A word on resistance

“Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.”
– Steven Pressfield, The War of Art: Winning the Inner Creative Battle

In my previous post, I asked, Are You Resisting? My answer is yes. I am resisting clarifying my vision of my life, of this blog, of my work. So, I did what I do best when I’m resisting: read, research, and reflect. I used to call it procrastination, until I realized that my resistance usually means something. Sometimes it’s full of shit, but this time my pause meant that there was something to be figured out. Thus, a diversion on my path to clarify my vision for 2012: What is resistance all about?

A cursory glance at self-help books and the blog-o-sphere indicates that the parent topic of resistance is not as well-developed as some of its many manifestations: procrastination, self doubt, lack of confidence, unhappiness, fear. When you dig deep into those topics, it’s resistance that you’re looking at.

The best place to start is with Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art: Winning the Creative Inner Battle. Robert McKee explains in the Forward to Pressfield’s book, resistance is “that destructive force inside human nature that rises whenever we consider a tough, long-term course of action that might do for us or others something that’s actually good.” Pressfield writes:

“Resistance is the most toxic force on the planet. It is the root of more unhappiness than poverty, disease, and erectile dysfunction. To yield to Resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we are and were born to be.”

Well, if such a toxic force exists, it must be destroyed, right? We must declare war on it, as Steven Pressfield did in his book – resistance is enemy #1. He has a number of strategies, including telling resistance that you’re turning “pro:”

“Resistance yields to our turning pro. Resistance is a bully, has no strength of its own, and derives its power entirely from our fear of it.”

I’ll dive into what turning “pro” means in future entries. Continuing the resistance research, a number of other bloggers have advice for overcoming resistance. Zenhabits lists 7 Powerful Steps to Overcoming Resistance and Actually Getting Stuff Done. Seth Godin picks up on a theme from a Steve Jobs’ quote “Real artists ship.” In Godin’s blog entry, The Truth About Shipping, he tells us to “Ship often. Ship lousy stuff, but ship. Ship constantly.” This theme is echoed by writer Jeff Goins in his blog, Shipping – a Seth Godin-sm and You Must Ship.

Get your thing, your writing, your project out the door. It’s not unlike Nike’s Just Do It mantra. It’s no wonder why writers, artists and athletes are the ones to seize resistance by the throat and figure this stuff out. Their livelihoods depend upon individual efforts that emanate from within. Thus, their livelihoods are directly threatened by internal resistance. The rest of us can just go on blaming others – it’s everyone else’s resistance I face. Not my own….(ahem. cough. clear throat.)

U.S. Post Office (Matinicus Island, Maine 04851)

If my Post Office were this cute, I probably would ship more often.
U.S. Post Office (Matinicus Island, Maine 04851) by takomabibelot, on Flickr, creative commons license

I have to say, the term “shipping” doesn’t really do it for me as a metaphor antidote to resistance. But then again, I hate going to the post office, or running my own errands. Yes, I resist them. So maybe there is something there. Come on, just do it, kiddo. Get your sister’s Christmas present in the mail…. What Jobs and Godin are talking about with the metaphor “ship” is getting the thing out the door. Stick with it until you complete it and send it.

Send it. Hmmm. Segue to a climbing metaphor: “to send” in climbing parlance means to complete a route successfully. And climbing mental trainer Argno Ilgner, author of the Rock Warrior’s Way, would say that it’s not about the send, but the journey, the climb – it’s about how you get there and what you learn along the way. Maybe this is why the “ship” metaphor isn’t working for me. If cutting through resistance only required only a magic mantra, sure. But that’s not enough. Mantras help, but cutting through resistance requires self-mastery.

The Warrior’s Way doesn’t care about the send or “shipping.” The Warrior’s Way cares about awareness, discernment, decisions, commitment, then action. The Warrior’s Way also cares about your energy level. In climbing, you want to conserve your energy. While you can bully your way to the top, it’s tiring. Best case scenario – you don’t get to climb as much because you tire quickly. Worst case scenario, when you get tired, you get sloppy. When you’re sloppy in climbing a rock face, that’s dangerous. So, if you’re in it for the long haul, you seek to conserve some energy. You find the most efficient way to move your body when you climb. You seek out the path of least resistance.

In his blog entry, The Path of Least Resistance, Argno Ilnger reminds us that this is the natural way by which the river carves out a canyon – it flows along the path of least resistance. While it may seem heroic to “just do it,” to strive really hard against heavy resistance, Ilgner cautions that there’s a better way. Striving hard against resistance is “to force a situation to our will.” Finding and discerning the path of least resistance is “to modify our approach to the will of the situation.”

Colorado River, Marble Canyon

Water finds the path of least resistance.
Colorado River, Marble Canyon by Gonzo fan2007, on Flickr, creative commons license

Everything that Pressfield writes about resistance as the enemy with a never-ending supply of attacks is true. But the true way to win a war, if you buy into the Warrior’s Way, or Sun Tsu’s ancient Art of War, is to win without bloodshed. Win without shredding your Ego into tiny little bits. The Warrior’s Way entreaties you to become more efficient, to modify your approach to the situation.

Become aware. Call yourself out on your resistance. That’s the first step. Then roll with it. Don’t take it head on. Ask it why? Ask it “Would it be so bad if…?” Ask your resistance questions. Get to know it. Sometimes it’s trying to tell you something. Get to know it, and then decide what action to take. Over time, you’ll be making the majority of your decisions like a pro.

Unless you’re already a pro, don’t focus on shipping. Focus on mastering resistance. Focus on getting flow. The shipping will come naturally.

Renewable enthusiasm wants your energy flowing the same way as the Colorado River. If you’re going to find, follow, live, and sustain your passion, you need to find your flow. Flow is resistance’s counterpoint.

6 thoughts on “A word on resistance

  1. Hey Kerry, great to see you at ET today, and thanks again for posting the Brene Brown video. I like the mission statement of your blog:

    “Renewable Enthusiasm is about experiential exploration along the journey of finding, following, living and sustaining a passion.”

    Right now, my “passion” is opening myself up and learning to live with vulnerabilitiy. I’m not sure if passion is the right word for it because the skill set I used to pursue passions in the past haven’t helped me much in my current pursuit. The skills I’m learning now are self-acceptance, courage (speaking with all your heart), compassion, empathy, connection. Its been a scary journey because opening myself up to people and talking about painful memories is a lot harder for me than climbing rock, ice or mountains, but the rewards have also been greater. I guess I’m at the self-discovery stage, discovering who I am what my needs are and learning to accept and stand up for myself. I realize that this is going to be a lifelong pursuit but I feel that as I get better at it, I’ll be able to pursue my passions more wholeheartedly. I can’t help but regret having lived “half-heartedly” up until now. But that regret only exists because I’m still learning how to “be there” for myself rather than “beat myself up” when I think about mistakes that I’ve made. My instinct tells me that we are on the same journey.

    You say in your insightful post:

    “[1] Become aware. Call yourself out on your resistance. That’s the first step. Then roll with it. Don’t take it head on. [2] Ask it why? Ask it “Would it be so bad if…?” Ask your resistance questions. Get to know it. Sometimes it’s trying to tell you something. Get to know it, and then [3] decide what action to take” (I added the numbers)

    And you say:

    “I am resisting clarifying my vision of my life, of this blog, of my work.”

    I feel like I feel like I’ve been applying your model on a daily basis to be able to understand unexplained reactions I have to certain situations (e.g. losing my temper, akwardness, feeling inauthentic). First I become aware, the I ask why, then I decide how I can change my behavior to avoid, and the last step is to actually change my behavior.

    • Luciano, you’re brilliant. It’s a very powerful journey you’re on. When I saw you at the gym yesterday, your eyes sparkled when you talked about it – it’s easy to tell you’re on the right path. I agree, being vulnerable oftentimes feels more scary than climbing. I think next time I feel resistance around others, I might ask myself if a fear of vulnerability might be behind it and ask myself whether that’s such a bad thing.

      For those following along, here’s the link to the TED talk by Brene Brown to which Luciano refers: http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html

      Thank you for sharing and inspiring!

  2. I’ve been reading “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People” and I see substantial agreement between what you noted about “modifying our approach to the will of the situation” in order to overcome resistance and what S. Covey says about how examining and assessing our basic paradigms is just as important as our appliocation of dilligence and positive attitude to the situations/issues in our lives. He says that by modiying our paradigms, we can sometimes avoid resistance by making sure we are not “fighting the wrong battle” or “paddling up the wrong stream.”

  3. Kerry – The best example I can think of is my current job search. I was all set to keep seeking employment in the field of public transit, but as this proved unsuccessful, I started to think of different options. Now, the option that seems best is to go back to school and get a graduate degree, probably in economics. Looking back, it now seems that maybe I should have left the field of public transit a long time ago, and pursued a graduate degree much earlier in my career.

  4. Pingback: more on Resistance « The Search for my Treasure

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