My Five Keys to Defeating Resistance

Feb 11, 2011

“The Enemy is a Very Good Teacher”
The Dali Lama

Resistance is our enemy . Resistance is everywhere. Boiled down, resistance is simply choosing short term gratification over long term gain. Look at all of the outside influences…look around you…billboards, fast food restaurants, late nights, influence of friends, fatigue. Even more, look at the inside influences…..fatigue, procrastination, laziness. They are plenty and resistance is not going away. If you pay attention, resistance will teach you a lot.

I’ve been reading a fantastic book called “The War of Art” (another great recommendation by Julie Ireland of the David Allen Co. – thanks Julie!). It’s written by Steven Pressfield. Originally a Hollywood script writer, he talks in intimate details about facing and overcoming resistance. As I was reading it, I was amazed at how many other things came up outside of “writing” that this could be used for.

I wrote a post a few months ago called Embrace the Beast. The premise came from the book, “Born to Run”, which details the Tarahumara Indian Tribe in Mexico. Amazingly, they sometimes will run 100 miles plus just for fun. In one of the stories, a runner was talking about “The Beast” as the exhaustion (aka The Resistance) she would feel in the middle of one of these runs. She talks of learning to love and embrace this because she knows once she fought through it, there were great things ahead. To quote the book, “I love the Beast. I actually look forward to the Beast showing up, because every time he does, I handle him better. I get him more under my control.” Profound stuff, no doubt. We all face the beast. We all face resistance. Don’t back down from it. Learn about it….understand it…..see it coming…..face it…..overcome it!


1 – Pay Attention To It

Start to observe it. See when it’s coming. Learn what environment it happens in. For me, I’m a morning person. I know my most productive time is from 6am to Noon. Breaking it down, from 6am to 9am (before the swarm of emails/phone calls come in for work). I know in the afternoon I encounter huge resistance. Fatigue sets in. Email numbness starts to take its toll. There’s usually a fire or two I have to put out with a client. I know that I have to get the most important, heavy thinking, creative tasks done first thing in the morning. If not, it’s going to be a struggle of a day. Resistance will win. I’m still learning….we will never stop learning. I still stumble. I will continue to stumble. However, the more you pay attention to it, the better you’ll be able to handle it…and to overcome it.

2 – Know That Resistance is Normal

Everyone experiences it. It’s okay. You would be a strange bird if you didn’t have problems or didn’t experience any resistance. Kudos to you if you don’t. Once again, this is where we learn about ourselves. When you reach your goal(s) and taste success, it will be so much sweeter when you’ve overcome challenges. To experience true success, you must have experienced true failure at one point in time.

For the Getting Things Done (GTD) folks out there, a perfect example is the weekly review. You tell yourself that you have too much to do and you can’t take the time to define your work and review everything. I can assure you, reviewing all of your stuff consistently is the most important part of GTD. I truly believe the power of the Getting Things Done methodology is not only with feeling good about what you’re working on, but feeling at peace about what you’re NOT working on.

3 – Embrace It

It’s going to be there. You will always face it in some way shape or form. This is the time you learn about yourself. You have the ability to make a decision when you’re in the throws of resistance. As I said in my last post, just take on step forward. Just one. Why? – because you’ll show yourself that you can do it. That one will inevitably lead to two, then three and so on. In time, if not right away, you will get past whatever it is that’s holding you back.

4– Power Through It, Even For A Short Amount of Time

I love to set a timer and just say, right now, right this second, I’ll do this task (i.e., writing for me) for 20 minutes (or even 5 or 10 minutes)….no matter how much it sucks. If I’m still in “resistance agony” after the 20 minutes, I’m done. I go do something else. Many times, I’ve defeated the resistance and have taken hold of the task. Then, 20 minutes turns into an hour and I feel great about powering through.

How about when you don’t want to the gym? How many times have you not wanted to go? Do you force yourself to go? I can tell you that I’ve had some of my best workouts when I didn’t want to go. You warm up for a few minutes, start to break a little sweat, and all of sudden you’re inspired to get after it. I still fail at this sometimes and I have to remind myself to just move forward a little bit. If you still have that extreme resistance after taking a step, maybe you back off for now. For the most part, however, taking that step will propel you toward making something happen.

Another example – a runner’s high. Have you ever had one? It rarely, if ever, happens early on in your run. It’s once your break through your barrier, when everything seems to stand still. It’s like you’re not even propelling yourself forward, almost seems like an out of body experience. I know for me when I was running marathons, I used to hate the first few miles of my training runs. Then, something would happen around mile five. I would be in a rhythm, momentum gathered, and then would venture into that zone. Time standing still.

5 – Plan Your Work, Work Your Plan

If you’re going to workout in the morning, get your stuff ready the night before. Set your shoes out, with your socks right beside it, your shorts, shirt, whatever. This is preparing for success. Once you wake up, you don’t have to think, you just do. Accountability will more than likely set in. This goes for eating as well. You missed a couple days? So what….start over. Plan…write it down. Write it down the night before, or when you wake up. Write down the time you’re going to eat and exactly what it is. Then, write down what you ate. Compare the two. Yes, they probably won’t match up, especially right away. Keep doing it. As you continue to plan and to track what you’re doing, you will start to see yourself meeting your plan.

If you utilize GTD, planning your work is so important, but even more so is working off a list of next actions that you’re attracted to. If not, you’ll be bouncing around the latest and loudest spectrum. It’s not a good place to be. Talk about stressful productivity. Some people think they only need to review/update their projects and actions during the weekly review. I disagree. A great rule to live by is simply doing an assessment of whether or not your attracted to your action lists. If not…if you feel the resistance, just back off from doing and review the lists and update them. This is a great habit to form and will make you 10 times more productive. If my action lists are up to date and if I feel attracted to them, it’s amazing how you can crank through a lot of your stuff in a short amount of time. Check out this article from Kelly Forrister, who is a Senior Coach and Presenter for the David Allen Company: Don’t be a stranger to your lists. It’s a quick read and sheds some light on managing your action lists.

Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands resistance” – Steven Pressfield, from The War of Art

Great perspective from other writers:

Tim Ferriss, author of 4 Hour Work Week, posted this recently. He writes of the resistance he had while writing a New York Times Bestseller. Feeling Stuck, Read This.

Leo Babauta, author of Zen Habits, also has a great piece on overcoming resistance. Check it out here.

Scott Dinsmore, author of Reading for your Success, writes Finding Freedom in Discomfort. Scott says, “When you’re uncomfortable you’re growing.”

Additional Reading on 1440:

1 – Are you addicted to perfection?

2 – Take a step forward

3 – Last but not least, my friend Brent Simonds, who hasn’t let quadriplegia keep him from doing great things! Are you letting the hand your dealt hold you back?

I’d love to hear your comments on what you do to overcome obstacles and beat resistance, or anything you’re dealing with now. Also, you can share this via the links below, via email, facebook or twitter. Finally, if you’ve gained some insight from my writing, I’d be humbled if you signed up to receive email updates or an RSS feed (just click on the links).

As always, thanks for reading.


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