Overcoming Resistance to Personal Change and Feeling Stuck

Posted on 2018-09-08 By Joanna


Excerpt from the book “The Secrets of Creativity”

Resistance is one of those skills that could be used in both, a creative and a destructive way. For example, we might be able to resist an impulse to give in to some distraction instead of focusing on our work and therefore, applying a creative form of resistance. Or, we might resist our work or some creative activity and, therefore, using a destructive form of resistance.

In its negative form, it presents itself as a hindrance to our learning and development. The issue wouldn't be so complicated if not the fact that there might be some unconscious components to it. That is to say, it is easy to think 'I'm not resisting anything', but when we try to do something, we feel this block, this pressure, or simply a lack of motivation.

Our resistance can take many forms: lack of motivation, boredom and apathy, anxiety and fear, distraction and struggling to focus, and self-criticism.

The causes of our resistance might not be totally clear to us, unless we are able to develop a sufficient self-awareness through introspection and engage in a periodical self-evaluation – a skill I have emphasised in the Part 2 of this book.

To use a general example which might help us with understanding our own personal resistance, there are two theories regarding the resistance to literature and why we might be not interested in reading particular books or why we might read it for a while and then, supposedly, become bored and give up on reading the rest.

One theory relates to the perception of incoherence – if we are reading something that is incomprehensible to us, something which we don't understand, we will most likely give up on reading. I believe this theory could be also applied to anything in life – take, for instance, wanting to learn how to play piano. We are presented with a sequence of notes which we don't understand, and the teacher's fingers are moving so quickly that we can barely see them. We thus encounter something incomprehensible and in many cases, people do in fact give up if they perceive that learning the particular skill is beyond their capabilities. But is it really worth to give up so easily?

Regardless, the second theory suggests that we are likely to give up on reading the book if we perceive it as threatening to our belief system, world view, or general understanding of our self and the world around us. We might, therefore, prefer to avoid the challenging information and uncomfortable facts, and give up on reading. Isn't it something that many people do in everyday situations, for instance, avoid to talk about specific subjects, avoid interacting with certain types of people, or avoid visiting some places?

Both theories relate to something called imaginative resistance which I see as being strongly associated with creativity. If we resist stretching our mind and imagination because something seems too difficult to understand or too uncomfortable to consider, we can say 'bye' to creativity because this attitude will make our mind stiff and rigid. In other words, it will be difficult to produce novel ideas because we will sort all our thoughts through our prejudice filter of what is easy to understand and what is not challenging to us, therefore, minimizing our chances of getting anything creative from our reasoning. We must be willing to play with our ideas, keep our mind flexible and plastic, because it will help us to make connections between various ideas and enable our unconscious mind to provide us with imagination and novel concepts. Often, our best ideas lie on the other side of what feels comfortable.

Okay, but telling ourselves to stop resisting novelty and anything that seems too challenging might not be enough.

Steve Pressfield theorizes that resistance is the universal force, prevailing in each individual. It has only one purpose – to stop creativity, and it will use whatever means necessary to obtain it – for example, by eliciting fear, anxiety, self-criticism, self-loathing. Only when we look directly at the face of our resistance we can begin to understand the damage it has been doing to ourselves and our creativity, and realize that we've been tricked by it and started believing our own lies: that our fears are real and that our self-criticism is valid.

The solution that Mr. Pressfield proposes is that we have to stay focused on what we aim or want to do and ignore all the voices of resistance. Again, in order to do that, you need to be sufficiently self-aware in order to recognize when the voice of resistance is trying to undermine your work.

Essentially, it's a war – you either give in to the resistance and lose, or you ignore it and progress with your work regardless. It's not about avoiding our fear and the causes of it, neither about trying to fight it, or trying to not be scared. It's about feeling its full force and going through it regardless how scary it might feel.

In fact, he says, the more fear we experience, the more confident we can be about the fact that we must do whatever we are scared of. The more scared we are about doing something, the more certain we can be that we have chosen the right path. It is simply because the closer we are to our success, accomplishment, or simply doing something we wanted to do, the louder the voice of resistance will be.

I cannot promise you that adopting this strategy will make your fear to totally go away. I'm not even sure if that's entirely possible. What I can be certain of is that the more we practice staying with our fear and the more often we do things that scare us, the stronger we will become in the fight against our resistance. You can conquer fear and all other manifestations of resistance by its own weapon – by simply resisting it.

Excerpt from the book “The Secrets of Creativity”

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