Befriending Our Resistance

Several years ago, I was invited to be a writer on a wonderful documentary project. On the day it began, I found myself dawdling on my way out the door for a 9 am meeting. I encountered rush hour traffic and arrived fifteen minutes late. The other staff members, who’d traveled hundreds of miles for the Cambridge meeting, were on time and waiting for me, the person who lived two miles away.

It was a cringe-worthy moment, and I blame my resistance.

Resistance is a force, as natural as gravity and as old as our reptilian brains, that shows up whenever we try to grow, change, or create. 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.

“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, won’t, or can’t follow through with actions toward a stated goal. Sometimes it shows up as lateness, crisis (car accidents and car troubles are common), procrastination, sudden doubt, discouragement (e.g., “What’s the use?”), 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 it, acknowledging it, and moving forward anyway if I know in my heart and gut that it’s time to grow.

Case in point: Yesterday I discovered a new training program that will take my work to a new and necessary level. I got all excited in the morning, but in the afternoon I dropped my new cell phone, cracking my screen. Resistance told me that this was a sign that I shouldn’t spend money on the new training because I have to replace my phone. I agreed for about thirty minutes, until I remembered a brilliant line from Leonard Cohen’s Anthem.

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

I currently have a client who is writing her first novel, and keenly aware of how her resistance is riding every keystroke. She tried a few ways to overcome it, such as writing in five-minute chunks, writing in the morning before work, and writing during our coaching sessions. Excitement began to build and words began to flow...until they didn’t. Suddenly, there were protests about having no time or energy for writing amid a host of life distractions. That’s when we had to get into the ring with the inner voices that said, “You never finish anything. What if it’s crap? Who do you think you are? You’re not a writer!” We punched back with truer and gentler statements that acknowledged achievements and made space for growing, learning, imperfection, mistakes and failure on the creative journey.

Sometimes it’s not resistance at play, but a lack of knowledge about how to move forward. In other words, it may not be will power that we need, but way power. We might be willing to put in the time for writing and make it a discipline, but we need help from a mentor, editor, teacher, or other resource to help us find our way through tricky sentences, chapters, plots, and characters .

When it is a matter of summoning more will, we can motivate ourselves with treats for getting into action. One of my clients got through a mound of paperwork by promising herself dinner and a movie afterward. It also helped that she’d promised to e-mail me when the deed was done, adding a dose of accountability.

In the end, resistance is overcome by taking action, and baby steps in particular. We can sneak around the part of us that’s frightened by taking small steps, known in Japanese culture as kaizen, or continuous improvement. Such steps are easier to take, maintain, and build upon, and they lead to new habits and progress.

Whatever strategies we use, understanding that resistance is an inevitable part of growth can help us to recognize it, have compassion for the part of us that feels threatened, and make gentle progress.

Tomorrow I will explore getting my phone repaired and sign up for that training, because staying stuck is just not an option.

 

Kim Childs is a Boston-area writer and a certified life and career coach specializing in Positive Psychology, creativity and sacred living. She leads workshops on The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, by Julia Cameron and writes for Natural Awakenings, Chicken Soup for the Soul, the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health and her own blog, A Pilgrim on the Path. Learn more at KimChilds.com.

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