You Are NOT Lazy. 18 Ways to Overcome Resistance

Are you really just a lazy, undisciplined good-for-nothing procrastinator when you don’t do what you say you want to do? Do you need to take yourself in hand, buckle down, and smarten up? Or is there maybe, just maybe, a darn good reason for that brick wall standing between you and your dreams?

I have been interested in the topic of resistance forever, but never more so than since I retired. Retirement cleared my agenda, blasted my to-do list, and challenged my excuses. Learning how to understand and overcome resistance has become job #1. The alternative is to disappear into a silo of Ripples BBQ chips, flogging myself for making and breaking promises, and living a less-than life.

Signs of Resistance

Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art, says that if you are human, you experience resistance. How does it show up in your life? Let us count the dragon to represent resistance Do you:

  • procrastinate?
  • distract yourself with something that offers immediate gratification–food, organizing, cleaning, shopping….?
  • criticize or blame other people to take the focus off yourself?
  • engage in self-doubt–I’m not ready; who am I to think that I could do/deserve x?
  • get caught in analysis paralysis? I’ll read more books, take a few courses, and then I’ll start.
  • fear–other people’s reactions, your own negative ruminating about the past and how you behaved?
  • feel anxious and indecisive?
  • automatically reject new ideas?
  • sabotage yourself every time you begin to make some progress?

In mythology, resistance is represented by the dragon that stops you, our hero, from fulfilling your destiny. Resistance is no small thing. Again from Steven Pressfield,

“Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.”

Why You Resist

First, the good news. You are not resisting because you are a cowardly sloth, no matter what your Inner Committee (those voices in your head) tell you. Victoria Nelson has written a wonderful book about resistance titled On Writer’s Block: A New Approach to Creativity. While it is especially useful if you are struggling to write or paint, take photographs or draw pictures, it is really about how to overcome resistance of all kinds.

Nelson reminds us that words like ‘procrastinator’ and ‘undisciplined’  are the same as saying you are sick because you don’t feel well. They are labels, not explanations.

Resistance, for all of us, probably has its roots in our brains. We are all hardwired to avoid discomfort and seek comfort. New experiences, even great ones, are on the uncomfortable side of the ledger.

However, claims Nelson, some of us will have an easier time overcoming resistance than others. If you have a strong natural tendency to do what you enjoy, for example, you will overcome resistance more readily than someone who feels duty-bound to accomplish lists of tasks.

And if you are a procrastinator, as I have learned that I can be, that’s the sign of a lack of self-trust and a tiny little problem with attempting to control life. Nelson describes us as “excessively conscientious strivers overwhelmed by [our] own demands.” (p.33)

Eighteen Ways to Overcome Resistance

It’s fine to define resistance and to know that it’s a universal experience, but resistance only comes to life when you’re doing something that is growth-oriented. Todd Newman says it is “a sign that your system is reconfiguring itself towards success.” Tama Kieves puts it more poetically as “the sign that I’m getting too near the gold mine or stash of real change.”

Either way, we can’t stop at understanding. We have to learn how to overcome resistance. Fortunately there are at least eighteen ways to do just that.

1. Accept, No Embrace, Your Resistance

This is the foundational approach. In fact, if you don’t do this one thing, none of the other 17 methods will work.little girl sitting with bandaged stuffed monster doll

When you meet resistance with force, when you try to kick a hole in the brick wall, your resistance will harden and become more entrenched. That’s because your resistance is there for a reason. There’s something in your unconscious that is vetoing whatever your conscious self claims it really wants to do.

If you use your conscious self (your ego) to blow past whatever your unconscious self is trying to tell you, you lose out on the new wisdom, psychological growth, and spiritual insights that your resistance provides.

So the first step is to hug the monster. Embrace your resistance. Truly understand that it has value. This little ditty from Eric Micha’el Leventhal (the apostrophe is not a typo) might help you remember:

“What you hate, you recreate; and what you bless, you put to rest.”

2. Say No

Take responsibility for how you feel. Instead of “I don’t have time for ____” say, “At the moment I don’t want to _______.” This simple step will help you figure out why you are resisting. When you know why, you’ll have a better idea of what to do about it.

3. Make Two Lists

This strategy lets you go a little deeper on #2. One list is “I ought to ______ because…” The other is “I refuse to _______ because….” If you aren’t doing what you say you want to do, the second list of reasons is clearly more powerful than the first. Don’t streamroll over those reasons. Act on them if you can. For example, if a reason in your second list is that you are tired of commitments, try to clear your calendar of commitments for a while and watch your resistance disappear.

4. Dialogue with Your Unconscious

I know, this sounds rather woo-woo, but remember that resistance is often camouflaged as a quick dismissal of new ideas. Give it a try.

Write a dialogue about whatever you are resisting, giving voice to both your conscious and unconscious selves. Give your unconscious self a different name. Afterwards, look at the dialogue and ask yourself: What kind of person is my unconscious? Is she the opposite of my conscious self, or a kindred spirit? Are we at loggerheads or in the process of achieving a resolution? Nelson cautions us not to force a resolution because that’s the ego taking charge again and we know that doesn’t work (see #1).

5. Let Your Unconscious Set the Pace

I’ve found that resistance kicks in for me when I put myself on a strict schedule. If I claim that I am going to write two pages every day, or exercise for one hour between 8:00 and 9:00 a.m., it’s pretty much guaranteed that my commitment won’t last a week.

Nelson explains that in this case, my “conscious expectations of results far exceed [my] unconscious preferences.” What I have to do is allow my “deep inner inclinations, their rhythms and directions” to establish a pattern. Once that pattern has surfaced, my conscious self can try to guide it and build on it, but if I attempt to work faster than my inner rhythm, resistance will rear its ugly head again. (p.44)

6. Notice Resistance in Your Body

Teach yourself to recognize the sensations of resistance in your body. Does it show up as tension in your neck? A tight jaw? A clenched sensation in your stomach? Whatever you notice, just stay with it and breathe into it. The sensation will ease.

7. Treat Yourself with Kindness

All of the above strategies assume that you are willing to treat yourself with courtesy and respect. That, of course, is much easier said than done. Nelson reminds us that “real effort is required to dispel the tendency to tyrannize ourselves.”

8. Be Spontaneous

A friend suggested that, rather than try to schedule exercise, I should put on my running shoes and jump on the treadmill whenever I felt the slightest inclination. It works. Approaching whatever you are resisting in a relaxed and spontaneous manner will keep your desire alive.

9. Back Off

The word ‘try’ as in, “Tomorrow I’m going to try to exercise” is a sign that you are forcing yourself. Instead, how about “Tomorrow I’m going to put my running shoes on and see what happens.” Chances are good that something will, even if it’s only for a minute or two.

10. Push, But Carefully

Resistance to writing can sometimes be overcome by putting pen to paper and writing nonsense. And some artists overcome resistance to painting by getting their brush moving faster than their thoughts. These are good strategies as long as you’re not ignoring what your resistance is trying to tell you.

11. Find Your Why

It’s not enough to claim that something is important. You have to tell yourself why it is important. You need a compelling reason. If you chose a word for the year or you made a vision board, revisit that. That’s a place where you’ve already thought through your ‘why’ in some detail.

12. Visualize What You Want

Creative visualization takes you several steps beyond knowing your ‘why’, into clearly picturing yourself doing whatever it is that you are currently resisting. You’ll find how-to details and a handy printable infographic in my post, How to Unlock the Power of Creative Visualization.

13. Create a Context that Works for You

I can’t begin to comprehend people who can only write in busy coffee shops. Putting myself in that setting guarantees that I won’t have a single thought in my head, never mind on paper. I need silence, solitude and long uninterrupted blocks of time. You too will be better able to overcome resistance if you figure out and honour the context that works for you.

14. Start Small

Just start. Take one small step. Drive to the event that you are reluctant to attend on your own. When you get there, tell yourself you’ll give it five minutes. If that’s too much, give it three minutes before pulling the plug. Anytime you hit a wall of resistance, scale back to something smaller.

Brilliant author John Steinbeck understood the value of small steps. He wrote,

“When I face the desolate impossibility of writing 500 pages, a sick sense of failure falls on me, and I know I can never do it. Then gradually, I write one page and then another. One day’s work is all that I can permit myself to contemplate.”

15. Journal It

It is a well known fact that people who keep food journals lose more weight than those who don’t journal. Further, maintaining a food journal six days a week equates to losing twice as much weight as journaling once a week.

Journaling, whether your goal is losing weight, writing, or being more social, promotes accountability and is evidence of the progress you are making. For journaling to help you overcome resistance, keep a daily record of what you do related to your goal, how it feels, and any relevant circumstances. The single most important thing to remember when journaling is no judgment (see #1)

16. Get Curious

Whether you are journaling or simply talking to yourself, learn to be a neutral observer, someone who finds what you do endlessly fascinating. According to Nelson, if you learn to observe your actions and thoughts as if they belong to someone else, you will be less discouraged when changes don’t happen right away.

17. Conduct an Experiment

Donna took a hiatus from the blogging world for a week and tracked what she did with the hours she recovered. Christie is in the midst of an eight-week transformation challenge to improve her total body composition. I’m living RAW NEWS. If there’s something you really want to do, you might overcome resistance by setting a defined time period and going for it!

18. Do What You Enjoy

Sometimes we just need to give our unconscious a bit of credit! If you are ‘shoulding’ yourself to death and trying to force yourself to do something you don’t enjoy, resistance is actually your friend.

Victoria Nelson makes the interesting point that some writers see the written word in a hierarchy of value.  Literature is at the top, beach reads the bottom. That’s not a problem, unless you happen to be a writer who is really good at penning beach reads, but resisting because you think you should be writing something that will be studied at university forty years from now.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with exploring multiple paths and trying new things. But if your efforts are not allowing you to overcome resistance, maybe ask yourself, “Is this something I really want to do? Does it suit my particular talents and interests?”pile of red bricks

Is It One and Done When You Overcome Resistance?

Unfortunately, no. While the brick wall might well be smashed for a particular action that you’ve been insisting is so important to you, resistance is going to surface every time you do something new/uncomfortable/scary. In this collage I made, there are dozens of sea lions on the beach ready to take their turns roaring at me when I get the first one calmed down.

overcome resistance collage with roaring sea lion

The good news, however, is that courage grows with practice and overcoming resistance, I’m told, gets easier.

And if that doesn’t help, consider the alternative. You get the last word, through your comments, but we’ll give the all but last to Steven Pressfield:

“To yield to Resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we are and were born to be.”

What do you resist? Which of the strategies provided in this post, if any, might help you to overcome your resistance?


  1. Great post, Karen! #18 resonates with me a lot as coincidentally, I set out 18 FEASTs to enjoy this year. I find #12 and #14 help me whenever I delay doing something that I know I’d like to achieve in the long term.

    1. HI Natalie,
      Your successes with your winter bucket list make it really clear that you set goals for things you enjoy. That’s a terrific way to be – not about obligation, but pleasure.
      With the addition of #12 and 14, it sure looks like you have resistance on the ropes most of the time 🙂

  2. Oh, 18 very definitely! If I have to do something, I do it. If I want to do something, I do it. If I say I want to do something and I don’t do it, then I know I didn’t really want to do it after all. Life’s too short to pursue those things.

    1. What a great position to take, Anabel. Were you always this clear about the unimportance of things you don’t really want to do, or is it something that became clear after retirement?

      1. I think it became clearer after retirement. The “have to dos” became fewer and I became better at distinguishing “want” and “think I should” dos. I must add this is only in cases where it’s ok to please myself without impacting on other people!

    2. I like this. I find when I recognize something needs to happen I limit the thinking and just do it. The things that linger on my email or list can sometimes just not be done. There is a satisfaction on clicking delete or crossing it off the list.

  3. Hi, Karen – Great post with many, many very valuable gems! Thank you for sharing the link to my recent ‘experiment’ post. You are right, keeping a journal/log of what I was doing helped me to explore possibilities while keeping me accountable. As an added bonus, it helped break some of my ‘shoulds’ — there were no penalties and the world did not end. (Who knew?)

    1. It’s so wonderfully refreshing, isn’t it, to do what we want and not have anything negative happening. I’m not used to that yet. Even in retirement, I do a lot of ‘shoulding’. Your experiment post was inspiring.

  4. Hi Karen, I finally got a chance to sit down at my computer and not only read another excellent post here on PJ but comment too.
    The first sentence sounds like my internal dialogue much of the time when I deal with resistance. I had a chuckle when I read your alternative of disappearing into a silo of Ripples BBQ chips. That would be my go-to alternative as well but mine would be a silo of Lays Classic plain chips…mmm, salty goodness. The signs of resistance for me are; procrastination, engaging in self-doubt and feeling anxious and indecisive.
    Things I might try from your list are definitely #1 (after all if I don’t embrace my resistance nothing else I try will work), #3 – I love making lists, #11 – finding my WHY, and #14 -starting small really appeals to me. Thanks for corraling all these hints into one post, I do believe I will revisit this post if the above-mentioned numbers don’t work for me.

  5. You mean I am not the only one who struggles with resistance? 🙂 This is another insightful and helpful post, Karen. I’m sure this action of resistance and the “fight” between the conscious and the unconscious mind is universal. In women, anyway. I really like the quote “Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.”

    It is helpful to define the difference between “I don’t have time for …” and “I don’t want to do …” I have realized that it boils down to what is more important at the moment and how to prioritize our precious time. Always claiming “I don’t have time” doesn’t help, even though I am very good at this excuse.

    My example is writing (or now, revising) my memoir. There are real excuses to not continue, like family emergencies, travel between house sits, getting settled, and real-time issues with other jobs. But, when I finally am past all that, and I commit the time to write again… something else is blocking me.

    First, I think, after all this other work and exhaustion, I need a break and that means not write yet. Then, I try to find other things to do: blog, cleaning, petting the dogs. Something keeps me from picking up the work and the pace again. The solution: don’t be too hard on yourself and sit down to do one page, or read back what you last did. Small steps, indeed! Which is what I attempt right now.

    1. I was partly thinking of you when I wrote the post, Liesbet. I’m very glad that backing off and taking very small steps is your current response to resistance. I think I remember that you took some time away before the last big push to finish your first draft. It sounds like what you need – as opposed to beating yourself up, that is!

  6. I too like the quote referred to by Liesbet. It provokes a lot of thought. However, I also find that whenever I have had a very serious goal the paths to achieving it are clear and direct. On the other hand, there are some goals I have that stay around forever and like Anabel I have to wonder whether I really want to do it or not, whether they are worthwhile or not etc.

    1. That’s interesting, Fran. Good noticing. I wonder if there’s a difference in the nature of the serious goal? Is it something that has a nodding familiarity with your old life so you see the path to its achievement as a series of steps? And maybe some of the other goals are less familiar and therefore more amorphous? Or maybe it’s as simple as you say and there are just some things you really don’t want to do so you should just delete them from your list.

      1. That’s a good point Karen. Upon reflection though, when I was taking the direct path if there was something I was not familiar with, I was quite direct in becoming familiar with whatever it was.

  7. What a fantastic title! I am going to read anything that tells me I’m not lazy. Because even though I joke about it, I am far from lazy. Starting small works for me when I’m stuck, but I love that I now have 17 other strategies to try, Karen. Being kind to myself is always a challenge – I am such a slave driver! And I am going to try writing two lists – that would be eye opening I do believe. And embracing resistance is an approach that I imagine would deflate the power of resistance. Inspiring post!

    1. Thanks for commenting, Molly. We share the inner slave driver tendency. It’s definitely the work of this part of my lifetime to overcome the self-judging, critical, harping one inside. If you find something that really works for that, please do let me know!

  8. This was a very meaty post and has taken a bit of time to digest. I certainly saw myself in the signs of resistance. The strategy of stopping to ask yourself ‘why’ you don’t want to do something is a good one. I suspect the ultimate answer to that question will be an eye-opener.
    You’ve certainly given me a lot to think about.

  9. Karen, a post to read and re-read.

    I was struck by a line in a play we saw this week. The character had a fear of driving (he was dealing with survivor guilt from a car accident he caused) and he needed to drive someone 100 miles. He said “OK, I’ll drive you one mile”. “It’s 100 miles we need to go” was the response. “I’ll drive you one mile. Then I’ll drive you one mile. And then another one mile.” Made me go “wow” on thinking about my own activation energy this year. I’m taking small steps on activating and rewarding myself for those steps. I’ve become aware of a big “why”. I’m being open to possibilities.

    Now you’ve given me a few other tools to think about using to help. (vision board the actual activities I seem to be unable to activate, thinking about finishing the “I refuse to do this because” statement) Thanks!

    1. My pleasure, Pat. I’d promised you I was going to do that in response to your great post about the activation resistance you’d been experiencing.

      Love the example from the play you saw. I’m seeing a play this week too – Sister Act tomorrow. It should be lots of fun but I doubt it will have anything quite as meaningful as yours. 🙂

  10. Hi Karen,

    What a great post to read, and refer to over and over again!
    I’ve spent too much of life beating myself up for resisting, instead of acknowledging it and addressing why. And a lifetime of denying myself time to do things that bring me joy or further my goals, because I feel I have other duties/obligations that have (?) to come first. That is slowly changing, and this post will be one I will come back to, for strategies to deal with why I am practicing self-sabotage when it comes to goals. Thank you!


    1. Hi Deb,
      I am very grateful that this post was helpful to you and that you said so! I totally share the pattern of beating and denying myself, and of putting others’ needs first and only. I think many on this site can identify.
      Slow change is the way to go – frustrating because it’s slow, but definitely the way to go. So glad we’re all on the journey together.

  11. I have a tendency to procrastinate but, on the other hand, I do a lot of exactly what I want to do, so #18 is definitely for me! I keep a whiteboard in my office with a list of specific things I want – or need – to do (see a current Latin art exhibit, try the new restaurant that just opened in our neighborhood, finish sewing the pillow cover, etc.) so I’m not stumped when I’m looking for something to do… otherwise “out of sight, out of mind” and I’ll just settle in and read a book – not that there is anything wrong with that!

    1. I love that your whiteboard list is want to as well as need to, and that you are actually able to leave those tasks ‘out of mind’ when they are ‘out of sight’. I want to learn how to do that, Janis!

  12. I love the idea of jumping on your treadmill whenever the fancy takes you! There’s a lot to be said for habit but we also need the freedom of spontaneity in our lives because we’re not machines.
    I’ve definitely found the key to overcoming my own resistance to be the pursuit of joy. The more I follow my instincts towards work that I love to do, the less resistance I feel. If I feel it now, it’s normally because I need to change something – not necessarily a radical change, it might be a small tweak. It’s a sign that something isn’t sitting right in my subconscious.

    1. I so agree about the need for spontaneity, Cherry. It is so easy (for me at least) to get caught up in routines and charts of routines, but in the last few years my entire being has rejected those things. Here’s to pursuing joy as the perfect metric for every decision we make in life.

  13. Oops, I’m eating ripple chips as I read this.

    The list of signs of resistance sounded just like my life. As I read it, I mentally said, “yep,” for every single one.

    In my career, I had to do many really hard things, as well as dull tasks that I did not want to do, every day. I learned to force myself to do them anyway. I know that I grew in my profession and as a leader by facing my fears and meeting those challenges, but I think that I also wounded some essential part of myself. It was not a healthy way to be. Now whenever that cruel internal slavedriver insists that I must do something, I just can’t or won’t. Resistance.

    I love painting, and I love writing, and I just do them and enjoy them as long as I can keep can keep that bossy, demanding internal commander quiet. As I have written before, though, I often have trouble right at the beginning getting started. I’m looking forward to trying some of the strategies on your list.


    1. You’ve provided me with an ‘aha’ moment, Jude. I hadn’t made the connection you point out between forcing oneself to do throughout a career and then resisting in retirement. I’m going to give that one a lot of thought.

      I hope that some of the strategies will be helpful for you. I’m experimenting with them myself and am finding most of them super useful.

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