"The Human Resistance to Change"

Sep 13, 2016

This past week, I've been listening to Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration. It's by Ed Catmull, president of Pixar Animation, and it has been absolutely fascinating so far. His thoughts on cultivating a creative environment, collaborating with others, and pursuing your dreams have resonated with and inspired me more than I was expecting.

This isn't a review of the book because I'm not even a third of the way through it yet, but I wanted to explore one of the topics I've found most interesting so far.

Long before the Pixar we all know and love was born, Ed worked for George Lucas in, what was then, the brand-new computer department. Ed and his coworkers were developing a new editing process which had the potential to considerably shorten the amount of time it took to edit videos. Unfortunately, the film editors were not the least bit supportive or interested in this new process, and without them, Ed and his team didn't have anyone to actually use what they were working on. In Ed's words:
"They were perfectly happy with the system they had already mastered, which involved actually cutting film into snippets with razor blades and then pasting them back together. They couldn't have been less interested in making changes that would slow them down in the short term. They took comfort in their familiar ways, and change meant being uncomfortable. So when it came time to test our work, the editors refused to participate. Our certainty that video editing would revolutionize the process didn't matter, and neither did George's backing."
Ed labeled this "the human resistance to change." Forty years later, and knowing what we now know, it sounds ludicrous that the film editors would have wanted to continue their painstaking and laborious cutting and pasting process instead of trying something new.

But I get it.

After Aaron was born, I tried three different pediatricians before I found one that I felt comfortable with. There wasn't anything particularly fantastic about her, but she didn't make me feel like a loser of a parent like the others had, so I figured she was probably my best option. As we added more children to our family and gradually moved farther and farther away from the clinic, we stayed with her because it felt safe and familiar.

There were other pediatricians who were much closer, but for some reason, it just sounded so daunting to call a new clinic, find a doctor who was taking new patients, transfer all of our records, drive to a new place, and get acquainted with a new staff and doctor. And what if we went through all that work and emotional effort and it didn't end up being any better? Or even, what if it was worse?!

If it's that difficult to make a rather low-impacting decision (on average, each of my kids visits the doctor once a year for their annual checkups), no wonder it can be almost paralyzing to change something that has the potential to negatively affect your day-to-day life.

To put it even more simply than our pediatrician dilemma, consider the game of Rummikub. This was a favorite of my grandma's, and so she always obliged us by playing rounds and rounds of it when we visited her. Just like any rummy game, you're trying to create groups and runs with the end goal being to get rid of all your tiles before everyone else. The tiles are displayed in the middle of the table, and once they're down, they are free game for anyone else. You can steal and add and reshuffle as much as you want in order to lay down more tiles.

Sometimes it can get rather complicated. For example, you might have just one tile you want to lay down. You start going through the options in your head: If I disassemble that group of 12's, I can put one of them there and one of them there and keep one for myself. Then I can take the 11 from that run over there, etc. etc. In the end, the only thing to do is to try it: start breaking things up and rearranging, hoping that it all comes back together--different, but with your new tile in place.

But there's always the fear that you'll go through all that work and be left holding one lone tile at the end that doesn't have a place to go. And then what do you do? You have changed the board so completely that you can't possibly remember how it all started. Without meaning to, you didn't win the game, but lost it (and ruined it for everyone else).

My parents know exactly what this is like. Earlier this year, they began to consider the idea of moving to Utah. There were a number of factors that pushed them to want to do it but also a lot of reasons to hold back. One thing my mom kept saying was, "Change isn't always better. I like where we live right now. I like my friends, I like my community, I like my house. What if I leave it all and find out nothing about the new place is better?"

There it is, that human resistance to change--the fear that by trying something new, you'll lose what you had, and it will not end up being the better option.

But my parents went for it. They found a beautiful house in the nicest of neighborhoods and bought it. My dad figured out a way to continue with the same job he's had for the last 34 years. They registered my brother for a special school near their new home. They purged their stuff and packed up the rest. They put their house on the market. They passed along their responsibilities to new people. They said difficult good-byes and did things "for the last time." It has taken them almost the entire year to do it all, and they're not done yet.

And I know my mom is worried. What if they've nearly killed themselves with the monumental effort of it all and a year from now, they're still holding that one metaphorical Rummikub tile? What then? They've already gone too far and done too much damage to ever put their lives back together the way that they were.

When put that way, change just sounds awful and scary and like, "Let me stay in my safe little box where I won't ever be disappointed or hurt!" But if Ed Catmull hadn't kept pushing and developing the new editing software, would movies still be where they were forty years ago? I mean, I'm not bashing movies from the 1970's (well, maybe a little), but we've come a long way since then, and I think everyone would agree they'd rather not go back to cutting and pasting the film by hand.

And what about my pediatrician example? I finally decided I had to try another one, not because anything had changed with our current pediatrician (although there was a really mean nurse I was not fond of . . . ) but because it felt like there must be something better. I didn't go into it blindly. I talked to my friends and got their recommendations and then I called the new clinic and made an appointment.

And . . . wouldn't you know it, but we love our new pediatrician. He is a hundred times better than the other one (and let me reiterate, there was absolutely nothing wrong with her). He makes my kids laugh. He remembers our family and how many kids we have. He talks directly to my kids instead of just to me. He's cautious without being overly concerned. He treats me like a partner in raising my kids instead of like he's the one and only authority. Plus, did I mention it takes us five minutes to get there instead of twenty-five?! The only thing I'm sad about is that I didn't have the guts to make the change years ago.

Of course, there's the flip side, which is contentment. The grass isn't always greener, and sometimes you just need to stop chasing the rainbow and find joy and contentment with where you are right now. Just as it takes courage to rearrange all the pieces of your life, it also takes a certain level of skill to be happy and at peace with the decisions you've already made (even, or especially, if one of those decisions left you holding one lonely, mismatched tile).

But contentment should never be the enemy of change. Rather, they should be partners. C.S. Lewis said, "It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird; it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad."

Without change, there is no growth And I don't know about you, but I think growth is kind of the point of this little life we're living.

I would love to hear about the big or little daunting changes you've made in your life and what the results have been. Are you one of the many who resists change, or one of the few who embraces it? How do you balance change and contentment?


  1. That C.S. Lewis quote is one of my favorites. And your words, "contentment should never be the enemy of change," are just as wise.

    1. Thanks, Melanie. Your story about moving back to Utah is one of my favorites because I think it's the perfect example of just going for it and trusting that God will help things happen the way they're supposed to.

  2. I don't have trouble with change per se, 'change is as good as a holiday' but I can be a procrastinator in making decisions.

    1. . . . And just imagine what it's like if you don't like change AND you procrastinate making decisions (that's me!).

  3. Great post, Amy. I feel similarly regarding change. We need to change to grow and our circumstances and surroundings change with the passing years, but it can be so hard to just let go and surrounder to it. I think most of us are works in progress in this regard, but that's how it should be. We are supposed to have things to work on and grow toward.

    1. I completely agree, Charissa. We will never be done growing and changing. It's a part of the process of life.

  4. I enjoyed this thought provoking post!

  5. Ha-ha, I was the second way abt our pediatrician. And I'm afraid of leaving the kids for a couples vacation. And I'm afraid to move. We have 3 bedrooms and 6 kids (luckily they are big rooms). I love our area. Can we just put a new house on top of our old one?

    1. Oh, I know! So many things! Moving is especially tricky because there are always good things you'll lose, and there's just no way of knowing if the new benefits will be worth it. Good luck!


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