By Nadine Araksi, Toronto-based Story Coach
The Real Thing Keeping You from your Goals
I’m going to give you an exercise to do and it might impact your thoughts on life coaching through resistance. Chances are you have a drink nearby. Take whatever you’re drinking right now and hold it out with your arm straight in front of you at shoulder height. Go ahead, I’ll wait here.
How heavy do you think the bottle is? 8 oz? 1L?
The absolute weight of the bottle doesn’t actually matter. What matters is how long you carry it. If I ask you to hold it for a few minutes, your arm might get tired. If I ask you to hold it for an hour, your arm would likely get sore. If I asked you to hold it up for the entire day, you’d likely end up in the hospital, maybe experiencing numbness or the inability to move.
When I first experienced this exercise at a conference, it was presented to me as a way to understand my stress and worry. Which makes sense. We need to put down our stress and worries, because the longer we carry them, the more suffering we experience, the more pain, which then leads to numbing behaviours or the inability to move in terms of a task or a goal.
Did You Even Do It?
But today I’d like to talk to you about resistance. Did you notice a resistance to holding the bottle early on? Maybe your brain said, “Tired” and our instinct may be to set the bottle down to relieve ourselves.
*Note from Steph: I resisted by not playing along because I figured that reading about it would be just as good as actually lifting it.
… continued below
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Our Brains and Discomfort
Most of our brains are wired to react when we experience pain or discomfort, nature’s way of keeping us safe, e.g. Fire —> Hot —> Burn —> Drop or Move. We might check out somehow, a process called disassociation, where the human brain protects itself from pain by compartmentalizing the pain experienced in the body from the mental experience of the pain. Our prehistoric brains are wired to Fight, Freeze or Flee (or Fight/Flight/Freeze) in painful situations. And your go-to reaction to resistance might depend on the situation. We might want to flee a physically painful situation, but when verbally attacked we may freeze and shut down, a tactic I refer to as “There’s a bear, play dead.”
When I think about resistance in the context of our coaching program, there’s the glaringly obvious fact: everyone already knows what they should be doing to achieve their goals. As I was researching resistance, I came across this great Medium article by Colton Swabb.
“If you want to lose weight, you know you should eat healthier and exercise more.
If you want to build an audience, you know you should be writing and creating more.
If you want to make more money, you know you should be selling more.
The problem is not knowledge. You either have all the knowledge you need, or can have immediate access to that knowledge through a simple Google search. The problem is resistance. The magnetic repulsion you feel that keeps you from doing what you know you should be doing, already.”
Life Coaching Through Resistance
In order to create the life we want in any form, we must first overcome our resistance, AKA find the path of least resistance (that’s where that came from!). How the eff do you do that when you’ve been resisting things subconsciously much of your life? By starting to pay attention to where it shows up and why. Get curious about your resistance. Start to shine a light into the corners of your dark spots to bring awareness to them.
Resistance is a byproduct of pain. When we resist change, or resist starting a task, for example, we’re actually trying to avoid emotional pain. In this Psych Central article on tolerating the pain of painful emotions, author Margarita Tartakovsky says, “We can pretend our painful feelings don’t exist. We can ignore them. We can judge and resist them. And so many of us do, because we think that this will soften the blow. This will help us bypass the discomfort of our hurt, sorrow, agony, anger, anxiety. We assume the feelings will just go away (and they might, but only temporarily).” I don’t know about you, but whenever I’ve tried this route, whenever I’ve tried to get to “OK” without observing why I’m not OK first,
How does resistance look for you?
- Some ways very common ways resistance might show up:
- Numbing behaviours: Scrolling social media mindlessly, trolling your inbox, binging that Netflix show…
- Dopamine-hit seeking behaviours: Consuming the news non-stop, texting/chatting with friends for no real reason, online shopping…
- Resistance thoughts: “I don’t have the skills to apply for that job!” “I suck at this.” “I’ll never be good enough.”
Last week, I was in a meeting with a lot of Type A people. I was feeling steamrolled, like I couldn’t get my turn to speak and share my ideas for a solution to the problem. And so I felt myself slipping away. “Ugh, do I even care about this? Clearly she’s going to push her solution through. I’m not even needed on this call. My heart’s not in it. I’m not adding value. I’m not the right person for the job…” The thoughts spiraled lower and lower as the call went on. But in observing where my mind was going, I noticed that when I feel unheard, or when there is conflict, I go into flee mode. Get me the fuck out of here, my brain screams.
The first step in overcoming resistance and changing deeply atrophied behaviours is in observing them. Becoming aware of them. Observing our resistance gives us the gift of starting to notice the physical manifestation of emotional pain in the form of guilt, shame or humiliation and embarrassment.
What happens when you feel these emotions? Close your eyes and think about the last time you experienced shame for example. Where do you FEEL this in the body? The body becomes such a great guide in noticing resistance because our psychological pain often manifests physically. It’s why we say things like, “That’s a pain in the ass” or “I got my back up about it.”
Find mantras/target thoughts to help you when this shows up for you. This is why the coaching work is so powerful. You identify the thought that’s holding you back and then you work to rewrite and internalize a new, better feeling thought. The same goes for our stories, which are really a collection of thoughts, assumptions, ideas, narratives and memories. When we do a brain dump or a thought model, we start to become the authors of our destinies. We start to take what we’ve observed in ourselves and create new, better-feeling realities.
The Good in Resistance
But resistance is not always a negative thing. During physical activity, resistance training builds muscles that make us stronger. So it might be said that our practice in observing and resisting resistance behaviours creates a new strength and resilience to resistance. Noticing resistance over time teaches us that it’s a passing thought, feeling or activity, one that can harm us and keep us from our goals and dreams if we’re not watching for it.
Identifying pain takes courage, but every time I look a painful story in the eye I see that it’s not as scary as I’d made it to be in my mind. And as my more beautiful life unfolds, as new opportunities for joy manifest as a result of the work I’m doing to create this life, I can appreciate where I still hold myself up. By practicing what Buddhists call loving-kindness, a deep form of self-compassion meditation, I more easily forgive myself and move on. I spot where my ego shows up as resistance, trying to protect me from pain. I acknowledge its presence and offer it gratitude for keeping me safe, then I gently tell my ego, my saboteur where to go with a “Thanks, but I’ve got this from here.”
As Dr. Brene Brown says, “When we deny the story it defines us. When we own the story, we can write a brave new ending.” Need help figuring out how to write your story from here? Get in touch!