Friday, August 7, 2009

Change Resistance and Me

I've been thinking long and hard about my own change resistance. After all, I've never really considered myself to be change resistant.

  • I'm usually happy to test out new versions of software
  • I'll ocasionally find new music that I like
  • I'll generally take to a new car quite happily

What could I be change resistant about?

The funny thing is, that the more I try to find things that I'm not resistant to, the more I discover that I am actually very resistant. It turns out that change resistance isn't some giant misstep at all but rather a series of smaller resistances which build up over time.

The Big Examples
It's easy to find big examples of change resistance in my life because they're the things I feel strongly about. What is interesting though is that they're not all "sensible" things. In fact, often my change resistance overrules the sensible alternatives.

House Change
Recently we "moved house", actually since we did a knockdown-rebuild, we moved house twice. I was initially quite resistant to the idea but pressure from my wife eventually wore me down. We had looked around at houses and although we found some which were passable the thought that kept going through my mind as we looked was that there was too much change at once. The house, the area and perhaps even the kids schools. I wasn't sure that I could cope.

When the decision was made to knock down our old house and build a new one on the same site, I relaxed somewhat. It was good to know that we'd be keeping the same location at least. I probably should have shed a tear over the passing of the old house but instead, I was far more concerned with the temporary move (one year). I had a lot of problems dealing with that move - and so did the kids. The move back, once our house was completed was a bit easier but by then I'd accepted the change of location and become resistant again.

It was a stressful time for me and my family. We had some fierce arguements and it's only now that I can see how big a part my change resistance played in those arguements.

I'm coming up to ten years in my current job and I've been asked on several occasions by my wife, colleagues and friends, why I don't leave. Sometimes I'm treated well at work and sometimes I'm not. I'm quite often saddled with blame for other people's mistakes because I'm fairly accepting of blame. I'm always willing to assume that I've made a mistake, even when I know that I haven't, because it's preferable to the emotional games that other people play when they don't get their way. Similarly, I quite often have others claiming credit for my work. Since we don't get output-based bonuses at work (there are bonuses but the real reason for their allocation escapes me), there's no issues there, so I don't bother fighting for it. The confrontation isn't worth my effort. If that's not enough, I tend to work close to 50 hours per week, sometimes more.

In short, sometimes work is a nightmare but I won't leave because I'm resistant to change. It would take a major upheaval at work for me to decide to brave the change and move to another job. In fact, in my last two jobs, I only left when all of my colleagues did. In both cases, the entire IT department left within one month of eachother. The first time it happened, one of my best colleagues had been given a redundancy which he wasn't happy about taking. The fact that the entire department left bought him about five more years of work.

I'm usually happy to upgrade from one version of software to another and I tend to be quite open about trying new things. Non-competing things that is. Until very recently, I wouldn't consider a mac or linux environment at all. I was a DOS/Windows person and everything else was "evil". It's a sign that Microsoft's latest moves are seriously irritating me that I've started seriously considering the alternatives. In terms of email and workflow packages, I've used IBM Lotus Notes/Domino heavily in my last three jobs. I'm not a fan of the alternatives and will generally give a distasteful expression whenever they're mentioned. I've often said that I woudn't take a job that didn't involve these systems. It's not that I couldn't easily learn the alternatives but simply that I'm so resistant to change, that I wouldn't accept them. If they decided to change at my workplace, it could be the catalyst that makes me seek employment elsewhere.

The Small Examples
The smaller examples of change resistance aren't so obvious but they have far more impact on my day-to-day life than their larger cousins.

Ever since I was a kid going shopping with my mother, I can remember being quite accepting of clothes provided that they met one simple criteria. They needed to be identitical to clothes I already had in my wardrobe. New styles, patterns and colours were never readily accepted and would sit in my closet for years until I either outgrew them or ran out of clean clothes and got desperate enough to wear them. After a while, my mother learned this trick and would make rules. "We can stay in the shop all day long but we're not leaving until you've got a new shirt and new pants". Eventually I'd give in and get what was, in my opinion, the best of a bad bunch.

My mother would then wait for a few weeks and then stop washing my clothes. She would engineer the reason I needed to wear the new clothes. Once worn, though sometimes it would take several "wears", the clothes would stop being "new" and I'd be able to wear them anytime.

My mother was very clever when it came to outwitting the aspie mind. Another clothing trick that my mother used to pull was to buy several copies of the same clothes with different colours or patterns. Sometimes it didn't work but most of the time it paid off. Once I liked one shirt, I could wear others of the same brand and style. There was a period in the eighties where I had just about every shirt you could possibly get with a crocodile or penguin on the pocket. Looking back at old photos, I can see what I dag I looked like then but at least I had "new" clothes.

Like many progressive companies, we had "casual Friday" at work each week. When our new CEO came in, about four years ago, he changed the rule to allow for casual clothes every day except when we were involved in outside meetings. The result; even now, I wear a shirt and tie every Monday to Thursday despite the fact that I almost never have meetings. Every Friday, I wear casual.

In fact, I've been so consistent in my behaviour that most of the staff have since forgotten the "everyday casual" rule and started to follow the same pattern. It's probably because the rule hasn't been reiterated recently and because I've been there longer than most.

My life is full of old routines which stem from change resistance.

Unexpected gifts cause lots of problems for me. I'm generally not a "brand" freak but I'm very particular about what I want in terms of features. In particular, if I've already got something that I love and it breaks, then usually I want the replacement to be exactly the same (or have a few new features). I have a really hard time accepting things that other people choose for me. I'm also aware of just how insulting that lack of acceptance can be. This sets up major dilemmas. People often get confused by my lack of enthusiasm over gifts but it's usually because I'm trying to reconcile my natural change resistance with the politically correct version of acceptance that I'm supposed to project.

What's worse is that my confusing facial expressions at this point lead them to ask directly whether I like the gift or not. This makes matters worse because it sets up a secondary internal struggle between lying (which I can do, but hate doing) and being honest but hurting feelings. It doesn't take much of this to send me into a near meltdown state particularly when the unanswered questions are repeated, which due to my deafness and failure to answer, occurs frequently.

No. I have a major problem with gifts although money and gift vouchers usually do the trick nicely because they neatly avoid the problem.

Pattern Breaking
The last part of my change resistance deals with pattern breaking. Patterns mean a great deal to me and I'll often buy something specifically based on a pattern. Books and DVDs are a great example of this. When buying books, I tend to focus on a specific cover pattern and try to buy all my books in the same edition. This makes them look nicer on the shelf. There are a bunch of things that really irk me about this though.

  • When authors have two regular publishers and therefore NEVER have a single pattern across all of their books (Stephen King, I'm looking at you).

  • When the pattern is inconsistent, with some covers being white and some being black (but with roughly the same pattern).

  • When authors bring out a book with an extraordinarily long title which can't be done using the existing pattern and require a font change.

  • When a change of publisher's logo forces the spine to be printed higher up and the pattern doesn't line up with the other books/items in the series.
I'm not sure if pattern changing is a change resistance thing or not but the effect is certainly similar. Sometimes I'll spend years wanting to read an easily obtainable book but not doing so because I want to get a specific patterned version. Sometimes, a sudden change of pattern, particuarly when it's the last book in a series, manages to elict a cry of frustration from me.

If that's not change resistance, I don't know what it is. (obsessive compulsion maybe).


Saja said...

Gavin, I can relate. I love your description of "pattern breaking resistance." I have this with lots of tiny things that, alas, my family's oblivious to: the way the green and gray glasses alternate in the cabinet, for example.

I always thought of myself as a pretty "go with the flow" person until I discovered my autism five years ago. Then, suddenly, all kinds of little resistances to change became visible. I dislike ALL changes, it turns out, even ones that are positive, like finding out, after the point I'd assumed they weren't coming, that my brother-in-law and his girlfriend will be visiting on a child's birthday. My first reaction is ALWAYS negative. Consternation, frustration, and only then pleasure.

For little things, the consternation-frustration phase usually takes less than sixty seconds--apparently I had trained myself, after all, to be a "go with the flow" person, but I could never lose those first sixty seconds. And if you're near me in that first minute, you'll see the frustration and consternation pass over my face and in my first remark or two. Then--whoosh--it's gone, pushed down under a more socially acceptable response.

Rachel said...

Gavin, this is an absolutely wonderful post. I so relate.

Unless I'm completely miserable to the point of despair, I don't like change of any kind--unless, of course, I control the change, which is why I'm constantly changing the positions of the objects in my loft until I get them *just right*. And even when they're *just right*, they can always be *even more right.* But even that self-imposed change is a kind of resistance to change, because I'm attempting to order my environment in such a way as to create stasis in a world that will not stay static for more than a second or two.

The Rambling Taoist said...

I think "change resistance" is a very common trait shared by most aspies. I've written about my weird patterns on my blog.

Two examples. First, I wear the same thing everyday -- hickory-striped overalls, a T-Shirt (short-sleeves in the summer, long-sleeves in the winter), and a pair of Converse high tops. A few months ago I had to dress in "normal" clothes for an appointment. When I stopped by the local market on the way home, everybody freaked. They had never seen in me in anything but my usual getup.

Example #2: I love peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The peanut butter HAS TO BE Jif and the jelly HAS TO BE Welches grape jelly. Not only that, but the sandwich itself must be made in a particular way or I won't eat it. It's really insane that a 51 year old man won't eat a sandwich if it's now made in the precise same way, but I am who I am. : )

midwestcoast said...

Gavin, I relate to your aversion to changing patterns of books. I collect comic books/graphic novels/trade paperbacks and due to lending (and never getting back) the last two in the trade paperback series The Sandman, I have been without them for several years. Recently, as a gift, I received the last two in the series. (I have similar struggles with receiving gifts also.) But over the past several years, the publishers changed the entire way the cover and spine of the novel looks. I kept them, but they look terrible along side the earlier additions and I haven't been interested in looking at my comic book collection for some time now. The different covers really bother me.


Elizabeth said...

I was going to comment on your mom's cleverness but I am too busy laughing my head off at the Taoist. My husband could have written that!

Jif peanut butter and Welch's grape and heaven help me if I buy something else 'cuz he's not eating it.

Gavin, do you think realizing your aversion to change makes it any easier to prepare for or accept change or is it still just as hard?

Anonymous said...

Gavin, I had a situation at work in regards to performance bonuses, except they were called Superior Performance Awards. It took me 15 years to figure out on what basis they were awarded. Some people seemed to get them on a regular basis and other people like me never received one even though everyone was always happy with my work.

I finally realized at some point that the people who received the awards worked a lot of overtime. Further I realized that they worked a lot of overtime because they were not particularly good at their jobs and had to work overtime just to get their job done on time.

I rarely worked overtime because I was able to get my work done during regular work hours. I made sure I did because I hated leaving late as the traffic would be terrible and I really needed my daily away from work time.

If you worked a lot of overtime it appeared as though you were putting out a lot of extra effort compared to someone who didn't work overtime and therefore you received these awards.

When I finally realized what the criteria for the awards were, I marched into my supervisor's office and explained it to him. Fortunately he was a really good guy who understood my frustration and figured out a way to get me one.

I have no idea if this is applicable to your job or not, but maybe it'll shed some light on it.

Gavin Bollard said...


I'm not sure that knowing that I'm resistant to change makes it any easier since usually I'm unaware of my resistance at the time.

I think that in some cases, knowing that it's coming from something "outside" of me, helps me to be more understanding when it impacts my relationship but foreknowledge also worsens the gift-acceptance and/or purchasing problems. For example; I hit a major dilemma when Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows came out because I needed to read it before someone spoilt the ending but I didn't want to buy a hardback since my paperbacks all sit nicely together on the shelf. In the end, I accepted that my need to read without being spoilt was greater than my immediate pattern issues and bought the hardcover. Of course, I know that it's only a matter of time until I either re-purchase the book as a paperback or worse still, re-purchase the other six as hardbacks.

Gavin Bollard said...


Your explanation might explain why I usually get a bonus. I've always accepted nothing less than perfection at work - and I tend to work 10-12 hours per day (plus do work at home and on weekends) because I need to achieve that perfection.

damo74 said...

Patterns and numbers. I'm currently being pushed outside my comfort zone. I normally have 8 spoons of yughurt at a time (heavily rationalised and justified of course). I have been told to have 6 then 10 the next day, then then 9 and 7 and then 3. Currently doing my head in big time.

Its being done to teach me that the world will not stop if I break my patterns/rules. I immediately thought of ways to avoid the comfrontation but I need to learn that some of rules are flexible/irrelevant.

Not easy but if I cheat, I'm only cheating myself so whats the point of it. Damn, she's good.

Saja said...

That's one thing that I think family, especially kids, has been good for. At some point I HAD to give up my inflexibility regarding patterns and household order, or go insane. Not that these things don't bother me; they do. But I've consciously chosen not to dwell on them for as long as my kids are little. Or maybe as long as they're living at home. Ack. :-)

Sometimes, of course, I snap (as I did last night in the Cheese Freakout moment, when I took my husband to task for buying the "wrong" brand of cheese), and sometimes I just have to insist that people do things my way, because I can't be TOTALLY flexible. I need my patterns and my sense of order.

Lately, I'm trying to enjoy the process of organizing and cleaning things, which is very calming for me, and not dwell on how quickly it gets undone. It's hard to remember, but it does seem to help.

Anonymous said...

Software: Firefox!
I do NOT like the things they've changed from v2 to v3.

damo74 said...

I have no issues with firefox. I run default settings.

An update on my yoghurt "test". I want from 12 spoons per sitting to 3 because I choose to an not because I am compelled to.

Wasn't a fun lesson but I got there.

Paul Anderson said...

I recognise myself so much in this post specifically the pattern breaking.

In the UK and Ireland, most DVD publishers will print the same sleeves for their releases, featuring both the ratings for the UK and Ireland (UK in red, Ireland in a blue circle). However a pattern breaks when the classification between countries differs and the DVD for example, is a "12" in the UK and a "15" in Ireland, in which case two sleeves will be produced and which ever one you buy will have only one rating, which a lot of the time means that the text size and spaces between logos, company name, anti-piracy-holograms is changed to expand to cover the space left. Which means if you have a collection of DVD, say the entire James Bond franchise, the spines look very inconsistent.

My special interest involves collecting CDS and cassettes etc by my faveourite band Garbage from around the world. I have learned to cope with inconsistencies between different record labels and territories, but certain regional differences really irk me. Parental Advisory labels printed onto CD album booklets annoy me no end (usually American releases, for UK artists its usually a sticker that is peeled off) or the FBI Warnign logo on the sides of the artwork. When I first bought an American pressed CD single, it was in a thick album style jewel case, and not a thin slimline one like UK and Europe generally use. That irritated me for about 2 years until I bought some more American releases and had a set which were consistent with each other, even outwith the whole collection.

Miss Patrice said...

I detest change, I detest surprises!
I have my own ordered world where everything has it's place. If anything is disrupted then I cannot cope.

I postpone everything to the last minute but I feel that is because I am a perfectionist and everything has to be detailed and precise to my specifications. Most of my life has been studying and the thought of leaving university is frightening because I cannot handle the 'change.'

btw... I have comorbid bipolar spectrum disorder.