One of my favorite teachers and writers in the world is my former life coach, Tama Kieves. She often uses the word “superpower” to convey the incredible potency of our desires and intuition and other inner resources to transform our lives from the inside out. Like Tama, I am passionate about helping people recognize their superpowers and consciously cultivate them to create lives that light them up.
Over the years I’ve learned that sometimes our superpowers appear, on the surface, to be superdowners (if I may coin a new term). And one of the superpowers often hiding in plain view as a superdowner is, believe it or not, resistance.
A lot of attention is given to how to deal with resistance in the world of personal development, generally from the perspective of a need to overcome it. The feeling of being in resistance isn’t terribly pleasant, so if you’re like most people, you want to get out of it as soon as you can. And many self-help gurus encourage you to do just that. They tell you that your resistance is in the way of everything you want, and so you have to learn to push through it.
I want to be very clear that I’m not here to disparage anyone else’s approach; after all, most people are teaching what works particularly well for them, and they’re eager to share what they’ve learned so they can help others through the rough patches on the path of personal development.
But I am here to encourage you to listen to yourself more than you listen to anyone else, and I’m here to share a perspective with you that might be useful, especially if you’re beating up on yourself for not being able to get out of your own way.
It turns out that sometimes – maybe often – resistance is a form of inner guidance. It’s not getting in your way, it’s showing you the way.
I want to share a story with you about a participant in one of my early Create the Work You Love classes that brought this home to me in a very powerful way. This bright and highly creative woman, whom I’ll call Linda, was being hard on herself for not making progress on a research paper she was doing for a post-graduate college course. She just kept putting off working on it, and then she judged herself, harshly and contemptuously, for her procrastination and laziness. Might that sound familiar?
If you read my Living.Well articles regularly or if you’ve listened to my TEDx talk, you won’t be surprised to hear me say this about self-judgment:
Self-judgment will never, ever get you where you want to go.
Ever. So please – if you’re procrastinating about something, do not judge yourself. Love yourself instead by pausing to listen more deeply to your heart of hearts. Here’s what unfolded for Linda when she did just that.
I asked her about the subject of her paper and why she chose it. She explained to the class that the man she was dating at the time, a high-powered lawyer, had suggested the topic to her because it was current and relevant and juicy.
Well, at least it was to him.
The insecure part of her that loved the validation of being in a relationship with someone as “important” as a lawyer wanted very much to please him, so she went ahead with his suggested topic. The problem was, it held no genuine interest for her. In fact, what she most longed to be doing with her discretionary time was writing a novel.
Knowing that our longings exist to guide us toward our deepest levels of fulfillment, I encouraged Linda to give herself permission to do what she was already doing – not working on the paper – and honor her passion instead by working on her novel. That brought up fear about what her boyfriend might think, which we then explored.
As we dived more deeply into her circumstances during private sessions, I learned that the lawyer was emotionally and even physically abusive toward Linda. She needed to honor herself not only by working on what she wanted rather than what he wanted, but by getting out of the relationship as quickly as possible. Happily, she did.
She also continued to pursue her love of creative writing and landed a job teaching it at a local college, which delighted her. Linda loved herself back on track to the kind of life that made her heart sing. And although I’ve lost touch with her, I hope she kept going. I love thinking about her writing that novel.
In listening to her resistance rather than pushing through it, Linda recognized that she’d been avoiding a significant inner truth, and she rediscovered the wisdom in her heart of hearts that was calling her toward what she loved.
The same could be true for you, although hopefully under less dramatic conditions. Your resistance could be coming from the part of you that wants you to pause and consider whether where you’re headed is where you genuinely want to go.
And that’s how you can tell if resistance is getting in your way, or whether it’s showing you the way. You need only ask yourself:
Am I resisting what I want, or resisting what I don’t want?
This is so fundamental it’s easy to overlook, especially given our cultural conditioning to simply push through things we don’t want to do. I remember a pivotal time in my own life when I overlooked the possibility of a superpower disguising itself as resistance.
I was still in the corporate world and our company was opening an office in New York City. I was asked to be the New York Office Director and, unbelievably, I agreed to take on the role. My immediate priorities were to develop business with new clients and hire staff.
Those of you who know me well may already be chuckling at the idea of me in a business development role. That kind of work is about as natural to me as, say, swinging from a trapeze would be to a Sumo wrestler. I had no innate talent, constitution or desire for it, at all.
But I said Yes to the job, anyway, for all of the reasons people normally say Yes to things they don’t want to do, which fundamentally boil down to one reason: because they think they should.
I thought I should take on the new role out of fear that if I didn’t, I wouldn’t have a job at all. And then I attempted to force myself to do it. After all, excelling in my job was something I’d always strived to do. But without a genuine desire for the kind of career that role was preparing me for, I had no genuine willingness to do it.
And where there is no genuine willingness, there is resistance. There is hesitation. There is procrastination. There is the mechanical checking of things off a to-do list rather than robust engagement with the task at hand. You know, all of those distasteful behaviors that highly successful people jettison early on in their meteoric rise to the top. And there I was, indulging in those very behaviors and feeling the exact opposite of successful.
I don’t remember how long I stayed in the role, but it wasn’t very long. My resistance finally slowed me down to a full stop. And in the stillness of that much-needed pause, I finally acknowledged a deep, pulsing longing to do work I loved. And so I resigned from the job. I resigned from the company. And step by step, I began creating work I love.
Another person with different longings and aspirations for their career might have chosen to stay, understanding that the new role would expand their skills and experience in a way that aligned with where they wanted to go. But that’s the key: alignment with what is wanted. Had such a person experienced resistance in the form of fear or self-doubt, he or she would have had to learn to move through the resistance in an empowered way. And learning how to do that is essential to the art of creating a life you truly love.
So if you’re resisting what you genuinely want, then by all means keep looking for ways to lovingly and gently move through the resistance. Just don’t use willpower to push through it! (That’s a subject for another time.)
But if you’re resisting what you don’t want, bless your resistance as the secret superpower it is and give yourself full permission to recognize and honor what you do want.
Know always that you matter and what you love matters – and that your inner resistor may be helping you remember this profound truth.
Copyright © 2018
Suzanne E. Eder
The other day I asked my sister what was the thing about me that could sometimes be irritating to my other sisters (there are four of us sisters). She said “procrastination.” In all honesty, I could not disagree with her. After reading Suzanne’s article, I was struck by the notion that I am unwilling to be outspoken about what I want to do and what I don’t want to do. When I read these words Suzanne wrote just now “And where there is no genuine willingness, there is resistance. There is hesitation. There is procrastination. There is the mechanical checking of things off a to-do list rather than robust engagement with the task at hand.” something inside me breathed a big Aha! Now I’m struck by the notion that I could just say No, this is not for me. Because, I think I’d much rather be considered decisive or candid, or just plain honest than procrastinating. Thank you Suzanne for describing the subtleties of resistance in such a way that helped me understand why I procrastinate so much. As always…you are the best!
Thank you so much for commenting on this post! I’ve found – as you know – that the subtle distinctions in Life are what give meaning and flavor to it. That, and…releasing all self- judgment. 🙂