May 23, 2016

The Psychology of Resistance & How to Overcome It.

 Aimaness Photography/Flickr

Setting goals tends to go a little like this…

We have a vision, a dream, something to achieve. Maybe we want to lose 10 pounds, or we want to be able to touch our toes when we bend over, or perhaps we want to cook like a chef, or write a book, or run a marathon.

So we have the vision, now we just need to start. The first day of moving towards our desire is exciting and effortless. The second day we feel the momentum, the third day there’s a feeling of lost momentum so we give ourselves a little pep-talk, but after that we’re good to go. By day four we’re not feeling so compelled and we skip a day—saying we’ll start again tomorrow. Day five comes and we sleep in—or the day is jam packed with unexpected obligations—and we don’t have time for our goal. Day six, same thing: too busy. And so the story goes like this and before we know it, it’s three months later and we are exactly where we started; saying, “I’d really like to (_________) one day.”

Yet, that day never seems to align with our life circumstances. The dreams stay just that—-a dream. Is it truly that we are all just too busy, too broke, too tired, too sick, too old, too young, or too whatever to go after what we really want in life?

Or is there something else keeping us from moving what we want from a dream to a living reality?

For years I have been interested in how the mind can enable, or disable, us in getting what we want. In this curiosity I have come to know a part of us that we all grapple with, a part that keeps the best of us from achieving the best of intentions: Resistance.

When I was about six years old my older sister handed me an odd looking toy. It was a colorful, braided, straw-looking cylinder that was open on either end. She told me the way to play was to put one index finger in one end and my other index finger in the other end. I did this and then naively said, “Now what?”

She laughed. I looked at her with a confused and annoyed face and pulled my fingers in opposite directions to release them from the toy only to find that I was trapped! Apparently I was playing the game just right. It was a finger trap and I played right along at my sisters amusement. As she laughed I began getting nervous, having thoughts of what it would be like to live like this forever, to not have my hands free to grab ice cream or climb trees. I began pulling harder and harder only to find the more I resisted the tighter the finger trap got. It was probably only seconds, but felt much longer.

I was afraid from all the stories that came up in my mind. I started to cry.

Finally, my sister stopped laughing and told me to calm down, to breathe. If I stopped pulling my fingers apart and pushed my fingers towards each other the trap would loosen and I would be set free. I hesitated, but did so and the trap released its grip.

I was okay, but I never forgot this moment.

Little did I know then one day I would recognize that moment in time as a profound life lesson in resistance.

I have told this story numerous times in yoga classes, offering it to set the stage for my students’ practice. I encourage them to explore what resistance may come up in the body, and more importantly in the mind. I remind them, “What you resist persists. So see if you can, lean into the resistance just a little and find you have more space than you may have thought. Breathe. Relax. Don’t get caught up in the story. Just notice the space feeling tight, take a deep breath, and lean into whatever it is that is coming up… and then maybe you find a little freedom in that moment, maybe you will find you are not as stuck as you think you are.”

Resistance has many ways in which it likes to get its grip us, hold us tight and keep us stuck, but one of its favorite ways is when we let the story in our mind take over, creating blocks that aren’t anymore real than my tiny fingers being forever trapped in a papery bamboo weaved toy.

Resistance has masks disguising it from what it really is. It’s the story we tell that keeps us from the reality of what is truly taking place. Here are just a few ways in which resistance will try to conceal itself:

  • Procrastination: “I have so much to do!”—like check my email 20 times a day
  • Immediate Gratification: food, sex, or whatever we can think of to distract ourselves
  • Criticism: instead of focusing on ourselves we have endless opinions about how others should or shouldn’t be living and we gossip about this to avoid ourselves
  • Self-Doubt: “I’m not ready,” or “Who am I am to have that?”
  • Analysis Paralysis: when I read yet another book, take yet another course, listen to yet another seminar then I will be ready to start
  • Fear: the mother of all resistance

Really the list can go on and on. Pretty much any excuse on why we aren’t doing what we need to be doing to get what we want to get is resistance. You may not be calling it that, but beneath your story, my friend, you will surely find the root and it is always resistance. I highly recommend reading The War of Art by Steven Pressfield to dive deeper into the ways in which we can camouflage resistance.

So, now what? Now we know the dirty little secret. We know we all have resistance, but how do we deal with it? How do we move with it and through it?

The first thing to understand is the psychology of how it works. The hard cold facts of chemistry; the biology of change. Basically, whenever we experience self-prescribed positive change our bodies register it like this: there is a release of “feel-good” neurotransmitters such as dopamine (major player in motivation), serotonin (enhances calmness and focus), and endorphins (the body’s natural high).

Needless to say, we feel freakin’ fantastic when we start a goal. Effortless is the name of the game, at first. The thing is, eventually the body needs to come back to balance and along with that its normal output levels of the above mentioned chemicals. This is not a bad thing, everyday living can still feel good and fulfilling—-especially if you are going for yours—but when we first drop back to normal output it feels pretty dull. Suddenly the high is not there to sweep us out of bed an hour early for a jog, or to plan our meals the day before, or to sit and write for a couple of hours before starting our regular routine.

Thus begins the resistance.

The good news is now that you know this, you can expect it and not be thrown off course by it so much. That being said, I also want to arm you with a few tips to work with when it does come up. Below are three tools to keep you from getting trapped in the metaphorical finger trap.

Tool #1: Get Out of Your Own Way: Cognitive Reframing

Reframing is a psychological technique of identifying and then reconfiguring a new perspective on maladaptive thoughts. It’s taking something that we usually look at from a disempowering lens and frame it in a way that allows us to see it from a more positive and empowering view.

With resistance for instance, instead of feeling guilty and shameful that you are feeling it and then giving it more power, you can recognize that your feelings of resistance means you are on your way to making positive change—-stick it out a little longer. You need to move past this rough patch so to speak until the change has settled into your neurology, recognizing it as the new you.

Basically creating the space for the pathways to create a new and positive pattern.

Re-patterning (creating new habits) typically takes a minimum of 21 days of consistency. Todd Herman, a sports psychology coach, is quoted saying, “Your resistance is a sign that your system is reconfiguring itself towards success.” So when the going gets tough, stop, breath and reframe. This is a good sign. You are in the process of re-wiring your brain towards success. Lean into the resistance.

Tool #2: Make it a Must: What’s Your “Why”?

Get clear on why this goal is important to you. Create some “stay power” for when the going gets tough.

A goal often looks like this: I want to lose 10 pounds. That’s good, but that won’t stand up very strong against clever resistance. However, how about if you get clear on why you really want this for yourself and transform your goal into a vision! You make it a must, you make it compelling; something that pulls you along when resistance is being stubborn.

Try this: I want to get back to the weight I was when I felt free in my body and looked forward to going out dancing rather than fearful of it.

Now that’s compelling. That has “stay power.”

Tool #3: Remind Yourself Daily: RAS (Reticular Activating System)

There is a part of our brain that determines what we notice in the world. This part of the brain is called the Reticular Activating System, otherwise known as RAS. When we consciously and consistently direct our attention towards something we desire, we begin to send messages to this part of the brain, which in turns causes us to more regularly notice things related to it. We begin to meet people who have done what we want to achieve or come across books or courses that can help us get there.

Quite literally our brain begins to help us manifest support in accomplishing our desires.

Before we know it, we will be singing the synchronicity song rather than the resistance song. We have to do our part and remind ourselves daily of what we want and take some action every day, no matter how small, to move us in that direction.

Author: Amber Campion

Apprentice Editor: Alicia Wozniak / Editor: Renée Picard

Photo: Aimaness Photography/Flickr

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