Overcoming Your Inner Enemy
“Resistance is the most toxic force on the planet”
– Steven Pressfield – The War of Art.
Are you beating yourself up because you can’t seem to finish that project? Or stick with your self-care routine because you keep getting derailed? You’ve got so much going on, it’s just not a good time right now, you’re not ready. All true.
And…according to author Steven Pressfield, you’ve hit the wall known as inner resistance, the set of patterns and habits that keep us from seeing the big picture. Resistance is sneaky, showing up as a constant state of overwhelm which keeps us going in so many directions, that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Then we really are too busy and overwhelmed.
Yet when it comes to taking steps to change the situation, we have a list of reasons why we can’t. And they all feel like facts.
But are they facts or feelings? Where do these feeling/facts come from?
The short answer is anxiety. The chronic uncertainty we’ve been living with over the past 2+ years, and/or the risk of change are likely to lead to a state of anxiety-driven resistance. The result is our inner defense mechanisms, our short-term survival-focused brain holding us firmly in the grip of overwhelm. This is your inner gatekeeper, at work to help you avoid risking failure, rejection or emotional pain.
So we believe we’re too busy, it’s not a good time, we’re not ready. Because our brain’s first job is physical survival and emotional safety. All good, except that eventually the Inner Critic chimes in; “you’re so disorganized, you never start what you finish.” Or by projecting onto other people; “if they would only do their fair share, I could focus on myself for once.”
Which continues the cycle, making it harder than ever to regain a sense of grounding and focus.
From a biological perspective, this makes sense; your brain is your biggest energy user, and change, new habits, or hard things take a lot of energy. Busy-ness not only keeps us safely doing what we know, it uses less energy so feels easier than change in the short term.
What to do? Face the resistance
In The War of Art, Pressfield talks about his hard-won success, including living out of his car so he could continue writing one book after another before the 4th, The Legend of Bagger Vance, finally became a best-seller. Pressfield woke up day after day for years facing the same fierce resistance, each morning quickly forcing himself to overcome it so he could sit down to do his work. Until finally, it paid off and his book was made into a major motion picture.
Steven Pressfield experienced the same fears we all face, and he pushed himself beyond what most of us need to. He almost gave up after a particularly public failure, but he had learned from other writers that this work takes way more time than you think – as do most change plans – and failure is par for the course.
Hard as it was, he learned to face the resistance before finally hitting it out of the park, getting his name on the map and achieving his wildest dreams. Of course, it wasn’t that easy, but here’s the thing – he had a clear direction. And he didn’t let anything or anyone stop him.
Are you too busy, or are you feeling overwhelmed by the thought of “putting yourself out there”? Being judged by others? Not being perfect, or sounding ridiculous?
These are the same emotions we all face when doing something new. Then, what if, instead of just believing your thoughts, you stopped to ask yourself whether they’re facts or feelings?
But resistance, the hidden force holding you back, is a feeling. And feelings, once recognized and examined, often lose their stronghold (see Breathe Into Breakthrough Workbook, p. 43). And since part of learning requires making mistakes, some of these fears may even be founded. But that doesn’t mean they have to let fear of failure stop you. You can face the resistance.
Start with Radical Self-Compassion
Noticing is the first step, and meeting your feelings with self-compassion is the other.
This takes mindful self-awareness, the ability to separate yourself from your thoughts. Or as author and self-compassion pioneering researcher Dr. Kristen Neff would say, radical self-compassion.
The power of self-compassion inspired my favorite daily mini-practice; the I am enough mantra. Self-compassion is not the same as letting yourself off the hook. It’s giving yourself permission to fail, to not know it all and do it anyway. It’s overcoming resistance.
And it isn’t easy. But it’s the work that will ultimately help you believe in yourself, to know failure won’t defeat you because it’s part of the process, which is a good place to be.
I found the I am enough exercise intuitively, and it turns out the positive feelings it evokes are not just my imagination – there is much research to back up the benefits of this style of self-compassion. It’s also proven that among other benefits, practicing self-compassion leads to lower risk of heart disease.
I too face feelings of resistance. And it took a long time before I stopped giving in to the allure of laundry, taxes, anything to avoid the risky business of “putting myself out there”. So now I notice what my inner voice is saying, and instead of just giving in to my go-to voice of resistance, I stop to examine whether I’m looking at facts or feelings. And whether the tasks on my list match the direction I most want to go.
And above all, I remind myself, I am enough.
Every new behavior, from maintaining a daily breathwork practice to starting a new project, to upholding different boundaries, will be met with inner resistance.
This is not a sign that you’re not capable, too busy, or not ready.
You can use the techniques of naming and reframing emotions, and radical self-compassion to push through. As you turn your plans into actions, you’ll build the resilience and confidence to overcome feelings of resistance.
If you’re looking for a simple, approachable 5-minute morning self-compassion practice, click here for the video!