Would you dip your hand in a completely opaque box without knowing what’s in it?
Would you try some outlandish food item without attempting to find out what its ingredients are?
Would you mind taking your evening stroll around an unknown part of the city?
Chances are that you won’t spontaneously show an excited head nodding agreement to engage in these activities. This is because most of us Fear the Unknown.
In the mildest of its forms, fear of the unknown is our hesitance to try something new, something different, or something that has CHANGED. Evolutionarily, fearing the unknown helped our ancestors survive the rough realities sprinkled in their way by Mother Nature. By being apprehensively skeptical about attractive yet untried fruits/ roots or by treading extremely carefully and in groups in untouched habitats, they saved themselves from falling into traps or getting poisoned. Thus, this fear is somewhat passed as a part of our genetic heritage and becomes activated in varying forms and degrees even today, given particular circumstances. The most common way in which this hesitance manifests itself is in the face of an impending change or transition.
Change is the only constant— everyone seems to be bringing up this philosophical axiom all the time, right? But, does portraying this idea as a “normal aspect of daily living” make it any less discomforting? Sadly, no. Sometimes, change may seem to be appealing and worth trying. Nevertheless, it requires us to step outside our comfort zone which essentially fluctuates our motivation and frustration levels while pursuing this new path. For instance, most of us as children were super excited to switch from using pencils to pens. However, changing the way we grip the pen, the amount of pressure we need to apply for smooth flowing ink and, of course, the obvious change in handwriting was a nightmare that most of us must have had to endure.
Thus, we are all surrounded by changing realities in all spheres and at all ages—whether for good or for the worst. How can we adapt to change so as to ease our way through this process?
- Expect discomfort but don’t lose sight of the exhilaration waiting at the end: Knowing and imagining what one is likely to encounter given our past experience with change can prevent us from painting an unrealistically rosy picture of this process. Plus, expecting that there will be a difficult period even though not knowing exactly what it will entail, helps to reduce the uncertainty levels and allows us to exercise some control over our situation, thereby, directly influencing our perceived fear of the unknown. It is important to place ourselves in the centre of this whole dynamic and realize a position of active power than passive helplessness. Although “expecting discomfort” might inculcate a slightly pessimistic outlook; this can be counterbalanced by a positive belief that once the change (irrespective of it being good or bad) has occurred and dealt with it will bring an exhilarating moment of peace. Why? Just because the process is over and done with!
- Refrain from cementing the change into a “new old”: What makes change overwhelming is our tendency to settle so comfortably in previously occurred changes that make them seem like they have always existed as it is. For instance, when we move from school to college, we form a new circle of friends and acquaintances. This requires quite a lot of effort, investment and adjustment. Still, when we are to move from college to work, the same anxiety of meeting and making new acquaintances seems burdening once more because we have too easily cemented our college friendships into a “new old of our social circles”. Rather, being aware that a tweaked routine is in fact tweaked will serve as a reminder that other lifestyle changes will occur and we’ll have to accept and adapt to them as well. Thus, always carry the nostalgia of that rigorous reshaping process you had to undergo before landing up with a great bunch of people who helped you survive college! Key Takeaway: Openness to experience helps facing changes head strong.
- Don’t just think, do: You’re going to be a first time parent? Read a book on parenting. Moving to a new city? Look up the internet for various amenities available in the vicinity of your new home. Have the college prom to go to while your dancing skills suck? Take a few classes. Sometimes when changes come well announced, the best way to prevent ourselves from bouncing off the wrong foot is to prepare for them in small yet concrete, action-oriented ways than simply building castles in the air.
- I choose future: What to do when changes are impromptu in nature? Well, for starters, don’t think about “What you’d done to deserve such unpleasantness?” Bad things happen to good people and that’s a reality check we must all maintain. Instead, a study has found that individuals who cope well with change are those who think about what can be done now and in future given that the change has already occurred than expending all their energy only in tracing “meaningful causes” from the past that help explain their dire circumstances. This is called showing existential courage.
- Slowing down doesn’t equate to failure: At the heart of our fear of the unknown is our fear of failing at this new thing that life has thrown at us. And when does this sinking feeling of failure start setting in? When we are seemingly stagnant, getting nowhere, just watching things as they go haywire. Yes, your performance charts may show dipped ratings. Yes, you may not meet your self- expectations. But guess what? IT’S OKAY. Reiterating a recent and relevant example from my life itself, I’ve been unable to put up blog post for the last month or so because of the transformation that my schedule went through as I moved from graduation to post graduation. This was a personal failure to me at some level. Weekly submission deadlines, power packed lecture schedules with bulks of information to consume, group projects, 3 hour daily commute, earlier than expected semester-end examinations and many other changes had pushed me over the edge in the days I took a hiatus from blogging. It was overwhelming. It was new. I may even venture to say that, “It was CRAZY.” Every week I wanted to pick up my laptop and start penning down some ideas for a new post. But somewhere deep within I knew that it wasn’t going to happen. And once I had this acceptance at a conscious level, it was easier for me to settle down to face the challenges one at a time—slow at pace, strong willed at heart.
Hence, concluding with a beautiful quote by Fred Emery, “Instead of constantly adapting to change, why not change to be adaptive?”
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About the author:
Vrinda Ruparelia is a Psychology Graduate with certifications in the Robert Carkhuff model of counseling, graphology, gender studies and first level of hypnotherapy. Vrinda has coauthored a research paper on ‘Procrastination, Perfectionism and Test Anxiety: A Perilous Triad’, which has been published in the Indian Journal of Mental Health. Recently.
Intrigued by this subject right after school, Vrinda has stayed passionate as ever towards the study of human mind to help people challenge the roadblocks created by their mental health.