Overcoming Resistance

Do you ever find yourself getting distracted by trivialities when you’re trying to do something important? I do. Just this morning I found myself tagging and rearranging notes in Evernote instead of knuckling down to the blog post I was supposed to be researching. Even now, writing this is a kind of a distraction, since it’s not what I originally set out to do – but I can forgive this specific interruption because it falls into the remit of what I now call my work.

My work is the realisation of an inner-calling or genius. From the original Latin – genius is the prevailing character or spirit of something. It’s the thing I feel uniquely gifted or called to achieve as an individual. (You can read more about this in a previous post, The Big Leap).

Resistance is the flip-side, or shadow of genius.

As powerful as is our souls call to realisation, so potent are the forces of resistance arrayed against it.

I discovered the concept of resistance in Steven Pressfield’s book The War of Art. In it, he explains how the artist or professional always has to overcome resistance in order to get their work done. I strongly identify with this, encountering resistance in all kinds of areas on pretty much a daily basis. Some recent distractions include:

  • Re-organising notes and documentation
  • Playing the latest video game
  • Dealing with low priority domestic tasks
  • Browsing the internet under the guise of research
  • Sending emails instead of picking up the phone or communicating directly

Etc., etc. You get the idea I’m sure. Some of the things are arguably necessary or restful activities. But they’re not my work. And if I’m doing them as a way of avoiding work – then that’s a problem.

Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two lies resistance.

The question is not so much whether or not you should or shouldn’t be doing something. The question to be answered is whether the thing you’re currently doing is an attempt to avoid the thing you should actually be doing.

In his book, Steven identifies a kind of hit parade of activities (or work)  most likely to elicit resistance. Some activities I particularly identify with are:

  • The pursuit of a calling in writing (or any other form of creativity)
  • The launching of an entrepreneurial endeavour
  • Any dieting or health regime
  • Any program of spiritual advancement
  • Education of any kind
  • Decisions to change for the better some unworthy pattern of thought or conduct
  • The taking of a principled stand in the face of adversity

You may recognise some of your own struggles also. And I’ve no doubt, many more activities could be added to the list.

I see resistance in all kinds of places at my workplace, as well as in my work.

From a team or individual coaching perspective, I want to see people go the extra mile in order to reach their full potential professionally. Often this might involve going to meetups, networking events, conferences and training outside of normal working hours and possibly at their own expense. Many people are not prepared to do this, preferring instead to leave responsibility for their professional development in the hands of their employers. Resistance!

I spoke with a mentee this morning who lamented not being able to write about or reflect upon his work (in the form of a blog) because his commute is too fragmented. Resistance!

I often see forms of resistance manifested in team behaviours as well. The inclination to send an email or an instant message, instead of just walking across the room and talking to somebody for example. Arranging a meeting instead of just swarming around an issue, being another one. Resistance!

Overcoming resistance can be as simple as picking up the phone, walking across the room, or switching off the web browser or email client. But resistance comes in many forms. Michael Hyatt identified some of the main strategies in a recent podcast:

  1. Is something scary? That’s resistance. The more scary something is (professionally) the more likely it is that you need to do that thing. Use fear as an indicator of how important something is both to and for you. Typical responses to fear are procrastination and avoidance. You can overcome these by simply making a start on whatever it is you need to do. Once you’ve begun, you’ll most likely realise it’s not so scary after all.
  2. Are you feeling uncertain? Not sure where to start or what to do next? What you need to do is figure out a plan, then work it. What you actually end up doing is getting distracted. You’re probably carrying out your research on the interweb, right? Sadly, that’s probably unavoidable. But you can at least take some actions to help you stay focused. You can shut down unnecessary browser windows for example. And Facebook. And Twitter. Shut down your email client as well if you need to. Timebox your activity in some way so you can have a brief, sustained burst and then come back to it later if necessary.
  3. Got some doubts? Are you tempted to quit and leave your work unfinished? The adage “the night is darkest just before the dawn” rings true here. It’s not unusual for things to get tough just before the finish line. There’s a strong temptation at this point to just give up or quit. The countermeasure habit to get into in order to overcome this form of resistance is to finish what you started. I always picture Jerry Weinberg’s leadership evolution graph when I think of quitting, knowing that before I overcome some kind of obstacle – there’s likely to be a dip in my overall performance. Enduring and coming out of the other side is the key. Giving up before you’ve done so makes success impossible.

Understanding that you will encounter resistance when attempting to carry out high value activities for which you are uniquely gifted is important. Having a strategy to overcome the resistance, in whatever form it arrives, is critical.

Have you experienced resistance? In what form, and how did you overcome it? Let me know in the comments section below!

- Simon

P.S If you're interested in learning more about performance testing, checkout my Performance Testing 101 course here.


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