The Psychology of Change

If you look up the word change in the dictionary, you’re given several options. One of the best definitions states simply, “to transform”. Another states, “to make the form…of something different from what it is, or from what it would be if left alone.” To some people, the prospect of change is exciting and even welcomed. To others, change is to be feared. In fact, for most of us our first line of defense is to avoid change whenever and wherever we can. We see it as a threat to our carefully choreographed lives, something to be staved off at all costs. So, we have to ask ourselves, why is it viewed so differently?

The tools that kept us alive as a human race are still at play in our psyche. Survival skills such as fear, caution, and memory come into play when situations change. Other skills such as courage, the ability to learn, and determination are still very much in operation as well. It’s deciding when to play each card that determines the outcome of the change.

One reason people oppose change is because change can happen without warning and catches us lacking the tools to cope with the altered situation. Why change happens is often misunderstood. Another reason people oppose change is fear. Fear of failure is very real and often leaves people on the starting line, never daring to begin. On the other hand, if an individual looks forward to change it is because they embrace the opportunity to learn and see “failure” as just one more way not to do something. To quote Thomas Edison, “We now know a thousand ways not to build a light bulb.” Aren’t you glad Edison’s definition of failure meant “try again” and not “give up, turn out the lights, and go home”.


People who have lived the same way for a long time are generally happy where they are. To quote a Dr. Phil-ism, “it’s working for them” on some level, even if certain aspects of their life are not perfect. When we are dumped into change, our favorite strategy is to try to recover our lives as quickly as possible. Society’s general lack of support during times of change reinforces our feelings that change is bad and that we’re failing in some way if our lives are in flux.

Until you’ve made up your mind to change, just the idea of change will appear distasteful and unnecessary so you’ll make up things to tell yourself. And it’s uncanny how so many people will arrive at exactly the same things to think.


For example, you might tell yourself “my needs are being met”. Needs are basic drivers of action. You may know, logically, that you should lose weight, but a more primordial need is being satisfied; you have food. It may not be the best food to support your health, but in an evolutionary sense, you have food and that meets the basic need.

In this day and age, we accomplish our daily tasks sitting down. We drive to work, we sit at work, we email our co-workers instead of walking to their desk, we drive through the bank, we drive through the dry cleaners, etc., etc. You get the picture. Even our recreation is taken sitting down most of the time. There’s no taking the laundry to the stream to beat it on a rock. No one hunts for food anymore, unless you’re “hunting” at a new grocery store or it’s your hobby. Our caloric need has severely decreased, yet we continue to consume those calories. Why? Because we follow the primordial drive to find food. Our brains are still wired to find food. And when we’re stressed, we use food as an excuse…how can it be a bad thing to feed yourself, right?!

You can turn this scenario around by making it into a need. Good health is also a primordial need. After all, sick cavemen can’t hunt. Convince yourself that you need to lose weight or your health will suffer. Your health care professional may have already had this chat with you. Unfortunately, nothing will change until something is not working for you anymore. If you ignore making a change, your situation may be altered for you by a life-changing medical diagnosis. I think most of us would rather hold the reigns to change than have it done for us.


Fear can be a driving force for almost everything in our lives. We find a mate for fear of being alone. Conversely, we avoid relationships for fear of heartache. We make friends for fear of not belonging, or of becoming an outcast, or we shy away from people for fear of rejection. We build up a stash in our lifetime for fear of lack, or, we accumulate nothing for fear of losing it all some day.

Fear of failure is often the driver that keeps people from changing their eating habits. Our imaginations go into overtime conjuring up scenarios of what might come to pass if we fail. Maybe we’ve told our friends we’re trying to lose weight, and we don’t, so we look weak. You might tell yourself that you will look foolish if you fail. Unfortunately, our imaginations tend to draw on past experiences instead of looking forward to a brighter day. That’s where visualization and positive mental reinforcement can help. So how do you overcome this fear? With preparation.


Psychology theory shows that four things are needed to enable individuals to start, transition and complete a behaviour change. The basis of changing a mind-set is:

  • The individual can see the purpose of the change and agrees with it
  • The rewards and recognition system must support the new behaviour
  • The individual must have the skills for the new behaviour
  • Key people who are role models must be seen to model the new behaviour1

Taking these four key points and putting them into the perspective of a new year’s resolution, one can clearly see the steps necessary to achieve positive, lasting results. For the purpose of discussion in this article, we will say that your new year’s resolution was to volunteer more of your time to a community organization. What’s the change? You’ll have less time to yourself.

The Individual Can See The Purpose Of The Change And Agrees With It

As you can see, this is a mental step. If you’ve decided that volunteering is for you, you’ve already gone through the process of evaluating why volunteering is important and necessary to certain organizations. You realize that vital work in the community cannot be done without volunteer support. You might feel that you need to give back to an organization that has given much to you. Or, you may just feel gratitude for all that you have and want to give to others. You have established the purpose of volunteering and agree with it.

The Rewards And Recognition System Must Support The New Behaviour

Let’s say you’ve decided to volunteer your time with the local minor hockey league. The league may have a system in place to recognize its volunteers with free hockey tickets to major league games. It may have an annual volunteer luncheon or awards for volunteers who meet or exceed a requested number of volunteer hours. The league’s reward and recognition system must be in line with things that you see as meaningful or you’ll give up volunteering for this organization all together.

The Individual Must Have The Skills For The New Behaviour

If you’ve never strapped on a pair of skates, you’d hardly volunteer to coach the team. That said, you could volunteer your time to manage the team’s equipment, bring healthy snacks for the kids between periods or run the annual fundraiser. A good volunteer coordinator will ask you what you’d love to be doing for their organization and what your strengths and weaknesses are before assigning you a volunteer position. If you don’t have the skills to manage the team’s equipment, you won’t enjoy the job and enjoyment is a key element in any endeavor. As soon as your job becomes too difficult, you stop volunteering.

Key People Who Are Role Models Must Be Seen To Model The New Behaviour

If your minor hockey league volunteer coordinator shows up late for meetings, misses events, or neglects to fulfill their own responsibilities, you will lose your belief in your commitment to volunteering for this organization. A mentor is there for the purpose of guiding the “newbie” along; showing them the ropes and giving them the skills and information they need to succeed. When a mentor falls short of their duties, so will the people under them. A true leader inspires not by the example of their power but by the power of their example. So what happens? You will probably decide that the time you spend volunteering is going to waste and your new year’s resolution will dissolve like ice in summer.

Achieving Results The Way

If you’re intending to change a behaviour or start a new one, your new year’s resolution should be as precise as possible. A Specific goal has a much greater chance of being accomplished than a general goal. Specific goals include details like the five W’s (who, what, when, where, why). A general goal would be to get in shape. A specific goal would be to walk three times a week for forty minutes each time.

A Measurable goal includes milestones that can be tracked and measured to inspire you and demonstrate progress along the way. It can also help you see where you may need to make adjustments to your overall goal. That’s not cheating, it’s helping you to stay on track!

Be realistic with yourself when you set your goal so that it will be Attainable. Attainable goals are broken down into smaller steps that fit nicely with the milestones you will measure. Use the “Goal Mountain” method where each step takes you closer to the top of the mountain.

A Reachable goal is one you are both willing and able to work toward. You should truly believe that your goal is one that can be accomplished. Ask yourself what conditions have to exist to accomplish your goal.

Timely goals should be encased in a time frame that creates a sense of a finish line. For example, “I want to be fit by forty” might work if your 40th birthday is 6-12 months away, with well planned out steps for the next 12 months. But if you’re currently 25, forget it. You’ll lose that sense of excitement and urgency if you know you have 15 years to accomplish your goal.

Each step of Goal Mountain should be as precise as possible without throwing you into fits of confusion and depression over how many steps there are. The key here is the visual map you will follow, showing the direction your progress is taking — up, up and away!

Whether you want to lose weight, quit smoking, volunteer, or spend less time at work and more time with your family, you can see how using the above techniques, taken into serious consideration before undertaking any resolution, will make it a resounding success.

Carol Roy is a Natural Health Practitioner, registered with Natural Health Practitioners Canada, who received her diploma from the Alternative Medicine College of Canada in Montreal, Quebec. With 9 years experience in her area of expertise, naturopathic medicine, Carol has also trained to become a fully qualified Reiki Master, Quantum Touch ® Practitioner and Reflexologist.

The suggestions by Nutter’s Bulk & Natural Foods and the contents of this article
are recommendations only and not a substitute for any medical advice or a
replacement for any prescriptions. Seek medical advice for any health concerns.
Consult your health care provider before using any recommendations herein.


1. Emily Lawson and Colin Price, The McKinsey Quarterly, 2003 Number 2 Organization.

Share This