You’ve set your goals, made your resolutions, have everything mapped out for the year . . . and then you hit it: resistance. Even though you’re excited, even though you’ve broken everything into small steps, even though you’re clear on what you want and why you want it, something is holding you back. Moving forward feels like going in for an exam, writing a long paper for school, signing up for four hours of yard work, or dealing with the DMV. All your passion and energy just melt away as you encounter this wall, and your attempts to break through are feeble . . . because part of you doesn’t really want to.
Resistance is still a mystery to me, and I’ve been facing it a lot more frequently over the past couple of years. Resistance is what, at least for me, often causes creative energy to wither and descend into anxious thoughts.
Maybe anxious thoughts are more familiar. Maybe I feel I’m risking less by being anxious rather than following my creative energy. Yes, I think that’s it.
Resistance tells us to stop, often to protect us from risk. In a healthy proportion, it plays an important role. It’s what tells us to think twice, to avoid following through on every impulse. But if given too much control, it pushes creative energy aside and blocks it to protect our core selves from situations it’s not sure we can recover from.
For example, I used to write all the time. I couldn’t stop if I tried. I would write, on a good day, maybe twenty pages or more. I was in the creative flow. Over the past few years, I’ve struggled because every time I sit down, my mind tries to protect me by shutting down. The ideas slither away, emotion numbs, and this wall of resistance crops up, inviting me to turn my attention elsewhere. And so I do, even though it leaves me feeling tired and dejected.
What is my resistance protecting me from? Fear of failure. Fear of rejection. Fear I’ll find out I’m not good enough. In a weird way, it’s trying to protect my dreams by ensuring I never pursue them to begin with. Like most emotions, I choose to see resistance as something that is trying to help me. The help it offers may not ultimately be what I need, but resistance isn’t something to wage war against–it’s not an enemy we need to battle.
So how do we manage it? How do we bring creative energy and resistance into balance? I wish I had a more concrete answer, but I’m still struggling to understand resistance. I would love to hear your thoughts, but here is what has helped, at least a little, for me:
Mantras: Mantras I define as any statement we speak or read or think to ourselves throughout the course of the day. For example, “Failure is okay,” “I feel grateful today,” or “I see this as play.” For myself, mantras are a way to integrate new ideas and thoughts in a way that transfers them from head space to body and heart space. Be careful when picking a mantra that you at least mostly or halfway believe it. If you pick something totally contrary to your beliefs, it may be harder to integrate and will be easier for your mind to reject. These mantras help you absorb a message so you can change your approach. When it comes to fear of failure, maybe use the mantra of “My self-worth is solid regardless of outside circumstances” or with resistance “I move toward and become curious about this resistance” or even “I choose to take care of myself and show myself patience as I move forward.”
Play As A Goal: This is a big one, especially if you are perfectionist, like myself. I realized my biggest bouts of resistance came up when I was either overwhelmed or in what I felt was a high-stakes scenario where my perfectionist tendencies kicked into overdrive. If you’re writing a novel and have the thought “I must write this perfectly because my entire future and career depends on it. If I don’t have the perfect story idea, I will write three hundred pages, waste all that time, waste the story, and delay my dreams”, of course you’re going to resist writing! It’s too big a risk. Your resistance steps in to try to protect you from such a weighty do-or-die decision.
What I’ve found helps is viewing a task as play instead of work. I’ll think, “Well, I don’t have to write this perfectly because I’m just playing with it” or “This is for fun” or “This is for my enjoyment. I’m writing for my own pleasure, so it doesn’t have to be perfect!” I’m still serious about the project, believe you me, but it eases the tension, injects some humor and pleasure, and really softens and even lifts the pressure of resistance. It’s giving yourself permission to color outside the lines and just be, enjoying whatever it is you are doing without slamming into resistance. After all, resistance might try to protect you from a high-stakes project, but from play? Where is the danger there?
Challenge!: Next time you feel resistance, get curious about it! Why are you resisting? How is it trying to help you? Either pick a mantra or start a “for-fun” project to shift your mindset so the resistance can fall away and your creative energy can take over. What are techniques you’ve found that help you work with resistance and bring it better into alignment with your creative energy?