Updated: Mar 25
Identifying and understanding our own resistance is one of the most powerful tools we have but don’t take full advantage of.
To be clear, I’m not talking about resistance in terms of fighting systemic oppression or pushing back productively against illegitimate authority and unfairness. I’m talking about your own resistance against what’s already happening in your life - where you feel friction or frustration about what’s going on. Those places that you wish were just a little different. Or a LOT different. That type of resistance that prevents you from accepting what already is, and keeps your focus on what you wish it was instead.
See, while resistance shows up when we’re uncomfortable and is often a way to try and keep discomfort at bay, it also slows us down and drains our energy. It’s not productive, and resistance only puts problems or challenges on the back burner for “future you” to deal with.
I recently had what felt like a month-long exploration into resistance and mutual exclusions. Things that are mutually exclusive essentially cannot both exist at the same time or cannot happen simultaneously. I feel like I spent four full weeks testing two of these mutual exclusions in particular: Patience & Momentum and Resistance & Acceptance.
I’ve long felt that patience and momentum would cancel each other out. I could either be one or the other, but both were not available at the same time. My natural tendency is to lean towards momentum - mostly because, well, I don’t particularly always LIKE being patient. I’d rather be making things happen! Taking action! Getting s*** done! ALL the action words! Patience has always felt more passive, infinitely less exciting, and like a virtue I just didn’t have. In fact, I’ve always kind of feared it because I thought it meant taking my foot off the gas or that I wouldn’t make any of the progress I wanted.
2020 and, so far, 2021, have certainly stepped in to provide an in-depth exercise in patience, and not just for me. I’m guessing many of you have experienced this also. When I facilitate team retreats, I joke about the “forced fun” of teambuilding and eyeroll-inducing icebreakers. This last year has felt like a continual experience of “forced patience”. At first, I resisted the lessons and tried all my usual tactics that generally result in my forward movement. Much to no one’s surprise, this didn’t work. Enter the lesson in the mutual exclusivity of acceptance and resistance.
As I explored the friction and frustration I was eyebrows-deep in, I realized that it was actually resistance that was causing the problem. I discovered that patience and momentum were *not* actually exclusive- in fact, practicing patience was leading me to more intentional steps forward and richer experiences that built momentum faster than if I would have deployed my usual steamroller approach. Resistance was a totally different animal.
Exploring some of the definitions of resistance was enlightening:
The refusal to accept something
The attempt to prevent something by action or argument
The ability not to be affected by something, especially adversely
The first two were eye-opening, because, yep - I was totally pushing back against situations completely out of my control. And, no, I wasn’t making any headway! All that I was creating was more frustration for myself and a wasting of time I could have used to otherwise be figuring out my best response. That last one, however, hit deep as I realized I was using my discomfort as an excuse to escape. I wasn’t willing to face what was in front of me, and the more I resisted it- you guessed it- the more it persisted. I decided to flip my script one day, sat down to meditate and get centered, and then I challenged myself to explore what I was resisting. I mapped out all the big things and even the seemingly little things that were causing friction or frustration. I pinpointed all the areas where I was pushing back, and I decided to intentionally accept them instead. I asked myself the question, “What would I do if I applied my energy towards an intentional response rather than resisting this?”
Even I was pretty surprised at some of my own answers! They ran the gamut from “I’d calm the f*** down!” to “I’d reach out to this person and ask for help” or “I’d set my alarm a little bit later.” I’m by no means a pro at acceptance, but I find that as I intentionally work on releasing my resistance, I notice it faster, and I’m more open to courses of action I haven’t considered before.
Next time you notice resistance rearing its ugly head somewhere in your life, try this strategy for wrangling those resistance gremlins:
Step 1: Recognize it!
If you’re feeling friction, frustration, or just generally kind of icky in certain places or about certain things- do some digging. Question those feelings and see what they’re trying to tell you. If you find you’re experiencing resistance, it’s time to get to work. Awareness is a critical starting point.
Step 2: Welcome it in
This probably sounds counterintuitive, but once you encounter resistance, I actually like to start by welcoming it in. It’s one of the ways I disrupt the resistance itself and change the flow of the interaction from conflict to cooperation! Years ago I was in Mexico on a service/immersion trip, and the host family I was staying with would leave the door open a little longer so any friendly spirits could also come in when they were welcoming someone to the house. “Pásele,” they would say, meaning “Come in.” When I notice resistance creeping into my own life, I often repeat that phrase. Intentionally shifting my mindset to one of acceptance helps counter the whole thought process of resistance. At that point, I’m now able to see resistance as a partner rather than as an enemy.
Step 3: Redirect your energy
At this point in the process, I usually find that I’ve been directing a majority of my energy to feeding my resistance. It takes a lot of mojo to keep it up! When I am intentionally choosing to drop resistance, I now have a lot more resources at my disposal. I usually start by redirecting my energy towards actually dropping the resistance I’ve been feeling. As I do, I notice where I’m feeling a bit more zesty, and then I start to put that to work. Maybe I need to focus in on acceptance, maybe I need to put a little love to resting and recharging so I can face whatever I was previously resisting, or maybe I notice some work that needs to be done now that I’ve stopped spending my time and energy pushing back against the thing that was happening anyway!
Step 4: What can you learn from your resistance?
This is definitely a space for courageous self-conversation. Navigating resistance and moving past it is one thing, but learning from it takes it to a whole different level. Take some time to intentionally reflect on what you’ve been resisting, and ask your resistance what it is trying to teach you. What can you learn about yourself based on this experience? If you’ve ever heard the phrase “What we resist persists” or “We repeat what we don’t repair”- this step is geared towards really learning from your experience of resistance so that you can move forward powerfully.
Working with resistance isn’t always comfortable work, but it’s always worth it.
Nicole Lance is a women’s leadership development expert, facilitator, executive coach, speaker, strategic planner, and promoter of self-care. She is passionately committed to helping organizations and individuals succeed in reaching - and reaching beyond - their goals.