Why Is Change So Difficult?

In my consulting practice the hardest thing to get clients to do is to change their behavior. While they logically agree —at the intellectual level—that they need to change things they seldom make the significant changes that would propel their business forward.

Before you start thinking you are different you must realize that they are you and you are they.

A Universal Truth

The human organism is resistant to change. The body tries to maintain what physiologists call homeostasis. This is the physical state of equilibrium or status quo. The body is designed to operate in a very narrow range of physiological processes. The brain is no different.

We all refuse to change our ways for reasons that are often hard to articulate.

Until, that is, you begin looking at it from a scientific perspective. In the past few years, improvements in have allowed researchers to track the energy of a thought coursing through the brain in much the same way that they can track blood flowing through the circulatory system. Watching different areas of the brain light up in response to specific thoughts has brought a new understanding to our response to change.

The major neuroimaging techniques used research are positron emission tomography (PET), single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT), and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), along with electro-encephalography (EEG), an earlier technique for monitoring brain activity. Advances in all these techniques are enabling scientists to produce remarkably detailed computer-screen images of brain structures and to observe neurochemical changes that occur in the brain as it processes information or responds to various stimuli.

These brain analysis technologies show that our responses to change are predictable and universal. From a neurological perspective, we all respond to change in the same way: We try to avoid it.

Why Change Is Painful

Change creates psychological stress.

Change engages the prefrontal cortex, the conscious part of the brain that is responsible for judgment, planning and decision making. The prefrontal cortex is like RAM memory in a PC. It is fast and agile, able to hold multiple threads of logic at once to enable quick calculations. But like RAM, the prefrontal cortex’s capacity is finite—it can deal comfortably with only a handful of concepts before becoming overloaded. When it becomes overloaded it generates a palpable sense of discomfort, anxiety, fatigue, and frustration.

Like a computer the brain prefers to run off its hard drive or basal ganglia, which has a much larger storage capacity. This is the part of the brain that stores the hardwired memories and habits that dominate our daily lives.

“Most of the time the basal ganglia are more or less running the show,” says Jeffrey M. Schwartz, research psychiatrist at the School of Medicine at the University of California at Los Angeles. “It controls habit-based behavior that we don’t have to think about doing.”

In a sense, it is the basal ganglia that keeps us in that very narrow range called our comfort zone. If you want to make changes in your life you must realize that every change comes with a certain amount of psychological stress. The bigger the change the bigger the stress. Now you know why so few people are willing to consciously embrace change.


Craig Breitsprecher


I have found over the last three years that, as uncomfortable as change might be, if you will just leave yourself truly open to change it can be a wonderful journey and in turn leave you more receptive to additional change when needed. Just a thought.

Dr. George Burroughs

Very true and interesting. Thanks, Steve

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