Why you feel resistant about change

You’re faced with something new—a new way of working, a new teammate,  a new manager—and just aren’t feeling it. While you may be able to avoid some changes in life, many are unstoppable, especially at work. I believe a prime example of this dynamic is AI-based technologies, which are rapidly being incorporated across sectors but face widespread resistance from employees.

The good news is that you can take active steps to work through any such block and become more open to embracing change. The way forward has to do with identifying and addressing different kinds of “friction” that are causing you to feel resistance.

I cowrote about friction theory extensively in my last book. But there, the focus was exclusively on other people—that is, how to overcome people’s natural resistance to trying a new product or idea you seek to advance, whether a new business strategy or way to buy houses. Our book talks about methods to remove such friction by recognizing its underlying cause and taking specific steps to unlock larger demand.

Luckily, the concept can be applied to oneself as well, using the same approach: you diagnose the “personal friction” you’re feeling, then apply proven remedies to reframe what you’re resistant to as an opportunity rather than a problem—or at the very least as something manageable. In short, you flip the script, imagining yourself as a member of the audience that others are trying to convince.

The best way to illuminate this approach is to share the four types of personal friction and how to address each.


Inertia is our well-known tendency to favor what we know and resist any kind of change to our routine or workflow—especially the first time we hear about it. Imagine your company announces AI will be incorporated into key processes like research over the coming month, including mandatory training. “That’s going to change everything!” would be a typical, knee-jerk reaction. The trick is to recognize that it’s natural for us humans to favor the status quo. To get past this negative initial reaction, try recalling other times you’ve successfully self-acclimated to something you resisted strongly at first, such as a new technology or organizational structure. Remind yourself of the time it takes to warm to something new and give yourself a grace period to adapt.


Another natural reaction to being told something will change is asserting your ability to say “no,” especially if the change feels forced. So if your manager says, “We will use AI as part of our workflow,” it’s easy to counter—at least in your head—with “Don’t tell me what to do!” Just like inertia, this is part of being human; we protect our autonomy. The way forward here is to reframe the friction-inducing directive as a question: “How might I use AI as part of my workflow?” This framing preserves our autonomy by making the change a challenge to address as opposed to a directive. Instead of resisting, you may now recognize the elements of control and creativity you can have as an author, rather than a victim, of change.


Emotional friction has to do with resisting a change because of the negative feelings it may elicit. It’s natural to be anxious about change, but this often first manifests as anger or frustration. To understand the cause of negative change-related feelings, try asking yourself a series of “why” questions to arrive at the root of the issue. “Why am I feeling angry about the return-to-work policy?” The answer may be, “Because I’m sad I’ll miss time with my family.” Once you know the root emotion—sadness, in this case—you can develop practical ways to address it, such as planning ahead for quality time with the family or checking on assumptions you’re making about how your returning to work will affect them.


Like inertia, this effort-tied friction concerns the perceived amount of exertion adapting to something new will require. When we ask, “How much extra work is this going to take” we tend to overestimate the effort any change incurs, partly because we think of the total amount of effort upfront. Instead, try creating a change roadmap for yourself. Just like we do with health and fitness goals, try breaking the desired change into a series of small steps that ladder-up to the larger transformation—a training schedule, if you will. This shrinks the size of the change from something seemingly herculean to manageable increments.

Personal friction is natural and powerful, impeding us from adapting to many types of change, including those we’d likely benefit from. Use the ideas here to identify and conquer this friction, and to enjoy the rewards of embracing meaningful change.

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