The 3 Ways People React to Change—and How to Be More Proactive

UPDATED: May 6, 2023
PUBLISHED: July 7, 2015
happy couple moving into a new house

I can still remember sitting around the dinner table at 15 years old, hearing my mother say, “What do you think about moving?” as she casually passed me the mashed potatoes.

What do I think? I think it’s a horrible, terrible, unbearable idea. I love this house, my friends, my school, and the thought of moving again just three years after the last time makes me want to burst into tears! 

“Because we’ve bought a new house and will be relocating in a couple of weeks!” she continued, dribbling gravy over her plate.

Even as adults, we resist change. We get comfortable with our routines, our lives, our friends, our cocktail of choice, even our routes to work—we prefer the security of what we know, even if that’s not what’s best for us. But change is unavoidable, and it’s how we react to it that determines the outcome, good or bad.

How people react to change

For example, let’s say you have a 30-year-old shake shingle roof on your home, and during a home inspection you are told your roof has a slim to none chance of holding up through the winter rain. (Why am I using this example? Because I just wrote a big fat check to the roofing company!) What would you do?

There are usually three ways people react to change:

1. Be non-active.

These are the type of homeowners who find out they have a leaky roof but just sit back, singing the song It Never Rains in Southern California and hoping that will make it so. Basically, they resist the change and choose to remain in denial. If I don’t address the issue, it’s not really there. It won’t happen to me, so I’m just going to continue to go about my business, they think. Or they cop an attitude and say, “It’s not fair. Why me?” Either way, they stay stuck instead of moving forward, set on choosing the pay later versus now approach—and pay they will.

2. Be reactive.

The homeowner starts frantically calling the local roofers and feels the pressure to make a fast decision. They make a choice without all the necessary facts in order to eliminate their immediate stress and worry. It’s a knee-jerk reaction. This is the individual who finds out they may lose their job, freaks out, visits 30 placement agencies and the following Monday they have a new job—but not one that really fits their skill set or talent.

3. Be proactive and positive.

A few months back, the homeowners accepted how old the original roof was and started to do their homework. They asked all their friends and neighbors for recommendations, did research on the internet about roof materials during their spare time and started interviewing roofers suggested by others. The homeowners prepared a budget and started saving for the new roof, which is scheduled to be put on before the rainy season begins. They put their focus on what they could do, focused on the positive outcomes and took action.

This is the ideal way to deal with change—to be proactive instead of reactive, allowing you to take greater control of the situation. And the more we feel we have control over the situation, the less stress we feel. It doesn’t matter if it’s a roof, a divorce, a career restructuring or a diet—when we feel we’ve taken control of a situation, the journey is more comfortable.

How to be more proactive when reacting to changes

Easy to say, but how do you choose to be proactive when it’s so easy to freak out or hide under the covers?

  • Acknowledge that change is part of life. Nothing would exist without change. It’s inevitable. We wouldn’t even be born if our parents hadn’t changed (that is, grown up).
  • Accept your emotions. Tell the truth on yourself to allow all your feelings. Cry the crocodile tears and release the energy as it comes up. Be patient and take the time to adjust to the change. Avoid suppressing or repressing your emotions—something that will have negative consequences in the long run.
  • Reframe the situation to see the positive. After I processed my sadness about having to relocate, I started to dream about future possibilities. I could meet exciting new people, have updated décor in my bedroom and no one would know about that stupid thing I did in the fourth grade!
  • Action is required because decisions, not conditions, determine your path. By deciding to move forward and trust the process, we put our focus on what is available. I took steps to learn all I could about the neighborhood, activities and school. By taking positive action, I was able to let go of my fears and move forward with the belief that everything would work out for the best.

And since change is constant, I had the opportunity to explore these steps once more when my husband and I decided to divorce. I chose to be proactive, cry my river of tears, focus on the positive benefits that came from speaking the truth and took steps to move forward, trusting that all our lives would eventually change for the better. And they have. It required me to move again, but today, my world is spinning with wonderful possibilities.

Remember, every plant needs to be replanted now and again if it’s going to grow. Embrace change and continue to become the person you were always meant to be.

This article was updated May 2023. Photo by Ivanko80/Shutterstock

Colette Carlson is a human behavior expert and keynote speaker who delivers funny and thought-provoking seminars to audiences everywhere. Learn more about Colette at