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 ways. Do you:
- 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.
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?”
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.
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?