by Kim Childs, CPPC
Several years ago, I was invited to be a writer and facilitator on a wonderful project. On the morning it began, I found myself dawdling on my way out the door for the 9am meeting. Once in the car, I encountered rush hour traffic and arrived 15 minutes late. The other staff members, who’d traveled hundreds of miles to be there, were on time and waiting for me…the person who lived two miles away.
Resistance is a force, as natural as gravity and as old as our reptilian brains, that shows up whenever we try to grow or change. Sometimes it’s quietly discomforting and sometimes it’s deafeningly loud. It’s rooted in fear, and reflects a desire to remain safe in our comfort zones, where very little growth or change happens.
“Resistance by definition is self-sabotage,” writes Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. “Resistance obstructs movement only from a lower sphere to a higher. It kicks in when we seek to pursue a calling in the arts, launch an innovative enterprise, or evolve to a high station morally, ethically, or spiritually.”
As a teacher and coach of personal transformation, I see resistance in my students and clients all the time. It’s woven into the list of excuses they come up with for why they didn’t, or can’t, follow through with a plan to make progress on a goal. It may also show up as lateness, crisis, procrastination, confusion, sudden doubt, discouragement (“Why bother?”), and even sickness and injury.
However the forms of resistance differ, they have the same effect: keeping us stuck.
While I still encounter my own resistance, I’ve gotten much better at recognizing and working with it. Kind of like, “Well, hello there, I was expecting you! Thanks for sharing, and I get that you’re scared, but we’re gonna move forward anyway.”
A yoga teaching colleague of mine remarks that this same phenomenon occurs when we encounter our “edge” on the yoga mat. “Stretching into life gives the same edge, only we call it resistance,” she says. “By calling on your strengths, looking at what works, and recognizing the resistance for what it is, you can continue taking forward action with the same deliberate attention you give to a challenging yoga posture.”
Maria Sirois, an author and faculty member at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, says that it helps to try and understand what our resistance aims to protect us from, and see if we need to challenge any false assumptions.
“For example, I may want to be a calmer person, yet underneath that desire is a competing assumption that my anxiety actually protects me from harm by keeping me on constant alert,” says Sirois. “Letting go of anxiety means letting go of the notion that I can control the world. And this doesn’t happen all at once, but in small increments of change.”
In my experience, resistance is overcome by action, and baby steps in particular. We can sneak around the part of us that’s frightened of change by taking small steps, known in Japanese culture as kaizen, or continuous improvement. Such small changes are easier to make, maintain, and build upon, which leads to new habits and developments before resistance can take hold.
In my recent quest to exercise more, I got around my resistance by arranging errands in a part of town that I could walk to. Since I had to return library books and make a bank deposit, why not put on my sneakers and hoof it over there? Eventually, I stopped needing the errands because my body craved the exercise and it became a habit.
On the occasional lazy day, I resist my resistance by reminding myself of the natural beauty I’ll enjoy on my walk, and the buzz I’ll get from the exercise.
Kelly McGonigal, author of The Willpower Instinct, says that linking dreaded tasks to things that bring us pleasure is a good strategy for overcoming resistance. In the book, Kelly writes about a woman who tackled the long avoided de-cluttering of a spare room with the help of Christmas tunes and scented candles. One of my clients recently got through a mound of paperwork by promising herself dinner and a movie afterwards.
It also helped that she’d promised to e-mail me when the deed was done, adding a dose of accountability.
Other clients find success with the “Five Minute Takeoff,” a resistance-busting strategy that involves setting a timer for five minutes and boldly diving into that overstuffed closet, pile of paperwork or languishing creative project with permission to stop when the timer goes off. It breaks inertia, reduces overwhelm, boosts morale, and often gets the job done in less time than we thought possible.
Whatever strategies we use for overcoming resistance, understanding that it’s an inevitable part of growth can help us to recognize and listen to it, have compassion for the part of us that’s threatened, and make gentle progress. Self-compassion, coupled with action, is a powerful combination for getting things done.
Kim Childs is a Certified Life and Career Coach specializing in Positive Psychology, creativity and spiritual living. Click here to learn more and schedule a free consultation in person or over the phone.