Overcoming Resistance to Change

Getting people to change requires building their knowledge of the change. There are four stages to buy-in:


I know I have a problem 
I understand what the problem is
I do need to change
I will make that change happen

But even if we are aware of the need to change, we are all resistant to change – particularly from others. So first and foremost, you cannot change anyone else. They can only change if they want to. So, you can only help them decide if they are going to change. In fact, trying to change people will only make them resistant – and can be counterproductive.  When they look at people who drive taxis, they have a larger hippocampus – which is either because it comes from birth or it develops. If it develops then in adult life … then the brain can change. (Achor, 2010)

So why might we be resistant to changing?

Reasons for resistance to change

David Burns in his book, Feeling Good notices that people often don’t want to change, even if they say so. Often this is in the context of counselling or therapy. Look at the list below. Which ones of these do you feel are your areas of resistance to change to achieving your behaviour changes. Consider this for yourself, and perhaps your partner, if you have one:

Resistance to Change

  • Love Addiction – We believe love and closeness are keys to happiness and therefore can’t conceive that satisfaction comes from learning to cope without own problems and believe techniques are cold and mechanical. We believe that talking and sharing are substitutes to doing
  • Perfectionist thinking – We believe that if you don’t do things perfectly, there’s no point in doing them at all. We assume that you can’t make ‘mistakes’ on an activity and that an activity ‘must work’ dramatically or it isn’t successful.
  • Fear of disapproval – You may be afraid that the therapist or tutor will think less of you when they review your self-help efforts. You may think your negative thoughts and feelings are shameful or foolish.
  • Putting the cart before the horse – You may feel that motivation comes before action. If you feel unmotivated then you need to feel in the mood before doing things.
    Unexpressed Anger – Anger may be expressed in cancelling meetings, being argumentative, or not completing tasks.
  • Hopelessness – You feel your problems and suffering will go on forever, no matter what you do, so you give up.
  • Coercion sensitivity – You don’t like feeling forced by people being pushy, bossy, and controlling, so you dig in and resist. They get frustrated and put more pressure on you and you feel stubborn and even more determined not to let them control you.
  • Fatalism – You believe your moods are governed by forces beyond your control. So, you don’t try to control your moods.
  • Fear of blame – You believe that if you are responsible for your emotions you will be blamed for them.
  • Internal Vs external expectations – You need to meet expectations of spouse, parents, boss etc. You believe self-esteem is based on the amount of praise or criticism you feel. When you’re criticised, you feel inadequate, resentful, guilt, or anxious. (so, you adopt a low profile).
  • Resistance to a fast-acting approach – You believe Improvement should be a long-term activity. Fast work feels like a sticking plaster (and might invalidate why it’s taken so long to get here).
  •  Self-labelling – You use labels like ‘lazy’ to do nothing or be passive – so that others do things for you.
  • Different priorities – You are already overburdened so you don’t prioritise this activity.
  • Entitlement – You feel entitled to happiness and fair treatment from others. You resent that they are responsible for the way they feel, and don’t feel they need to work at it. “Why should I change? My husband is the one making me miserable.”
  • Fear of change – You fear that change could make things worse. “I think I like to be depressed and feeling sorry for myself”
  • Shame – You have a number of painful feelings and problems that you don’t want to talk about: Sexual indiscretion, alcoholism etc.
  • Emotional reasoning – “I feel worse therefore I must not be getting anywhere with my therapy” “I feel hopeless therefore I must be hopeless”. Virtually all people have set backs and feel hopeless at times.
  • Low frustration tolerance – You find it difficult to stick with a task if you don’t get immediate results. You give up on things when you feel frustrated with my progress.
  • Superman – You may feel that if you ask for help, it means that you’re ‘weak’ or ‘inferior’. If someone tries to help you, you may feel the urge to resist and come up with something different that you thought of.
  • Lack of direction – During periods of depression, some individuals experience slow thinking and have difficulty concentrating.
  • The ‘Realism’ of depression – When depressed you are reluctant to work to improve since problems are ‘real’ and misery ‘inevitable’.
  • Reluctance to give up negative feelings – You feel reluctant to give up on anger, guilt, depression or anxiety because you believe that these emotions are health, or beneficial to you.
  • Medical Model – You believe that a medicine is all you need: it is a chemical imbalance and nothing else.
  • Passivity – You feel that talk is enough to make lasting change, but then get disappointed. Others can pinpoint the problems, but you need to follow your plan.

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