Change Management Blog

Why Change is so Difficult

September 11, 2023

Time to Read: 4 Min

Why Change is so Difficult (with Insights from Science and Research)


Change is an inherent part of life, and this truth extends to the realm of organizations. However, despite its inevitability, change is often met with resistance. Recent research conducted at Columbia Business School sheds light on the intricate relationship between change and the human mindset, revealing three key reasons why change is particularly challenging for individuals. These insights are closely tied to how our brains are wired.

  • Insight 1 Human Brains are Programmed for Laziness: 

    One of the findings from this research suggests that human brains are naturally inclined toward conserving energy. This inclination towards cognitive ease and comfort can make individuals reluctant to embrace change, as it typically demands mental effort and adaptability. Change disrupts established routines, forcing the brain out of its habitual patterns. This inherent aversion to cognitive exertion often leads to resistance.

  • Insight 2: Human Brain Capacity is Finite: 

    Another revelation from the study highlights the finite nature of human brain capacity. Our minds can only process a limited amount of information at any given time. Introducing change adds to the cognitive load, pushing individuals to absorb, understand, and adapt to new information or procedures. When cognitive resources are stretched thin, it can result in feelings of overwhelm and stress, further intensifying resistance to change.

  • Insight 3: Human Brains Simply Don't Like Change: 

    The third key insight aligns with what many Change Management professionals have observed—an inherent discomfort with change. Human brains tend to prefer the status quo, as it offers a sense of predictability and safety. Change, by its very nature, introduces uncertainty and unpredictability. This unsettling feeling can trigger anxiety and resistance, prompting individuals to cling to familiar routines and practices.

    Understanding these findings from cognitive science provides valuable context for why change can be such a formidable challenge. By acknowledging these inherent biases and tendencies, organizations can approach Change Management with greater insight and develop strategies that resonate with the natural workings of the human mind. Change is undeniably difficult, but with the right approach, processes and tools, it becomes a navigable path towards progress and growth.

  • Insight 4: Humans are Creatures of Habit: 

    Research has shown that humans thrive in familiar, predictable routines. We feel most comfortable when engaged in activities within the same context day after day. Deviations from this routine can be met with resistance, even when those changes may ultimately be beneficial. For a company to remain competitive, it must embrace and manage change effectively. While change can be demanding, the effort is worthwhile when increased productivity, improved morale, and higher profits become evident. Addressing resistance to organizational change from the outset is crucial.

  • Insight 5: Change Induces Stress and Overwhelm: 

    Change, particularly in the workplace, can trigger anxiety and stress. Organizational change ranks among the top causes of employee burnout and stress. New job responsibilities can lead employees to feel inadequate and anxious about their performance. This anxiety is especially pronounced among long-time employees who have adhered to specific business processes for an extended period. As changes accumulate, there comes a point when employees can no longer absorb further alterations, a phenomenon known as "change saturation."

  • Insight 6: Humans Crave Certainty: 

    The human brain naturally seeks certainty and actively avoids uncertainty. Organizational change often creates a sense of uncertainty about job security. Employees may worry that process automation, for example, could render their positions obsolete. 

  • Insight 7: Fear of Unforeseen Problems: 

    In daily life, humans tend to anticipate negative outcomes, regardless of how improbable they may be. The fear of unfavorable consequences contributes to resistance to change. For instance, consider an employee greeted on a Monday morning with the news that their longtime supervisor has been replaced. While this change might be beneficial if the previous supervisor was ineffective, the employee may still focus on potential negatives.

Understanding these scientific aspects of change resistance is essential for organizations to effectively manage and navigate the challenges associated with implementing change initiatives. By addressing the biological and psychological factors that make change difficult, organizations can develop strategies to help employees embrace and adapt to change more successfully.


Change Management Experts

Change doesn't have to be daunting; in fact, with a robust Change Management plan in place, it can serve as a catalyst for unlocking new opportunities and growth. To ensure a successful transition, it's essential to have a comprehensive Organizational Change Management strategy that engages every member of your team, from the CEO to front-line employees.

But what exactly is Change Management? It's the structured process an organization undertakes to ensure that everyone collaboratively seizes the possibilities that change presents. It's about aligning the entire workforce to be ready and willing to embrace transformation.

While the concept of Change Management is important, sometimes real-life success stories can illustrate its effectiveness best. These stories serve as concrete examples of how companies have navigated change successfully, providing valuable insights and inspiration for your own journey.

If you find yourself venturing into uncharted territory and require the expertise of an Organizational Change Management Consultant, don't hesitate to reach out for a free consultation. They can help guide your organization through the intricacies of change, ensuring that you're well-prepared to harness the potential that change brings.

For additional guidance and a comprehensive checklist on Organizational Change Management, be sure to explore our resources to help you get started and ensure you're covering all the necessary aspects of your Change Management plan.

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