Most people love the idea of being able to change -- at least at face value. They like thinking that more is possible and believing that their best or most significant accomplishments lie ahead. Being able to transform themselves and shape future possibilities sounds like a thrilling prospect -- at least in theory. It captivates their imagination and unleashes a surge of energy that propels them forward.
And yet as enthralling as the process of transformation is, very few people are willing to undergo it and here’s why.
Change is difficult, really difficult. When people discover that making a change is, in fact, an all-consuming process, their eyes glaze over or a distinct sense of unease clouds their faces. They expected change to be easy but it simply isn’t. The following two types of bias hold powerful sway over people's thinking:
Related: How to Lead Your Team Through Change
1. The status-quo bias.
Because change requires effort and can be difficult, often people prefer to not change things if they can help it. As a result, their behaviors, thoughts and habits become deeply entrenched over time, as they continue to do what they have always done. People have a tendency to want to keep things as they are. But in the world of business, becoming stuck in the mud can jeopardize years of great work.
2. The loss-aversion bias.
As researchers have shown, losing something generally makes us twice as sad as gaining the exact equivalent amount would make us happy. The Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman illustrated this with a simple yet revealing scenario: People could lose $20 in a coin toss that resulted in heads but could gain a higher amount for tails. How high does that amount need to be for them to accept the bet? Kahneman found in most cases the answer was $40. People needed the prospect of winning $40 to overcome the aversion to possibly losing $20.
These two biases add up to people having a strong propensity for sticking with what they have. In other words, they play it safe: Many people hold back on making changes or pursuing new strategies that could unlock the door to greater accomplishment.
And yet the most successful people do make changes. They thrive on it and, as a result, their businesses, talents or skills grow more sophisticated and complex over time. These dynamic individuals are unmistakable in appearance: A fire burns brightly in their eyes, their words carry conviction and they project an air of believing in themselves and courage, transforming those around them.
Steve Jobs had the ability to create what some of his colleagues referred to as a “reality distortion field.” He had a charismatic and persuasive ability to convince himself and others that anything was possible. Jobs used his presence to drive real change at Apple.
So what compels dynamic individuals to pursue big life-defining changes? As I discussed in The 7 Master Moves of Success, great opportunity or enormous uncertainty can provide a powerful incentive to change. When they clearly see what's at stake, they're more willing to put in the work and make the necessary changes so as to fully capitalize on an important opportunity or fearlessly face up to the challenge that threatens to derail progress.
Regardless of what they have achieved in the past, great opportunity lies in wait for those who continue to push the boundaries of what's possible. As Walt Whitman wrote in Leaves of Grass, “It is provided in the essence of things, that from any fruition of success, no matter what, shall come forth something to make a greater struggle necessary.”
When life brings a new and significant challenge, ask, Do I choose to grow or shrink in the face of this opportunity? Do I choose to change or will I stagnate and stay the same? Future success will most definitely be shaped by the answer