Why do we fear new beginnings?

To understand why we don't like it, we first need to understand what exactly we are talking about when we talk about change.

 Mental health: illustrative drawing of two girls talking (photo credit: PIXABAY/WIKIMEDIA)
Mental health: illustrative drawing of two girls talking
(photo credit: PIXABAY/WIKIMEDIA)

Rosh Hashanah. The first associations that probably come mind are apples, honey and maybe too much time with the family (but we'll talk about that another time).

Somewhere in this list of associations is also the pair of words "new beginnings", and it is likely that your mind rushes to pass them on without delay. If so, you're in good company and you're not the only ones who don't want to think about it.

But why do new beginnings make us feel bad? Actually, it's pretty simple, a new beginning means change, and change is something people don't always like, even if it's a positive change.

Humans are routine creatures, who in general like certainty and security and don't like to be surprised. This is the basis of the importance of the weather forecast - we want to know when it will rain so that we can take an umbrella and not be surprised and get wet.

Many times "change" is something a bit shapeless and unclear, sometimes we don't even manage to think of a certain state (or more precisely, a transition between states) as a change, so it's easier for us to refer to a "beginning."

We are very uncomfortable outside the comfort zone

To understand why we don't like it, we first need to understand what exactly we are talking about when we talk about change.

Change is a transition from state A to state B. Have you moved? Change. Have you started a new job? Change. Did you become a parent? Change. Has your child started first grade? Change. Have you started eating organic buckwheat fiber instead of 300 grams of entrecote for dinner? Change. Have you started dating someone new? Change.

At first glance, all these situations may not seem related to each other, but they share a very basic common denominator - they are all the beginnings of something new and they all include, in a structured way, a transition from one situation to another.

They embody uncertainty and require adaptation to the future that is currently yet unknown. Along with the excitement that sometimes accompanies new beginnings, all of these things push us beyond what is mistakenly called the "comfort zone," and can cause genuine fear and anxiety.

Let's try using an example. You travel to work on your familiar and usual route, but today it is blocked, and instead of a road there is a gaping hole in the ground that a train will, allegedly, pass through.

What is happening at this moment is that the information you had about your way to work is no longer correct, and you must adapt to a new situation and find a replacement for it.

It will probably take you exactly 15 seconds, but at the same time, you may have quite a few questions - what is the new route? Where exactly does it lead? Is it blocked too? How long will it take me to get this way? Will I be able to arrive on time rather than late for the unnecessary meeting that the boss scheduled too early in the morning? And what if a lot of rats escaped from the excavations and I have to share the road with them?

This is an easy example, with questions that are relatively easy to deal with and their consequences are probably not very substantial. But now try to imagine that something much more important happens, with consequences that can be much more significant for you.

The point is that when we are faced with change, we have much less information about the new situation than about the old situation, resulting in a greater sense of uncertainty.

The rules of the game change and we don't necessarily know all the new rules or feel insufficiently knowledgeable about them. That's why the "comfort zone" is a bit of a misleading name - it's not always comfortable, but it's always more familiar, and what we don't know scares us.

So one of the basic reasons that new beginnings can be scary is that they involve the unknown. We can commit to the process, but cannot be sure of the results.

It is hard for us to give up the old, even if it is not good

Change is not only dealing with something unfamiliar and the unknown, it is also giving up something old, and therefore - in the perception of most people - something good.

Studies know how to tell us today that most people have a tangible and reliable preference for things that have been around longer, and prefer the status quo to change.

Part of the reason for this is a perception, according to which, "if you've been doing it for so long, it's probably good." If you are told that a certain treatment method for an ingrown toenail has been around for 1,000 years, you will probably prefer it to a method that has only been around for 10 years.

It is important to note that this thinking is not unreasonable in some cases - if something has managed to stand the test of time and not disappear, it probably has at least some advantages over other things.

The problem with this thought is that tradition and longevity (which are actually the opposite of a new beginning) are really not always good predictors but hide forces such as persistence, habit, marketing, fashion and more.

Moreover, there are areas where these factors should have no influence at all such as food and art. Still, in various studies, we find that people will appreciate beauty and taste more when it comes to old things than new things.

In one study they gave chocolate to tasters and asked them to rate its taste: once they were told that it was first produced and sold 73 years ago, and once they were told that it was produced only 3 years ago. Guess which one got a higher rating even though it's exactly the same chocolate.

New beginnings, then, are actually changes

Many times we have a hard time with them thanks to two main factors that lead us to prefer to avoid it - the fear of the unknown and the tendency to prefer something old, and this may happen to us even when it is a proactive and positive new beginning.

If we become aware of these two forces, it will be easier for us to break down our difficulties and deal with the beginning and the change in a better way.

May you have a good year full of easy beginnings.