Resistance Isn’t Going Anywhere; Here’s How to Manage It
A process flow for working with the sort of resistance that can hold us back from working in our best interest.
Resistance is a lifelong companion. You’ll encounter it in anything challenging or meaningful you do. Things like learning something new, parenting, being creative, adjusting to an unfamiliar environment, and yes, attempting to create more purpose in your career will all incite resistance. Over and over and over again. bank on it.
So forget about overcoming it once and for all and aim for a more reasonable goal of management.
Managing resistance involves understanding, acceptance, and perseverance. You know it’s coming, you’re more or less ok with that, and you know that what ultimately serves you best is to let it have its say then do the hard thing and keep moving forward.
This takes a lot of practice, and in some areas we might not recognize as being directly connected.
It starts with humility. You want to see yourself as a human being like all others; fallible, unsure, and prone to getting stuck, but doing the best you can in this particular moment. Our respective veneers vary widely in thickness and effectiveness, but they’re veneers all the same, protecting the inner uncertainty and vulnerability that’s a fundamental part of every human experience. Try to practice detaching from the exterior that we show to the world (including the possessions, titles and other things we tie our identity to) and move inside to the softer, more genuine core.
This creates context for you to be kinder to and more flexible with yourself, something you need to dig into the messiness that follows. You won’t like some of what you find, but beating yourself up about it is the surest way to stay stuck. Give yourself a pass. Maintain the humility and remember you’re choosing to do the work, to venture into unexplored territory, to change.
Next, presence. Like humility and self-compassion, presence is a topic of infinite depth, so I’ll call that out upfront and keep it pretty surface-level. The bottom line is you want to practice being more aware of your thoughts (especially the patterned variety), physical sensations, and triggers. Whether you build this skill this by means of a proper meditation practice, setting periodic ‘awareness’ reminders/alarms, or some other method, the goal is simply to – as best you’re able – objectively notice what’s happening inside. If you’re too distracted or charged to have much awareness in the moment, running an after-the-fact replay for yourself can also produce the same sort of insight. In any case, stay light on the judgment.
From this presence practice comes increased familiarity. You start to see things like when you’re angry you feel hot and can’t listen, when you’re tired you’re more irritable, or when faced with a challenge that inner voice starts laying out the case to turn back. And the better you get at recognizing these associations, the higher the likelihood that you can catch the undermining pattern and stop it in its tracks.
I’m part of a small group of colleagues that functions as a kind of accountability circle. This can be a very valuable thing for us solo entrepreneurs who can chase tangents and procrastinate endlessly if we stay in our bubble. Basically, we tell each other what we intend to do at the beginning of the week and then follow up on how we did at the end.
Week one went well enough for the group as a whole and for me personally, so it didn’t make much sense when at the beginning of week two I suddenly found myself not wanting to engage. I started to create narratives that it was another thing on my already-full plate, that the way we communicate – a Facebook message thread – is distracting. I felt slightly annoyed and overwhelmed because it was Monday morning and I was looking up at the mountain of tasks for the week. I didn’t want to deal with it, and so for the first part of the morning I didn’t, instead jumping into other tasks but repeatedly thinking about the group and my intentions for the week.
Around noon it hit me: the irritation, the story about it being the straw that might break the camel’s back, the deliberate inaction were all manifestations of resistance. Hey, I know these things; they’re what I tend to feel and do when something is challenging and it seems easier to just walk away.
What I realized is I wasn’t resisting engagement with the group, but rather putting myself on the hook to complete some specific and measurable tasks this week. I hold myself to a pretty high standard on following through when I say I’m going to do something, so the commitment can actually be more daunting than the action. I was resisting having to do the hard work.
Having recognized what was going on inside the operating system I then had to ask, which route serves me best: avoiding/sandbagging intentions or challenging myself and working to move forward? Put more simply, cushy stagnation or focused production?
Boiling it down like that to a very simple question of what’s best for yourself generally serves as a checkmate on resistance. It’s left fully exposed, clearly not an ally but a meddling, undercutting enemy of progress and growth. When you see it this way, you’re likely to brush right past and do the difficult but rewarding thing.
Exposing and moving past resistance just once yields the very empowering knowledge that the next battle with it is absolutely winnable, and you’re creating this reallocation of power by continually getting a little more friendly and familiar with yourself.