Today I want to write about something that annoys me to no end — RESISTANCE! Resistance is the little gremlins that show up when you contemplate something that matters to you. Have you ever noticed? Resistance doesn’t show up with the little things like making your morning coffee or going outside to pick up the paper, because those things have little impact on your dreams. Oh no, the ugly, green-faced-bug-eyed resistance demon cares nothing about interfering with things that don’t matter to you. Resistance rears its pointy little head most when it comes to things we care about and would love to see happen. In fact, I’d like to submit that the more you care about something the more resistance you’ll encounter. It’s almost like a multiplication equation. Take the task (any task) times how much it matters to you and voila! You have the magical amount of resistance!
My theory is resistance is felt most when we are about to make a personal evolutionary break through — when we are facing the unknown and have to walk through that unknown mist to a new reality. For me, being a writer and involved in creative endeavors, I meet that snarling little, fuzzy headed dude almost daily. You might be thinking, “Why Sandy? Where’s the love?” And, that’s the point I’m driving at. I’m learning to embrace it (not there yet – the operative word is ‘learning’). I’m learning that the mere showing up of Mr. Resistance is a sign I’m working on something important. And, in fact, the more fear and resistance I feel, the more important the project. Why? Because, deep down I know, if I’m shaking in my boots about something and finding every objection in the world, every procrastination I can think of (even cleaning the house or rearranging my sock drawer first to avoid it), it must be something that I care about. It must be something of significance. And, there’s a high probability that it can take me to a better place – a new level – a better life. Uncharted waters? Yes, okay – I’m going there – let’s go! I want what’s on the other side, so let’s push through resistance.
So, if you are feeling resistance about a goal or dream you’ve been thinking about for awhile, here are the 5 steps I’ve come to use that work quite well for me:
1.) First, I’ve developed a radar for resistance. It’s important to start to monitor your thoughts. You want to be able to recognize resistance and be aware of when it shows up. Here’s how resistance shows up. It can feel like anxiousness. Or, it may show up as procrastination thoughts – “I’ve got other things to do” thoughts. For me, resistance most shows up in the form of procrastination. If I find myself going to make another pot of coffee or dealing with a messy pile on the side of my desk or checking email or facebook, and on and on, instead of tackling the important task, I know I’m experiencing a certain resistance. Also, resistance can show up as “It’s just not the right time yet” thoughts — ”Maybe when the kids go off to kindergarten,” “Well, maybe when Billy is driving (I won’t need to be chauffeur service anymore,” ”Maybe when they go off to college,” “Well now here’s the grand kids.” There’s also the “I’m not ready or good enough” thoughts that disguise Mr. Resistance. Your resistance gremlins will throw out thoughts like, “Well if you just read one more book” or “take one more course” or “get one more degree, then you’ll be ready.” I’m not saying preparation is not important. I’m saying the resistance gremlins can throw those thoughts at you for eternity no matter how prepared you are; they’re wily little dudes. I’m not joking, they will get you to procrastinate for a half a lifetime or a whole lifetime if you let them. Listen to your thoughts and know that they should not always be believed. Resistance is a force inside us, all of us, set up to make achieving our goals that much sweeter.
2.) When you identify thoughts and actions of resistance, don’t beat up on yourself, instead be kind to yourself. Recognize them as a normal freak of nature that is universal to all humans. Don’t say to yourself “I’m so weak” or “I have no discipline” or “This is just like me, no follow through.” Instead tell yourself, “This is normal”, “Resistance is a force built inside each of us to set up challenges that we can overcome, to make us stronger, to make life amazing when we break through them to new and higher ground.” Think to yourself, “This is a normal part of being human and I will feel the discomfort of resistance, push through it, and achieve something new and fantastic.” Positive thoughts and self-talk of encouragement and acceptance of yourself works wonders.
3.) Take action. If I notice thoughts and behaviors of resistance toward a task. I say to myself, “Can you just sit down and give it five minutes, Sandy?” Usually, for me, the hardest part is in getting started. Once I say yes to the sitting down and devoting five minutes to the task, it starts to flow and the five minutes turns into 10 minutes which turns into 20. And, I see that it wasn’t that hard after all. Once you are doing the thing that you’ve had resistance to, your mind starts working on all the ways to make it happen rather than all the reasons not to start on it.
4.) If it is a long-term project, like a book or an invention or creation or career goal that takes some time, you may meet with the resistance demons each day that you contemplate working on this passion, this dream. In this case, I’ve come up with some questions that I ask myself. The first one is “If you try this and fail, will you still be breathing in and out at the end of the day?” The answer is almost always yes. If your dream is to sky dive and the answer is “Well maybe yes, maybe no” you may want to continue to procrastinate. Just sayin’, for me, breathing in and out at the end of each day trumps any of my goals. The other question I ask myself is “What is the worst thing that can happen if I fail?” The answers to that usually comes, “I may be a little embarrassed,” “I may lose a little time,” “I may lose a little money.” My next question is “Would the risk be worth it if I succeed?” The answer is almost always yes. If the worst thing that can happen is I lose a little time or money or have a little egg on my face, hey – I can live past that. Now, sit down, Sandy, and do at least five minutes toward the goal.
5.) My last tip sounds tame, but it is by far the most powerful. Practice mindfulness! A lot of people hear the word mindfulness and don’t know what it is or dismiss it because it sounds so milquetoast — “What am I supposed to do – ’mind’ — watch my p’s and q’s?” Or the response is “Oh, that is meditation and I’m not very good at that — tried it once.” Long story short, mindfulness does not sound glamorous, fun or powerful. But, I have to say it is the one most powerful practice I’ve ever implemented into my life and here is why. Science now shows that there is a left-to-right ratio of prefrontal cortex activity that accurately predicts our typical mood range on any given day. It also is a good predictor of how focused we are and our ability to reach our goals. People who have more activity in the left prefrontal cortex are more likely to have more positive emotions, be more resilient when they encounter set backs, and are more focused and serene. People who have more activity in the right prefrontal cortex are slow to recover from negative happenings in their life and are people who tend to worry, stress and ruminate constantly about their past and their future, giving them little time to enjoy the now. The right prefrontal cortex is part of a brain circuit tied to the right amygdala, which is responsible for scanning for possible negative outcomes. It issues a threat alert anytime it puts two and two together and comes up with a possible threat to our happiness, security, health or safety. The thing is…… it is sloppy and not always right. It only has the past with which to compare data. Many people live in a low grade amygdala hijack everyday, in which the mind is racing to solve for possible crisis which may or may not truly exist. Not only is it bad for your health because of all the adrenaline and cortisol it drops into your system, very wearing on the body and immune system, but it also interferes dramatically in your ability to focus on your goals. It is interesting to know that just the thought of reaching a goal makes the left prefrontal cortex light up during interactive MRI scans. Basically, the brain circuit that is involved in getting in touch with body sensations is tied to the left prefrontal cortex and that circuit is competing with the rumination circuit tied to the right prefrontal cortex. In other words, the more activity in one, the less activity in the other. Please visit this wonderful webinar by Dr. Catherine Kerr of Brown University, if you’d like more information on how it works.
The brilliant news is you can train your brain toward more left pre-frontal activity for more sustainable authentic happiness, inner peace, focus and resilience by practicing mindfulness. The webinar I referred to by Kerr explains brilliantly why it works. But for now, I will just give you one mindfulness exercise that will help train you away from the stress and worry side to the focus side. Here is what you do. Anytime you notice yourself stressing or worrying about things out of your control – which is basically just about any thought having to do with the actions of others, just notice the thought and then turn your attention to notice your breathing. I notice my chest as it expands and contracts with my breath and sometimes even count the breaths. Your mind will inevitably drift away to other thoughts, and when it does, don’t give yourself a hard time. Simply pull your attention back to the sensations of your breathing. This trains your focus muscle. Each and every time you gently pull your thoughts back to the sensations of your breathing you are training your brain to have more left pre-frontal activity. More importantly it gives you more clarity and focus. You don’t have the cloud of worry and distraction pulling you from the task at hand all the time. It’s not enough to know about this mindfulness exercise and others, you must practice them to get the benefit. I promise, it is worth the effort. Over time, you will find you are much more clear and at peace and able to focus on things in your life that matter — your life purpose.