old Spice Guy, more funky commercials, and a warm embrace of this new change that paid off.

But change doesn’t just pay off when you make a multi-million dollar pivot like Old Spice did. The payoff for embracing change can be high even on smaller moves in your business, no matter what you might think when you set out to make them.

Self Limiting Beliefs

Let’s pretend you’re running a small business on your own and you’ve been managing your company bank statements and invoices yourself with a handy spreadsheet. You sit down every two weeks and go through your numbers, earmarking expenses, confirming invoices have been paid, and settling the final balance. It takes a few hours but you’re proud of the work you’ve done in your Excel spreadsheet (you learned how to write formulas, after all!) and you consider it the “cost of being in business”.

At an industry conference, a new friend starts to talk to you about their bookkeeping software. They tell you that the program hooks up to their bank account and payment portal, reconciles everything automagically, and keeps a handy dashboard on the homepage for easy at-a-glance checks of the company finances. When you realize the potential with this powerful system at work in your own business, you sign up as their next customer.

And then the change monster begins to float around your head.

It will take too long to set everything up.
I don’t really know much about finances so it’s going to be hard to understand.
I’ve been doing it my way for so long. This new way will be confusing.
Understanding this software is a huge undertaking and I’m really not technically inclined.

And so on. Self-limiting beliefs are the root cause of the fear of change and here they are staring you in the face. Our beliefs color our vision and perception of the world around us. They determine our action or inaction.

Self-limiting beliefs want us to stay in inaction. Inaction is comfortable, safe, easy. It’s keeping the spreadsheet instead of moving everything into the software. It’s holding onto the ship instead of upgrading to the yacht.

Steven Pressfield said in The War of Art “Are you paralyzed with fear? That’s a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.”

When our self-limiting beliefs have their way, they stall progress. You can take all the action you want, and in the right direction too, but anytime you make progress, that mindset pulls you back to conform to your inner beliefs.

What's To Be Done?

“The secret of change is to focus all of your energy, not on fighting the old, but on building the new.” – Socrates

Luckily, there’s a way out of the trap of self-limiting beliefs and that paralyzing fear of change. Jonathan Mead of Paid To Exist offers a few pointers:

Stop identifying with the belief. Most beliefs are so difficult to change because we identify with them. They seem to be ingrained as a part of who we are. And because we identify with them, we allow ourselves to be defined by them. If you think you’re not creative, you’ll see yourself as someone who just wasn’t born with that ability. If you think you’re bad with getting things to work, you might think you’re just not a mechanical person. It’s easy to get caught up in allowing our beliefs to define us, but they don’t have to. So the first step is to stop identifying with or defining yourself based on what you believe.

Kill your conclusions. Whatever you think you know to be certain is probably a lot more flexible than you think. What you think to be required is certain to be much more negotiable. Question all of the conclusions you have about what you think to be true, fixed or possible.

Test your assumptions. Without pushing the boundary and testing your assumptions, it’s impossible to move past your limiting beliefs. You need to do something to break the pattern of your limiting belief. Questioning is the first step, but if you only do that, the possibilities of moving to a more empowering perspective stay in your head. Some type of action must be taken that puts your conclusions to the test. Just make sure that you’re not staying in the limited head-space that leads you to reinforce what you already hold to be true. Suspend your judgment and take some kind of action to test your assumptions.

So the key to change is to, well, change your self-limiting beliefs.

Since it’s often challenging to separate yourself from your own experience, take a look at David de las Morenas’ story.

When I self-published my first book, it was done as an experiment, not with the intention of making money. But it did make money.


However, at the time, I believed that my career as a software engineer was, well, my career. I didn’t believe I could turn writing and marketing books into a full time profession.


I eventually decided to write and release another book. And then another. And another. Each time, I paid more and more attention to how Amazon markets products internally. I also improved my writing with each release. I figured out that getting a big initial wave of sales and reviews causes Amazon to place my books at the top of relevant search results, on the best-seller charts, and in the “customers also bought section” of similar books. This led me to focusing on building my email list so that I have a solid initial crowd of potential buyers when I release a new book. In fact, the most recent book I released – “Write Book, Make Money” – details my findings and the method I’ve developed for making a living writing and selling books on Amazon.


Now, while I still work part time for a gym as a personal trainer, I make the vast majority of my money through this website and my book sales.  I fully believe that I can survive solely on the money I make from my own business endeavors. And this belief has given me the confidence to devote more and more of my time to my business, and less and less of my time to working for other people. But I didn’t have this confidence until I transformed my limiting belief into an empowering one.

Change As An Antidote to Laziness

No matter how productive you might feel on any given day, we are all hard-wired to be as lazy as possible. “Netflix and Chill” is a saying for a reason and while we can all “Hustle Hard” from time to time, eventually our biology will catch up with us.

Joanna Wiebe of Copyhackers saw first hand how a little change made a big difference for a recent colleague. In their ad copy work with a client who sold warranties, they shifted from a tried and true copy standard to something a little edgier.

Why switch? They had been getting good results for a long time and the original copy was working. Even with ads that converted perfectly well, they wanted to see what would happen if they tried something that pushed it just a little further. A slight change resulted in big results in their return on their ad investment and they were instantly hooked on change as strategy.

But change of any size is hard, for sure. Joanna recently shared on the Call To Action Podcast:

It’s hard. It’s harder. It’s going to take you stopping and not doing the same things you’re used to, not jumping into the fun part. But, it’s the better way to do it.

When Change Is Only The Beginning

According to Gary Vaynerchuk, social media marketing expert and author of The Thank You Economy, Old Spice missed the, um, boat.

Old Spice saw a major spike in sales and brand awareness, but there are plenty of brands that have done great marketing, spiked for a while, and then disappeared off the consumer radar. The brand had an opportunity to continue the conversation with all of those people who connected with them, and they squandered it. They left their customers behind, limiting the full impact the campaign could have had on the brand.

In other words, Old Spice needed to fully embrace change in all areas of their business for their strategy to pay off to it’s maximum extent. They needed to change how they approached social media, customer relations, and the full brand experience.

A little change is good. A lot of change is powerful.

Which brings us to a final point: change is eternal. To bring another great philosopher into the conversation, Heraclitus famously said “'The only thing that is constant is change”. If there’s one thing we can all anticipate (beyond taxes and death), it’s that change will come.

With regular practice, shifting our self-limiting beliefs, and expanding change into multiple areas, change won’t be so scary after all. Making any shift isn’t easy, but the greatest opportunities lie in the hardest moments.

Val Geisler

Val is a yogi, mom, military wife, and avid podcast fan. She is ridiculously obsessed with sharing and creating content that actually makes a difference in the world, connecting with her fellow bloggers, and doing more with less effort. Val is based on Columbus, Ohio (O-H!) and can often be found oversharing on Instagram at @lovevalgeisler.

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