Wrestling with inner conflict about whether to do something now, or later, or never, is a battle so fundamental to being human that Prince Hamlet’s famous lament “To be, or not to be…” is among the most memorable questions of all time. Hamlet struggles to decide between enduring another day of life, with all its anguish, or choosing death, with all its uncertainty. While most of us are thankfully not often faced with dilemmas requiring a choice between two such profound alternatives, we still spend precious time and energy in poetic indecision, weighing out plusses and minuses before choosing to act, or not act.
Any external force that stops us from moving forward with an action or a decision is resistance. Resistance can also be an internal force. Internal resistances are rooted in comfort with what is familiar and in our instinct for self-preservation when faced with change. The value of being stuck in a well-developed behavior is self protection. Some people flow with new situations and disruptions more quickly and comfortably than others. Nevertheless, we all experience resistance at some time because it is the way we slow things down to safeguard ourselves against the unknown, which could be fraught with danger and pain.
Internal resistance shows up in many forms, including: anger and aggression toward others, anxiety, avoidance or procrastination, blaming, denial, distractibility, excuses, flight, guilt, inattentiveness, interrupting, physical symptoms like headaches or fatigue, rationalization, self-sabotage, and stress. When you get in the way of getting things done you are experiencing resistance. When you force back feelings you don’t want to feel or shift away from thinking about issues you prefer not to recall, that is resistance.
Friend or Foe
On the one hand, resistance is a friend, when danger is real. For example, you might hesitate if you sense that a particular action could be a career-killing move. Would doing something to advance yourself over your team cause an irreversible breach of trust? Could something be done at another time – just not right now – to mitigate negative consequences? Is the risk in saying something, or in how it is said? Resistance can be your friend when it enables you to pause, to manage your emotions and behavior, and honor intuitions helping you ‘survive’ or thrive in a given situation.
On the other hand, resistance is a foe when your feelings and rationalizations hold you back from doing your job or continuing to develop new skills, try new things, again new insights, or see any value in getting ‘unstuck.’ When you are able to distinguish between real and imagined dangers, it can make all the difference in how efficiently you manage your energy and your day.
Our limbic brain is primitive, non-verbal, and responsible for our feelings. It doesn’t know the difference between fears that are real or imagined. Once ‘danger’ is perceived we shift to ‘fight or flight’ and those responses are not always expressed as observable behaviors. Internalized ‘fight or flight’ can throw us off track because decisions made under their influence still seem rational. For example, if you are promoted to a position of greater authority, it will take time for you to fully integrate your identity into the new role. Some people will want to be perfect from day one, and may resist taking risks out of fear of making mistakes. The anxiety around the possibility of being judged poorly can take on a life of its own and start to slow the organization down. Resisting for too long might feel like prudence, but to others eagerly waiting for leadership, it can feel like aloofness, obstruction, or incompetence.
There are ways to work around resistance and thereby diminish its power. I offer you these seven steps:
- Acknowledge that you can be your cagiest opponent and that you are capable of outsmarting yourself. Try to get a true sense for how badly you want something.
- Accept that you might not ever fully understand why it is so hard for you to start or finish something you want to or must do. Allow yourself to not know why.
- Admit when you alone are responsible for not doing something.
- Ask yourself kindly, ‘what story am I telling myself about what is going on here?’
- Answer ‘What do I need to help me break through the cycle?’ What one, new, concrete thing could I do to change my position relative to my goal? Your resistance will tell you where your energy is stuck.
- Activate – Do that one thing.
- Acknowledge your progress and go back to #1.
My Story: Overcoming Bloggers Block
For many professionals, developing an online presence is a necessary or possible advantage. The lowest hanging fruit is the website. What about blogging? I have spent hours enabling my inaction trying to answer that question.
Is it really necessary?What should I write about? How likely is it that a random reader would care to know my opinion? What if someone thinks my writing is bad, or my ideas are idiotic? What if I say something someone else has already said? I’m tired. I don’t have time today. What would the return on my investment of time be? Will blogging lead to new clients? What if I don’t get any ‘likes’? What will I do if my blog goes viral? Will blogging further erode my privacy? Since I enjoy writing, wouldn’t it be better to just write a book instead of a blog? I think I need to do a little more research.
For those of us who have endured that kind of thinking and intentionally chosen not to blog, that is fine. For those of us who like to write and want to blog but spend more time resisting than writing, I ask, ‘what do you need to convince yourself that it is safe and possible for you to proceed, even if some of your concerns turn out to be true?’
I am posting today because I took myself through Resistance Assistance (above). I identified that what I needed to get unstuck was to find another person who shares this particular blog-resistance, agree that there was no longer any value in staying stuck, and to hold each other accountable to writing and posting. Heather Kennedy, Sparq Coaching and Consulting, turned out to be just that person. Together we founded the Content Creation Society. We have agreed to the SMART Goal of one blog per month. We write then critique each other’s work, provide supportive accountability, and stand as offensive linemen against each other’s resistances. We have created a safe coaching space for one another, in which to pause, assess, and then venture into the unknown with confidence and certainty that, come what may, we will survive another day after posting our blogs.
 Shakespeare, William, Hamlet, 1603, Act III, Scene 1
 Restak, Richard, M.D. The Naked Brain: How the Emerging Neurosociety Is Changing How We Live, Work And Love
FORA.TV, The Naked Brain http://library.fora.tv/2006/11/04/Naked_Brain
 The acronym SMART has a few variations, which can be used to support goal setting:
S – specific, significant, stretching
M – measurable, meaningful, motivational
A – agreed upon, attainable, achievable, acceptable, action-oriented
R – realistic, relevant, reasonable, rewarding, results-oriented
T – time-based, time-bound, timely, tangible, trackable