Resistant to Change? Maybe You Just Need a Clearer Path


News is out that Amazon will be making a new Lord of the Rings series, and everyone I know is excited. But back when Peter Jackson’s adaptation wasn’t so old itself, I found myself in an interesting discussion about every girl’s heart-throb, the King. Was Aragorn really the way Vigo Mortensen had portrayed him? Was he really that wishy-washy?

One man in the book group (where this conversation took place) insisted that the movie portrayal was a disservice to the character. The cinematic Aragorn just couldn’t make up his mind whether he wanted to live as the king or not. But the real Aragorn – of Tolkien’s imagination – was courageous.

It wasn’t that Aragorn lacked the strength to make a decision, insisted my friend. It was just that future King wasn’t sure what was right. Once he did know, he could, and did, act accordingly.

This is a careful distinction, and one which authors Chip and Dan Heath consider in their book, Switch: How to Change Things When Change is Hard. (Well, they don’t talk about Aragorn specifically…)

But they do look at various situations in which people successfully bring about change in any number of circumstances (marriage, corporate environments, public health crises). And they find that people’s resistance to change is very often not out of stubbornness or, like the movie version of Aragorn, out of an inability to make up their minds.

No, they argue, “what looks like resistance is often a lack of clarity.”

People often do want to change, or are at least open to change. But they are unsure of the path: Which is the right way forward?

One major component of successful change, according to the Heath brothers, is “crystal clear direction.”

Sometimes we make the mistake of gathering all the information needed to convince ourselves or others that change is necessary – Things are bad! They can’t stay this way! If they stay this way, we are headed into sharp decline! – but that knowledge leaves us feeling even worse than before. It’s “TBU- true but useless…paralyzing knowledge.”

The surest way to avoid being paralyzed is to get some clear direction.

This direction can come from any number of sources. Maybe we need to come up with a plan ourselves. Perhaps we need to gather a team and pool ideas. Maybe we need to seek God’s wisdom, or talk with someone who is older, wiser, and more experienced than ourselves. Or, maybe we need to sit down with an outside advisor.

Sometimes, we might just need to wait a bit and see what paths open ahead of us.

(I think the real Aragorn opted for some combination of the above.)

No matter how it comes, having a clear direction enables us to move forward. As the Heath brothers write, “clarity dissolves resistance.”

We can change only when we know the direction of the change, and the clear path we need to take to get there.

Maybe this is worth considering in our own lives. Are there areas in which others have told us we are resistant to change? If we are honest with ourselves, do we know the way forward and avoid it? Or are we uncertain about the right way to proceed?

Once we know the cause of our own lack of forward movement, we can either begin to take small steps in the right direction, or we can wait with peace for things to become clear.


What about you? Have you ever considered that your own resistance might actually be a lack of clarity?