Resistance is when there is something you “know you should do”, but you don’t seem to get it done. Something you want to do (or at least some part of you wants to do), but for some inexplicable reason, you can’t get it to happen.
Maybe it’s something you want to do for yourself personally – some aspect of self-care. Maybe it’s related to a goal you have for your business.
Some part of you is holding back, stonewalling, procrastinating, etc. And I mean that literally – some part of you. A distinct person-like part of you.
Our culture encourages this idea of forcing yourself – you make yourself go to the gym, make yourself go to work, make yourself eat your vegetables.
I find this a horrible way to live. I don’t want to make myself do anything! I want my whole self to be on board with everything I do. And that’s what this process is about.
Imagine your body and mind is a business. You have a team of people, all serving their function. When things are going well, they work together in harmony and things get done easily.
But what if the sales department and the development team aren’t talking? What if the president is out to lunch and not listening to his employees?
If you are having a problem with one segment of your business, what is usually needed? More communication. Listening, discovering what is going on, and brainstorming a real win-win solution. This is the same process I do inside myself, and it works just as well.
Step 1: Identify a part of yourself that is in resistance.
This works best with something that hasn’t responded to other things you’ve tried. Or that feels hard and stuck in your body. Something you’ve pushed away or tried to change by force.
The part I’m going to talk to right now is the part of me that wants to stay up late and keep my sleep schedule something around 2 am to noon.
I want to talk to it because I know I feel better and get more done if I wake up at 8 or 9 rather than noon. I’ve tried forcing my schedule to change and have not had any success – so I know I need to dig deeper.
Step 2: Open a dialog with an attitude of exploration, not an agenda to change or fix.
Even though you do want to see a change, think of it as a separate entity, a person that you really can’t change. All you can do is listen really well, explain your own needs in an open and honest manor, and hope they want to find a win-win solution with you. But to respect them, you can’t try to change them. You need to approach your inner parts with the same kind of respect you would show a colleague or friend.
The inner person you are approaching might be very suspicious of you right now and you may have to do some clean-up work before they trust you. If you’ve tried to force them or change them in the past, they might respond with things like “You don’t really want to hear from me” or they might not say anything at all. They might sound like a surly teenager – they might be a younger part of you.
Keep trying, just like you would with a good friend who you genuinely care about.
When you talk to the part, try to guess what it’s feeling and needing, to let it know you are listening, that you care, and that you want to help meet its needs. (Yes, it really is just like talking to a person who is deeply upset).
In the example below, I’ve worked with this voice a little before, so we have some rapport. It is somewhat guarded but it opens up pretty quickly.
The more you work with a voice and show you really are interested in what it has to say, and are not judging or punishing or pushing it, the more it will trust you and just tell you what is up.
Here’s a transcript of my inner dialog:
Me: Hi, part of me that doesn’t want to go to bed. What’s going on for you right now?
Part: You don’t want to listen to me, anyway. You just want to write your damn blog post. You want to be famous and have people like you. But I want people to like us for who we are.
Me: Are you feeling lonely, like nobody knows who you are?
Part: Like nobody would like me if they knew me.
Me: I know you and I like you.
Part: You keep trying to change me, to get me to go to bed earlier.
Me: Well, I do find going to bed earlier works better for me. Is there another way I could get to know you? Tell me more about who you are.
Part: Well, I’m quiet. I like the night-time because nobody is up and I can do my own thing. I don’t have to be responding to emails and whatever, I can just do something creative on my own time. And it’s after work hours so I don’t feel like “I ought to be working”. I like to make things. I made that design last night. I couldn’t do that during the day, I never get an uninterrupted block of time. There is always something that has to be done, a phone call, an email. Like right now you were writing this and someone called so you got up and answered the phone. I don’t like that, I want to just work. I wish they would just read the website or something and stop calling me. Blah.
Me: It sounds like you really like time to yourself to be creative without interruptions.
Part: Yeah. You remember when we were kids, I would spend hours knitting and crocheting things? I always had 5 projects going and I wouldn’t finish half of them. =) I guess I still do that only with projects. Or in college, I would spend hours working on websites. We hardly ever get to do that anymore. I miss making something, having something to show for it. Answering the same questions every day doesn’t produce anything. Emails don’t produce anything. I like to make things.
Me: Sounds like the growth of the business and the customer service stuff we do is really wearing on you.
Part: Yeah, it feels like death. Day after day of trivial things and never making anything new.
Me: Sounds depressing.
Part: Yeah, completely. I started wondering if I even have any creativity left, I haven’t felt creative in so long. I was so glad I got that idea last night, and I’ve been making those cards. I feel so much better, but I don’t want to lose it again. I want to build my life around that, around making things. Maybe I’d want to get up at 9 if I knew I’d get to make things. I can’t give up my late night quiet time if it is the only quiet time I get. I don’t really know, I can’t be sure I’d want to wake up early, but it seems more likely.
Me: OK. I hear you.
Step 3: Do something.
Sometimes all the resisting part of you wants is for you to listen and understand it. But like here, sometimes you really have to change something about your life, because that part is YOU and you aren’t happy.
For me, this conversation with myself underscores a recent decision to find a Virtual Assistant to help with customer service.
Once I’ve made that change, I’ll see if the problem clears up, and if not, go back and talk to this part of me again.
Great article! Your honesty is inspiring. I have to say that I have a very similar conversation going on myself at the moment. Your process reminded me a lot of a meditation process that I have been using in the past few years. My teacher Lama Tsultrim Alione developed it, and has a book/website if you are interested. http://www.kapalatraining.com/process.htm
Sonia Connolly says
Thanks for sharing your process around resistance! I really resonate with this part: “I don’t want to make myself do anything! I want my whole self to be on board with everything I do.” A major theme for me has been learning patience with myself, and waiting until there’s consensus to take new steps.
I hope it’s okay to share an article I wrote a couple of months ago along very similar lines. It’s exciting for me to know about other people approaching life this way! http://traumahealed.com/articles/gift-resistance.html
Best wishes with your Virtual Assistant plan.
James | Dancing Geek says
“I don’t want to make myself do anything! I want my whole self to be on board with everything I do.”
Hear, hear! This would absolutely be my way of thinking. It’s confusing as hell to some, including the bf, but the idea of doing anything that isn’t 100% congruent just hurts!
As for the sleep thing, it’s really cool of you to share your little dialogue here. It feels like you’re just a couple of steps ahead of me in this one and it’s really helpful to see the way things could go.
Good luck with the VA stuff, check @StacyBrice’s tweet stream for useful links and stuff.
@Christine, @Sonia Hi, and yeah, thanks for sharing resources. I think the more of this kind of stuff is out there the better. I want people to have options as to how they approach themselves.
You know, what is occurring to me right now about the sleep thing is that maybe it’s not something that will go away permanently – maybe it’s a thing like depression, that will show up for me when there is something I’m not paying attention to – some kind of alarm system that I’m not paying attention to my needs. Especially needs around creativity and doing things I love, or time alone to recharge or process my feelings. Cause I’ve noticed that when I talk to that part of me – it’s often in resistance mode about different things. At first I thought it was different levels of the issue, but now I’m wondering if it’s just always going to come out if I’m not taking good enough care of myself.
I know it developed when I was a teenager and I was going through severe emotional trauma – it was my bodies way of surviving, a stress response. I think it might just be something that indicates that I’m under too much emotional stress. Because I know there have been times in my life where I didn’t have much trouble with it, and that has always puzzled me. How could it go away and then come back? But if it’s a habitual stress response, that would make sense.
It seems like it happens when I’m under both positive and negative stress. For instance, pushing my comfort zone in a good way can trigger it. Like, uh, tonight – I’m working on interviewing potential VAs and the idea of hiring a VA is stressful because it involves a lot of trust and change and “I hope they like me” – and here I am awake at 4:30 am. =)
James | Dancing Geek says
@Emma – oooh, yes, it could well be. It makes sense as a reaction to stress in terms of the feeling of retreating into safety and insulation. Not sure if this is the same for me or not, but something I will keep in mind certainly.
I really like the example visualisation that Christine linked to as well, so vivid! I’m wondering if I could try that with my wolf, but becoming the wolf would be very intense. Not sure I’m up for that yet.
Joely Black (@TheCharmQuark on Twitter) says
I found this via James. It’s just exactly what I needed this morning. I’ve been dealing with a major resistance problem, and I think this might be just the solution.
I have major problems with this. I sent you a lengthy email about it and mostly emphasizing how much I appreciate the new way of thinking you created in me – thank you!!! seems so much more logical and effective. I wonder if EFT wouldnt help those of us that insist on staying up late. I love jerry seinfeld’s comment about the two parts of himself how the part of him that stays up late ends up screwing the part that gets him up in the morning etc. “Morning Jerry hates nightime jerry!” lol. can anyone relate? 🙂
wow, I just looked at the dates of the posts, now I’m REALLY interested to know what has transpired with relation to your sleep resistance after all this time. tell us tell us tell us!!!! 🙂
That issue has softened for me…I still have a tendency to keep working if I’m working late, but I have more ability now to stop myself and shift gears toward bed.
I’ve done a lot of work with this pattern over the years…I’m not sure if I can point to one specific thing that shifted it.
One thing that definitely helped was to use mindfulness to just watch myself go through the entire process, without attempting to change it. So instead of going into the same trance, I would say to myself, “OK, I notice that I feel tired, but I’m not going to bed. What does that feel like?” … but without any attempt to change it. Keeping force out of the equation is really necessary in order to just bring the pattern to consciousness.
Also with mindfulness, I noticed that I would tell myself the same story every morning: “Oh I wish I hadn’t stayed up late. Tonight I will go to bed early”. I’ve learned to recognize loops like that as distorted thinking and part of the pattern. So I watched that too–“I notice myself thinking that thought, and I’m pretty sure that’s not going to happen. Interesting”.
One thing I noticed in observing myself is that the pattern seemed to be about autonomy. At night, there is nobody to bother me or use my time, so I have this freedom. That pointed to a need for better boundaries during the daytime, so I could feel free no matter what time of day it was. So I started also being mindful about how I was using my time during the day and if I was doing the things I wanted to do for myself, so I wouldn’t have to fit them in right before bed.
Working on these things eased the pressure off that pattern, so while it’s still there to some degree, it’s a lot more flexible.
What I also realized is that any emotional stress will cause this pattern to re-emerge. If I’m stressed, and my boundaries are weak, I’ll end up not having a balanced day, and then I’ll get into this pattern again. So a lot of it is about taking care of my whole life and managing any emotional stress sooner to when it happens, so I don’t start sliding downhill.
I love this post. I’m a developer feeling huge resistance to a big personal project. I’m always working for a client and never doing anything for myself, and now that I’ve got an opportunity to do something for myself, and some huge projects paid out so I have the money to take a few weeks for myself, and all the sudden I am completely frozen. I can’t make myself do this project for the life of me! arrgh! I’m going to read a few other posts and sit and use your method here. Thanks so much. Very helpful perspective here.
Thanks for stopping by.
Frozen-ness is a sign of fear (think of the fight, flee, freeze response). Being super busy–that is basically the “fleeing” response–escaping the fear through distraction. So when you run out of things to do, your body substitutes freezing.
Although we think of fear as an emotion, it is more physiological than the others. It’s our gut instinct for survival, and therefore it’s a very powerful force. Way more powerful than our rational mind, which is why we have to sneak up to it sideways and make friends with it, instead of trying to dominate it into submission.
You can start by sitting with yourself and meeting the fear (as in, saying hello to it). You might take a few deep breathes and remind yourself that you are safe and you aren’t in a hurry. By creating some safety around the pattern, it will start to relax and you can do things like the dialog above, or journalling, or some other technique to get to the bottom of what the fear is about.