Accepting Change: The Ingrained Resistance of Nature and Nurture

The Importance Of Accepting Change

Change is good, according to the old adage, but we all know how difficult it can be to adjust to change or to inspire new behaviors and break habits. If change is good, then, why is it often so difficult to bring about?

The answer lies in a combination of nature and nurture.

The human brain is wired to resist change, to a point; only deeper thinking and focus can inspire true change, requiring concentration from the part of the brain that involves the most effort.

In turn, nurture plays a part in making change difficult to accept; our experiences throughout life make us more likely to seek out familiarity and repeat past behaviors and patterns – change can make us feel uncomfortable. Let’s take a look at the neuroscience behind the nature and nurture elements of change and explore the solution to making change easier to accept.

Resisting change: it’s in our nature

Research suggests that the way the human brain is designed may make us predisposed to resisting change. The parts of the brain relating to instinct, emotions, memory, and habits require less energy to use than the pre-frontal cortex, which is associated with decision-making, behavior moderation, and complex thinking.

Humans naturally use the reflexive areas of the brain more often than the reflective prefrontal cortex in day-to-day life – the prefrontal cortex, however, is the part of the brain used when we process change and new ideas.

Repeating behavior and patterns reinforces neural connections in the reflective areas of the brain, building habits, and routines, and challenging what we have learnt in the past can be difficult for us to process, making us feel uncomfortable or even pained.

When we detect discrepancies between what we expect to happen and what actually occurs, the brain reacts by appealing to its most primal elements with a fight or flight response, which, in turn, can make change unappealing.

Change acceptance: the nurture element

As humans, we are taught routine from an early age, and repeating behaviors can help bring about good habits, such as keeping clean, holding down a job, and other positive lifestyle elements. Familiarity makes us feel content, but when routines or habits are interrupted, we can feel threatened.

Not only can change inspire fight or flight reactions, or require more brainpower to process than our usual habits, it can also be more difficult to adjust to in suboptimal circumstances, such as when we feel tired or under pressure; these conditions can increase the desire to retreat back into the familiar and pick up old habits and behaviors.

Fear plays a key part in resisting change; some of us are wary of losing control, while others react to uncertainty with trepidation, which can manifest physically and emotionally, causing anxiety and other negative effects.

How the change progresses and how we react to it can affect how we cope; if we feel rewarded, we will often repeat the behaviors until they become habitual, whereas if we feel threatened, we’re more likely to resist change.

Can we make change easier to bear?

Change is not inherently bad; since the beginning of time, change has been a constant in our world and in our lives, often garnering positive effects. Our bodies, environments, and lives have changed over millennia to adapt to the needs of an evolving population.

While many changes are good and necessary, some changes are difficult to inspire. Putting an end to bad habits or destructive behavior can be tough, for example, and often willpower alone doesn’t cut it. Retraining the brain to achieve deeper awareness is key to bringing about lasting change.


Dr. Kevin Fleming
Dr. Kevin Fleming
Dr. Kevin Fleming is a three-time University of Notre Dame grad and Founder of a global neurotechnology-based firm, Grey Matters International, Inc., that concentrates on providing true sustainable behavior change solutions for distinctive clientele seeking to go beyond mere self-help, coaching, and therapy. His work has been featured in top media outlets including The New York Times, CNN, Forbes, Fortune, Christian Science Monitor and has been endorsed by faculty members in both Harvard Medical and Business Schools, given the crossover illusions of success and happiness that confuse high performing brains of our modern day. This innovative neuroleadership research and practice of his prompted an invite to speak for top Middle Eastern leaders in 2008, which had cabinet members for the King of Jordan in attendance. He received a feature chapter on his behavior change work in a book that hit the tops of both Wall Street and NY Times bestseller charts, ALL IN by Adrian Gostick. With the growth of Grey Matters International his offering of cutting edge neurotechnology options for creating breakthroughs in mental health, he was asked to be an expert aftercare resource for the CBS hit show "Face the Truth", created by the producers of The Doctors and Dr. Phil. In addition to being considered as one of the top personal & executive coaches globally (published in interviews and anthologies with the great Marshall Goldsmith, the late Stephen Covey, and Deepak Chopra), he is the U.S. Ambassador for the International Regulatory Body of Coaching and Mentoring. He is also on the Advisory Board for the DeNicola Center for Ethics & Culture at the University of Notre Dame. He resides in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Tulsa, OK and enjoys singing/songwriting and recording as a semi-professional recording artist and studio drummer, having recorded projects with the producer/bandmate affiliated with Carole King and Dan Fogelberg.

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