I grew up in a traditional environment that had a strong bias against change. For example, the main social changes of the last 50 years were rejected, technological change was often deemed suspicious, and the good old days were definitely preferred to the depressing modern times.
But since then, I’ve noticed that this bias in favor of the status quo is strong everywhere. Granted, our world is changing faster than ever, but truth be told, only a handful of change agents are responsible for that.
People resist change for political, sociological and psychological reasons. Today I’ll dwell on the latter and show that resistance to change runs really deep.
Here are the two culprits responsible for this situation:
- Fear: Humans are hardwired to initially dislike unfamiliar stimuli
- Laziness: Humans use System 1 (an automatic mode of thinking) by default
First, people unconsciously prefer things for no other reason than their being familiar with those. This phenomenon is called the mere-exposure effect and has been studied extensively.
Of course, for our ancestors, this made sense. As the psychologist Gary Marcus says, what great-great-great-grandma knew and didn’t kill her was probably a safer bet than what she didn’t know. Similarly, those who stuck to the well known tended to outlast those ventured too far into uncharted territories.
Fear of the unknown and attachment to the familiar might once have helped us adapt, but now we’re stuck with this unconscious bias. This explains why incumbents are typically favored in an election, and why people often accept and even defend systems that truly threaten their self-interest (slavery, communism, apartheid, etc.).
Yes, we’re lazy and often prefer using heuristics (mental shortcuts) rather than deliberate thinking. For example, instead of analyzing the costs and benefits of a change, we’ll apply this simple rule: “If it’s in place, it must be working.”
This reliance on System 1 explains why we’re creatures of habit, and why it’s so hard to break away from routines and comfort zones. It’s true that habits increase efficiency, but they also impede improvement and innovation.
You can always change for the better; so be on the look out for those improvement opportunities. More than anybody else, peak learners must avoid inertia and embrace change.