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Whether dealing with divorce, moving, a new job, an illness, the birth of a child or any other life event, the common denominator is that they all involve the unavoidable prospect of making or facing Changes. Change, even when self-initiated and planned for, always includes some element of unknown. It is that element of the unknown, unplanned, uncontrollable or unpredictable that raises our anxiety about Change. Some people meet this challenge with excitement and others are paralyzed by the idea of it. Why is it that Change seems more difficult for some than for others?

It all boils down to how we perceive Change. It is our perception of Change that so drastically impacts our comfort level.  Do we see the Change as taking a chance or a risk?  When I went to the dictionary for definitions, here’s what I found.

Chance is defined as “possibility of a positive outcome”

Risk is defined as “possibility of a negative outcome”

So, it makes sense that when you think of making a Change, the more risky it feels to you, the more difficult it will be to move ahead. On the other hand, if you focus on a positive outcome, then you will find yourself moving forward with less anxiety and more ease.

 What gets confusing is one person’s chance is another person’s risk.  For example, extreme sports competitors like snowboarder Shawn White, do not think of the risk of getting hurt when they attempt a new trick. They focus on the opportunity to improve their skill set. After all doesn’t he have to embrace that perspective to do what he does?  (Not surprisingly, many extreme sports enthusiasts are young:   youth seem to have this innate sense that nothing is risky. They have a sense of indestructibility. It drives their parents crazy.)

But some people seem paralyzed by what others may perceive as the simplest of Changes. These are people who may experience extreme anxiety at raising their hand in a class or trying a new hairstyle.  Their thought process immediately includes a mental check list of everything that can go wrong. The more they are flooded with dark scenarios of negative outcome, the more risky their assessment of the situation and the more likely they will not to make a Change.  This makes perfect sense: if you see more risk than chance, Change becomes incredibility difficult.

Not surprisingly, this perception of chance and risk play a huge part in how we live our life. To confuse the issue further, there are inconsistencies within one person. The snowboarder can be the same person who is afraid to raise their hand in a class.

 Chance versus risk is obviously subjective and can get in our way of having a great life. The teenager who speeds down the winding road with the headlines off does not feel terror, but rather exhilaration. Clearly this behavior is incredibly dangerous. But if you are a person who is terrified of asking a question, that can, in some scenarios, be equally dangerous.

As with most things in life, finding a balance is the challenge. Because of the subjectivity of chance and risk, this is difficult to do. Our emotional response often clouds our decision making process. So, for example, you can see the benefit of raising your hand in class, but if you perceive it as risky then your body will physically respond to that perception and you may experience pounding heart, sweaty palms, light headedness- all of which further reinforces how really risky it would be to raise your hand.  Now your fear has trumped reason.

Often we do not take the time to actually figure out whether our response to change is rational and healthy or one of fear, avoidance or even recklessness. We just react to the feelings- If it scares us, we run from it and if it feels pleasurable we go toward it. However we can reduce making unhealthy choices by utilizing careful discernment.  Understanding how you think and feel about change (risk or a chance?) will help you clear away the fog of feelings that often distorts the process of making healthy decisions.

When facing change here are some things to ask yourself-

  • Are my feelings distorting the facts and leading to denial, minimization, and procrastination?
  • If I make the wrong choice, what is the worst that can really happen?
  • Am I acting on impulse or have I considered all my options objectively?
  • Am I being thoughtful and thorough or am I really just procrastinating and letting the fear choose for me?
  • Am I making this change based on the facts as they are or on the hope that the facts will change?
  • Finally, what is the healthiest thing I can do? (Notice the question is not “What would be the easiest?” or “What should I do?” or “What does everyone tell me to do?”)

 Lastly, if you have made a decision to change something but feel afraid to move forward, waiting until your fear abates will only increase your anxiety.  The fear you feel is of the unknown and the unknown is only conquered by action. If you know your decision is a healthy one, then act on it, knowing your fear will accompany you for a while, but somewhere along your journey, when you are least paying attention to it, your fear will simply slip away.

 “If chance comes into your life, take it. If it changes your life, let it.”

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3 Comments

  1. CJ Golden on the 10. Jul, 2011 remarked #

    There is no life if not change – we become stale, inert and old. It is the change that allows us to remain vital and vibrant. It is our attitude that allows us to make the best of the changes that come our way.

  2. Marilyn on the 11. Jul, 2011 remarked #

    Change is hard I usuallly pray for change but for all intense and purposes I avoid change. Chance is like gambleing to me it can go either way so there is the possibility of either pain or gain.

    Risk only denotes negitive results or pain that is hard to carry.

    I guess chance is the way I should look at things at least there is a possibility for good and those odds are comforting and equal.

  3. Annie on the 11. Jul, 2011 remarked #

    Change and risk go hand in hand. We so used to being in our “comfort zone”, we tend to box ourselves in. You have to take risks to discover life’s opportunities. When you stay in your comfort zone, the same four walls really are more like jail. Venture out, remember all winners were at one time filled with doubt.

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