This month, we’re talking about tools you can use to make healthy changes in your life, especially changes you find hard to make. Yesterday we talked about embracing uncertainty – and putting it to work for you.
Today, let’s talk about how to overcome resistance, a form of mind game that keeps us from doing the things we really want to do. Because no matter what kind of healthy or positive change you’re trying to make, you’re going to have to deal with resistance.
Everything we’ve talked about so far in the Healthy Life Toolbox tools series is about playing the “head game” of making healthy changes in your life. Don’t worry – we’re going to talk about using practical tools and taking simple steps too. But getting into a positive and productive mindset (also known as “getting your mind right!”) has to be the first step. (Includes affiliate links)
If you don’t deal with your thoughts and feelings about making healthy changes at the beginning of the journey – as well as throughout the process – your chance of sticking with it is low. Very low.
Because you know for a fact – with 100% certainty – that as soon as you start, your mind starts playing games with you –
- “Maybe you should wait until next week – you have too much going on right now.”
- “Haven’t you tried this before?”
- “Your weight is fine.”
- “You don’t have time to eat healthy, much less exercise.”
- “You’re too busy to pursue your dream.”
- “You’re too old.”
- “Your hormones are messed up – deal with that first.”
- “What will people think?”
And on and on. You know how it goes. Some people call this “resistance,” a term that comes from the book “The War of Art” by Stephen Pressfield. The idea is that every time you start doing something new and better, your mind resists your efforts – it immediately goes into overdrive, trying to convince you not to do the new and better thing.
So if you decide to change careers, go back to school, write a book, take up painting, start a ministry, train for a 10K, lose weight, study martial arts – anything new, better, more exciting, or more positive – your mind goes, “Oh, wait a minute. This isn’t such a good idea.”
And then your brain starts working overtime to get you to stay where you are, not take any risks, and not try anything “new and improved.”
(However, if you decide to lie on the couch, watch Netflix, and eat cheese puffs all weekend, resistance will leave you alone. It only shows up when you’re doing something exciting, positive, or challenging – something that will take you out of your comfort zone.)
I don’t really understand why resistance happens, but it probably has to do with your brain wanting to keep you “safe.” Anything that seems new and different can feel like a threat – either physical or emotional – and your brain doesn’t want you to be threatened. So it encourages you to stay right where you are – in your comfort zone – even if you don’t feel particularly happy or even comfortable there. Which means that if you want to get out of your comfort zone, you have to learn to recognize and overcome resistance.
I’m telling you all this so that you’ll be prepared. Because every time you start – or even think about – making a positive change, resistance is going to show up. So you have to anticipate it, prepare for it, and plan to gently (or not so gently) push it off to the side and keep on going – every time it starts talking to you.
Here are some of the forms it can take –
- Sabotage by others
- Negative self-talk
These aren’t the only forms resistance can take, but they’re some of the most commons forms – and most of us have experienced some or all of them.
For me, resistance typically shows up as fear, anxiety, distraction, and negative self-talk, depending on what kind of change I’m trying to make. If I’m working on a writing project, it typically looks like, “you don’t know anything,” “you should research this more before you start,” or “what in the world do you think you’re doing?”
If I’m working on eating healthier and trying to lose weight, it typically looks like “this is too hard,” “your weight is fine,” “or “haven’t you tried this before?”
And what’s particularly insidious is that all of those thoughts contain a kernel of truth. So it’s easy to accept or believe it, because it seems true. Yes, it’s scary to “put yourself out there” if you’re writing or creating something – it might flop or people might laugh at you. And yes, it’s scary to try to lose weight or work on your marriage or go after a new job – because you might not succeed.
But here’s what’s even more true – if you don’t go after what you want, you’ll never achieve it. You won’t get healthier or stronger, you won’t lose weight, you won’t start your business, you won’t improve your marriage, you won’t go on an adventure, you won’t – fill in the blank with the thing you want to do – unless you overcome resistance and do the thing you really want to do.
- Start looking for resistance in your life. Listen to the “voices” that don’t want you to move forward with the healthy changes you’re making this year. What do they sound like? What do they say? Identify the things you do that sabotage your own efforts.
- Train yourself to ignore it. When your brain says something that’s based in fear of change or of moving forward, practice setting it to the side. Don’t spend a lot of energy fighting it, but instead recognize it and decide to take action in spite of it.
- Establish habits that make it easier to overcome resistance. For example, if your mind keeps telling you that you can’t lose weight, it’s easier to ignore it if you’ve established the habit of making a healthy menu for the week and spending an hour on healthy food prep every Sunday. And it’s easier to overcome resistance to exercise if you’ve paid for a gym membership or agreed to meet a friend to walk 3 mornings a week.
Use the Tool – Starting today, begin to identify how resistance is working in your life. Make a note of the forms it takes, and see if you can start to identify some patterns. What are the things it tends to say to you? Which fears are fueling it? Then practice ignoring it – acknowledge the message, but decide to take positive action anyway. And finally, put in place at least two habits this week that allow you to overcome resistance without actually having to fight with it.
Let me know how resistance shows up most often in your life – and what you’re going to do to push back against it. Leave a note in the Comments, or email me at hello @ healthylifetoolbox.com.
You can find all of the tools in the Healthy Life Toolbox here.