It has taken me a long time to write this blog post. Not in terms of hours writing (we’re only into the second sentence), but in getting started. That’s often the hardest part. We know what we want to do. We might even need to do it. But we somehow can’t get going. I have written a lot in my life and I still feel the paralysis that kicks in when I face a blinking cursor on a blank page. All sorts of strange things begin to happen. My body is uncomfortable. My mind is filled with a sudden tsunami of self-doubt and self-recrimination that moments before was a gentle tide. The next thing I know I’m busy with a chain of other activities that ‘must be done’ in order for me to ‘work properly’ – making coffee, tidying my desk, replying to that One Important Email (which inevitably becomes Five Important Emails). Fast forward half an hour and I’ve done an amazing job of being busy without completing the one job I set out to do. Of course, this does not just apply to writing, or any other creative endeavour.
It is what Steven Pressfield calls ‘Resistance with a capital R’ and it shows up wherever you’re challenged to change or follow through on something you care about. It is the Great Wall that rises between us and that which we most want to achieve, and a few weeks into the new year you’re probably experiencing it in some way right now. It has broken the hopes and dreams of millions through history, but like all walls it can be conquered. To start one must understand it. Many people, for example, think they have a problem with procrastination. But procrastination is simply what we do when we encounter Resistance. Self-sabotage is another – the tendency to unconsciously create obstacles that prevent us from achieving our goals. Yet another form of Resistance is self-defeating omniscience – the idea that you can magically foresee the future and know that it doesn’t end well. Imagine three different people with the common goal of finding a new job. The Procrastinator might put off applying for positions until her CV is just right, or she’s done all the ‘groundwork’ necessary to ensure she’ll have a successful application. Of course, that time never arrives, or arrives too late. The Self-saboteur will miss a job interview for that dream job because he unbelievably forgot to set his alarm the night before. The Fortune Teller will read recruitment ad after recruitment ad and find a clear reason every time why it’s not even worth the effort of applying because she’ll only be rejected anyway. Everyone knows a story like this, but why do we do it?
Integral Master Coach, Joanne Hunt, suggests that resistance is a natural reaction to change latent in the order of the universe, as named in Newton’s 3rdLaw: ‘For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.’ When we are called towards or confronted with the new, all sorts of alarm bells and defences are triggered. It’s part of the ego’s way of keeping us safe. The War of Art author, Steven Pressfield, agrees, adding that Resistance shows up most intensely when we are called to act in alignment with our deeper purpose. Pressfield’s rule of thumb is, ‘The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we feel towards pursuing it.’ So how do we overcome Resistance and achieve what we were put on this Earth to do?
1 – Spot it
As with change itself, Resistance to change is best engaged consciously. Bringing the light of awareness to how Resistance uniquely shows up for you is the first step in understanding how to overcome it. Set an intention to catch yourself in the moment of resisting a specific action. Look for those areas of your life where you seem unable to convert your goals. Look also for those things that are really important to you and see how you’re showing up in relation to them. Where are you holding back/avoiding/unconsciously creating obstacles? Struggling to spot it? Look for fear. Fear is good – it points us towards our growth edges, which is almost always where Resistance hangs out. For now, just notice and look for patterns.
2 – Bring it close
Next, get curious about your Resistance. Draw in towards it and really feel into it. This can be uncomfortable – there are a lot of difficult emotions attached to Resistance – but look beyond the discomfort. What’s behind it? What are you truly afraid of? What will you truly lose if you go through with the change that’s driving the Resistance? Ask yourself similar self-reflection questions at the end of the day every day for two weeks (for more examples see here) and watch what emerges.
3 – Do the work
The traditional approach to facing Resistance relies on willpower – if you just sit down and apply yourself with enough discipline you will get through it. Unfortunately, the implicit corollary to this thinking is: if you don’t succeed you’re not trying hard enough. This is a reduction of the complexity of factors that drive Resistance and can trigger defeatist self-talk in many people trying to work with their Resistance. Willpower alone is not enough but it is necessary. There’s no getting around the fact that the most important gains of your life are going to take sustained effort and focus. You have to do the work to earn the rewards – that’s as fundamental as Newton’s 3rdLaw.
4 – Turn Pro
Part of overcoming Resistance and Doing The Work is rooted in mindset. And there’s an intentional shift in mindset that separates those who consistently overcome Resistance from those who don’t: turning Pro. This is Steven Pressman’s label for the decision to get serious about what’s important to you – to commit to it with the same regularity that you would a 9-5 job. Clock in. Clock out. Show up no matter what. No drama, no excuses – get the work done.
5 – Find a deeper seat of confidence
‘The amateur tries to overcome fear first – the pro knows that there’s no such thing as a fearless warrior.’ Working with Resistance means doing the work in spite of fear, not in absence of it. Yet, the motivation to achieve your life’s purpose comes from a deeper well, a place that doesn’t know fear. To truly empower yourself in this process, become acquainted with that place. Meditate. Spend quiet time in nature. Practice stillness and reflection. Journal. There are many gates to the kingdom – you need to choose one that works for you. When you do you will begin to notice that your work becomes less personalized – success or failure does not reflect on your true individual value. As Elizabeth Gilbert offers in her phenomenal TED Talk, when we bring something new into existence we are instruments, not the source.
6 – Trust the process
It’s always easier to talk about trust than practice it, because trust is earned. Stay committed to this process and you will begin to find the evidence of its importance. The more open you are to seeing this the more you will begin to trust the process, and it all becomes a little bit easier every time. If you notice how Resistance is showing up as you actively practice these steps towards overcoming Resistance, then you know you’re on the right track.
7 – Repeat
This is a lifelong process. It’s part of the journey. But keep practicing and you will discover amazing riches.