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Why Do We Have Resistance To Change


What are the forces of resistance that come up when you try to do what you want, and live the life you want? Sometimes it is that ever ambiguous and elusive thing called resistance.

Are you finding it difficult to follow through with your New Year Resolutions? Perhaps you start the year with a commitment to exercise, eat healthier, or meditate regularly. Did it derail due to some resistance?

First understand it takes about 40 days to establish a new habit and make it an automatic part of your routine. One of the reasons is that you must build new neural pathways in your brain and nervous system. Until you have been doing a new activity regularly for 40 days it will require some effort of will power to establish the neural path. Once the new neural pathway is created, the activity, emotional response, or behavior becomes more like a part of your normal flow. It will likely take effort, but not as much now that the path is formed. If you find resistance after that it is because some unconscious beliefs remain in the way.

We are at that 40-day point in the new year. Maybe it is time to look at the resistance and procrastination behaviors that might have come up against your resolutions and see what can be done.

Here are some ways to overcome your resistance to change. The first one is a practical thing you can do. The others have to do with eliminating resistance all together. The benefit of eliminating resistance is that it makes it easier to make changes for the rest of your life. Once you become practiced at identifying and eliminating resistance, it is just a natural part of your mind that makes it easier to make any change you wish.

How to overcome Resistance 

1. Do Something Different

If you keep doing the same thing you will get the same result. “Trying harder” to do something that doesn’t work, might mean that you are putting more effort into an approach that doesn’t work.

Something different might mean that you exercise in the morning instead of after work. In the afternoon you are tired and have less will power to follow through. Something different might mean that you don’t buy the potato chips or ice cream or other unhealthy foods so you don’t have to resist them once they are in the house. Something different might mean saying “no” to someone’s request for your time so you can put attention on your goal and commitment.

Might this issue of saying “no” to someone bring up some other kind of resistance? Absolutely Yes. More on that with the rest of the list.

The Do Something Different approach is more like a work-around to the resistance. These are obvious, and you will find them in typical self-help and coaching approaches. The problem with them is that they don’t remove the resistance. They require you to take a different action that will have its own specific resistance that you then have to overcome. This happens when we consider saying “no” to someone’s request. There are likely multiple causes that we would hesitate or not even let our mind consider the option.

To really remove the resistance to change you will need to focus your attention on the resistance itself. Focusing your attention is more than just thinking about it.

2. Start with curiosity. 

There you were totally committed to a plan, and by some unseen forces you are knocked off your path. It’s as if you were walking on the sidewalk to your car and something pushes you over into the grass. You are laying on the ground wondering what happened. It might be at the end of the day, or a week, or month later, but you remember back to your commitment, and wonder, “why didn’t that get done?” Maybe you are continuing to have the same argument with your spouse and wonder, “Why am I here again?”

It’s a good question to ask. It is your natural curiosity and so run with it, but most people don’t stick with the question long enough to get to a good result. You might give up because you don’t see the answer right away. Or, worse, you accept some trivial that isn’t the real cause. A quick false answer, if believed, appeases the brain’s feeling of curiosity, but doesn’t solve the problem. Without the real answer you are set up to get knocked down into the grass again tomorrow.

3. Commitment to the Curiosity 

Stay committed to the question. You might re-commit to “I’ll just try again tomorrow”. But don’t let this appease your curiosity. This commitment is one part of the equation, but you need the other half about finding the real source of resistance as well. It’s better to make the statement, “I’ll try again tomorrow, AND I’m going to pay attention so I can be alert to anything that might derail my plan.” If you ONLY “try again tomorrow” you are setting yourself up to fall into the grass again.

To stay committed you need to avoid accepting the first answer that comes to mind. Make note of it, but don’t believe it. I got busy, I got tired, or the boss called me in to work and had me stay late are part of the equation, but not all of it. What got you busy? What got you tired? What was the decision making process? Was it conscious that you were trading away your goals, or did it happen unconsciously?

Your boss asking to stay late sounds like the answer. But in that moment did you weigh in the possibility of saying “no” and what you were giving up that you wanted? In this case, the “yes to the boss”, often comes out automatically. It is this “automatic” yes that is part of the resistance pattern where we derail ourselves. Saying “yes” to another commitment, is an “unconscious no” to your plan.

Quick answers won’t include such things as the uncomfortable emotions we would feel if we told our boss or someone else “No”, to her request. That’s a significant feeling, and it moves us towards an automatic yes. This is part of the unconscious that you need to become aware of if it is going to change.

Start with, “that’s interesting?” What was that? And then begin to look for the layers of feeling underneath. Resistance is often experienced as a feeling, physical, or emotional in the body.

What would I have felt if I had said “no”?

How would I feel just negotiating with her, “Hey, I have some plans for today, can I work on it tomorrow?” What feelings come up in the body? Where do you feel them? These feelings have more to do with our automatic answers than our conscious thinking.

Maybe you didn’t even consider “no” or negotiating as choices before you said “yes”? If not, then you have limitations in your perspective that takes away choices from your life so you don’t even get to consider them. This is a matter of having built certain neural pathways earlier in your life and noticing their tendency to make decisions unconsciously. The Self Mastery course can help you understand these layers.

4. Find the Underlying Sources of Resistance: There may be Many

What you might find underneath that resistance to negotiating or saying “no” to your boss, or others is a genuine desire to say yes. This will be understandable.

A. The Biological Resistance to Saying No.

First, we are instinctively dependent on others from the time of infancy. We need others, and we needed them to provide for us. Now, as adults we might not have this dependency, but our psyche and nervous system may not have grown out of it properly and so we are still inclined from that early age to say yes. If we’ve always relied on others around us in certain ways our biology will push our mind towards an automatic, and unconscious “yes” response to requests.

B. The Socialized Resistance to Saying No.

You might also find a motivation to say yes because as a species we have a history of growing up in tribes and communities. We have shared with each other and relied on each other as a way of survival and of life and it is a natural part of our social interaction to do things for others. So not only is there an instinctive biological “yes” but there is also a socialized instinct.

C. The Polite Resistance to Saying No.

Then there is just the more obvious response of yes because it is polite.
Now this is all fine to help others at times, and at times they help us. But there can be times that the other party doesn’t give in their sharing in an equal way. Do we do for our boss when she asks, but not get a raise, a bonus, or time off when we want it? If this is the case, we are continuing to act on our biological, social, and polite conditioning but not aware that the rest of the expected community isn’t reciprocating. If this is the case, then our automatic yes is happening without awareness of the full picture and we are not acting within our integrity. People can take advantage of our giving. This can be unconscious in others, or we simply haven’t learned healthy boundaries and to effectively say no to others. In extreme cases it is not innocent. The other party can be a sociopath and will knowingly do it and privately celebrate taking advantage of you.

D. The Fearful Resistance To Saying No

Then, if you look closer, you might find another layer of motivation affecting your “yes” or “no” response. Maybe there is a layer of fear. The boss may have say over your raise or getting laid off. In this case, maybe you want to say yes to ensure your job. Or, maybe your job is completely safe, but you feel such a fear because you have been laid off of a previous job, or grew up in a house where your dad lost their job and the family experienced rough times for a while. These memories can affect your response in ways that are unconscious to you.

Our unconscious memories and their connected emotions pushed our mind to agree to stay late without an awareness that our mind was made to think that way. Our conscious intellectual mind will miss these impulses from memory, biology, or childhood socialization. Our conscious thought might be some excuse that covers up these underlying patterns with a gloss over comment like, “no big deal, I’ll get that thing I wanted done tomorrow. It is these dismissive, and initial thoughts for you to look past and find some other layers. You will miss the significant unconscious motivations until you choose to look deeper at what your resistance is made of.
You will get knocked over into the grass at times. It is inevitable in life. But it will happen less and less as you become aware of these unconscious forces in memory, emotions, biology, and socialization. As you incorporate these beliefs and patterns into your conscious awareness you become wise, and strong, in your ability to do what you say you are going to do.

5. Once on the Ground, Don’t get Rolled into the Ditch

What knocked you over into the grass? You are lying there in the grass at the end of the day or week and look around at why things didn’t get done. You might see the hundred of other things that kept you busy. Or you might look at the procrastination and time you wasted. What typically happens at this point is self-judgment. The voice of the Inner Critic is harsher on ourselves than we would ever allow towards anyone else. The Judge berates you with an internal dialog about being lazy, poorly organized, or poorly disciplined.

For the record self-judgment like this doesn’t make you a better person. It doesn’t help you change a behavior, and there is good evidence to show that it reinforces the old habit. Some people will rebut that the “judge motivates me to get things done because it gives me a kick if I don’t do it.” This sounds true but is a lie. It sounds true because negative motivations work for short periods of time, but not over time, and not very well on us as adults.

Sustained negative talk demotivates us. Having the Inner Critic telling you bad things about yourself tends to keep you in the same loop of failure, resistance, and procrastination it says it is trying to motivate you to break, but this is a false belief based on old experiences of short term results. It is reinforcing the mindset and neural pathways that “you are a loser, lazy, undisciplined, and don’t’ get enough done.” If you receive this message from the Inner Critic, and accept it, the neural pathways and corresponding beliefs get strengthened, not changed.
The resistance might have knocked you into the grass, but the Judge is trying to push you into the ditch. The personal power lost to the Inner Judge is significant if you believe what it says. When you don’t reinforce the Judge’s thoughts anymore, you will have a lot more personal power to accomplish what you set out to do. The Self Mastery course will help with breaking the impact the voice of the Judge has on you. Phase II of the Self Mastery Series goes directly after this Self Judgment dynamic and provides and exercises to uproot the Judge entirely.

Sources of Resistance, and Sabotaging Behaviors In Your Unconscious Beliefs

If you don’t figure out what knocked you off your intended target, then it is likely to happen again. Because you look around and don’t see it doesn’t mean there isn’t something there. When it comes to your mind 95% of it operates at a level you are unconscious to. This is true no matter your level of intelligence. Thinking makes up a small part that we can consciously monitor, but the rest of it happens automatically.

Driving a car is an example of how much our unconscious patterns are living our life automatically. Driving is a complex activity, and yet we can do it while our conscious attention is focused on a conversation or listening to a podcast. Being vigilant for our safety, navigating streets, changing lanes, monitoring other drivers, obeying traffic signals, and mechanically operating the vehicle are part of the 95% that is controlled by the unconscious. This kind of automatic operation is at work all the time during the day in other activities as well. It influences making decisions and directing our thinking and attention in automatic loops. These automated routines are part of the resistance. Our mind likes to keep doing the same thing in the same way it knows.

Ever get into the same argument about the same thing and wonder how you got there again? Answer: Unconscious Beliefs.

It is extremely useful and efficient to automate certain tasks to our unconscious that can do them automatically, like driving. However, when we want to make a change, we have to re-program these unconscious patterns.

When you consciously decide to make a change in your life, your unconscious beliefs and neural patterns do not simply shift and say, “okay, we will build a new neural pathway for that and have it ready for you tomorrow”. No. You will have to consciously put attention on building the new habit and routine. It will also help to focus your attention on the details of the current patterns that act as resistance. Putting your attention on these beliefs, impulses, and emotional patterns will free you from them much faster.

Awareness of these previously ignored belief system dynamics is the pathway to change, and happiness. The first step is to have awareness that there are forces working in your unconscious. The second step is to hold your attention there long enough to see them with clarity so you can change them.

The Self Mastery Course will help you do this in a measured step by step process that you can apply to any area of your life.

Source Gary van Warmerdam combines the wisdom spiritual traditions have in eliminating suffering with common sense in a way that is both practical and effective. Gary has studied with best selling author of The Four Agreements, Dr. Miguel Ruiz since 1994. His experiences include spiritual journeys worldwide and many trips exploring the teachings of ancient Mexico.  He co-developed and taught the Four Agreements Facilitators training at the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck NY and the Crossings in Austin Texas. His teachings are based in universal principles of common sense and unconditional love found in all spiritual traditions. Gary teaches workshops throughout the country, leads spiritual retreats to Mexico, and coaches individual clients. His book, MindWorks, is available in print and in digital formats in numerous places.

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