Resistance is a mental trap.
It makes us run away from our fears. Our mind chooses certainty over the unknown. We resist what’s beyond our control.
Turning away makes us feel safe and protected. But avoiding resistance can be harmful — inaction is not a safe option.
We resist the things that we want the most. That’s a prominent human paradox. Achieving happiness intimidates most of us.
What we resist, persists. But, what we confront sets us free.
Resistance is a form of feedback. Pay attention. Resistance provides valuable data to help us get where we want.
The path of growth requires moving towards our resistance.
Resistance to change is a signal
“There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t. It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write.” — Stephen Pressfield, The War of Art
Resistance comes in many shapes or forms.
At work, resistance can be subtle, like an innocent roll of the eyes. Or more explicit, like pushing back or openly sabotaging our boss.
In our personal lives, resistance manifests as avoidance, denial, or procrastination. It gets in our way paralyzing us.
Resistance in the workplace is about boycotting others. Personal resistance is about boycotting ourselves.
It’s easy to blame others when life doesn’t go our way. Resistance is a cognitive trap that’s easy to get into. We blame what we resist because it holds us back from the things we want.
Resistance is a signal that we are heading in the right direction.
Goodbye, comfort, hello, new possibilities. When we face resistance is because we are pushing hard. We are getting closer to the things we desire.
Usually, we don’t think about resistance. That’s the problem.
We don’t understand resistance, neither reflect on it. Beating this tough opponent is not easy. We must first learn its moves.
Start by confronting your resistance. Listen to the signal.
Stop blaming resistance in your life
“I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” — Mark Twain
So, why do we blame resistance?
There are three reasons.
First, our minds have the tendency to turn away from what we fear. We resist not being in control. That’s why we resist what we don’t know. We want to avoid the effort, pain, and frustration.
Running away from what we resist is a defense mechanism. Yet, inaction can be even more dangerous.
John F. Kennedy said, “There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long-range risks of comfortable inaction.”
Second, we buy into the idea that “people usually resist change.”
Resistance to change is a natural reaction. But it’s not the only one. We are more adaptive than we think. Our brain is like a muscle — the more we exercise it, the fitter it becomes.
Third, we got the signal all wrong.
Most people think resistance is a sign that something terrible is about to happen. But, as I wrote before, beyond our comfort zone lies the learning zone, not danger.
Research shows that a state of comfort creates a steady performance. To improve our performance, we must experience a higher than normal stress level. We must stretch ourselves beyond the comfort zone.
We can’t grow if we keep doing business as usual. Don’t ignore the functional value of resistance.
In many fields such as biology, electronics, or mechanics, resistance is neutral. It’s just an operational factor. It can turn into something positive or negative, depending on how we use it.
Resistance is not an obstacle. Turn it into fuel for growth.
How to move towards your resistance
“Everything is possible as long as you put your mind to it and you put the work and time into it. Your mind really controls everything.” — Michael Phelps
1. Don’t fear change; reframe the loss
We all suffer from loss aversion. The pain of loss seems greater than the power of gain. That’s why the status quo is so deceiving.
Defeating your resistance requires addressing the loss. What are you afraid of losing? What are the emotions at stake if you try something different?
Most losses are emotional: loss of control, loss of power, or loss of narrative. Change confuses us. It creates a gap between how things are and how they used to be.
Fear is a confusing, abstract emotion. Reframe it into something more tangible. Confronting your losses will help you understand and overcome most of them.
Identify the loss — name it. How does it manifest? How does the loss affect your performance? What triggers that loss?
Use the “The Loss of Change” canvas to reframe the loss into a win.
2. Show up every day
Talent is not enough. If you want to thrive, you need to put the effort.
Will Smith said, “Talent you have naturally. Skill is only developed by hours and hours and hours of beating on your craft.”
Effort counts twice. It multiplies your skills, and it multiplies your talent.
As Angela Duckworth writes, “Effort factors into the calculation twice, not once. Effort builds skill. At the very same time, effort makes skill productive.”
On Grit, the psychologist shares an example of how effort is vital to long-term success.
In 1940, researchers at Harvard University ran the Treadmill Test. They wanted to test people’s resilience. And invited participants to see how long they could run on a treadmill.
By design, the experiment was exhausting.
The Treadmill speed and inclination were set up so that the average person could not hold it for too long. Some participants lasted for more than four minutes. Many, only a minute and a half.
Researchers contacted participants every two years since graduating from college. They monitored how their lives were doing. Decades later, a psychiatrist reached out to participants.
It turns out that the Treadmill Test was a reliable predictor of holistic success. Those who lasted the most were more satisfied with their careers, relationships, and life overall.
Woody Allen, “Eighty percent of success in life is showing up.”
Defeating resistance requires becoming stronger than your opponent. Talent is not enough. Show up every day.
3. Face the worst-case scenario
There’s no such thing as making the perfect decision. It’s almost impossible to anticipate the outcome of our choices.
That’s why I always like to ask myself one question:
What’s the worst that could happen?
Tim Ferris believes that we need to define our fears instead of our goals. He was inspired by the Stoic exercise premeditatio malorum, which means the pre-meditation of evils.
His “Fear Setting” exercise is pretty simple. It’s an invitation to face our worst-case scenario.
Start by asking, “What if I …?” This is what you are considering doing.
Think of what is making you afraid, anxious, or you are putting off. It could be asking for a raise, ending a relationship, starting a new hobby, or getting a different job. Anything.
In the first column, “Define,” write down all the worst things you imagine happening if you take that step. List between 10 to 20.
Then go to the “Prevent” column. Write down what you could do to prevent each of those things from happening. Or, at least, decrease its likelihood.
Lastly, go to “Repair.” So, if the worst-case scenarios happen, what could you do to repair the damage? Realize that, even if we make a wrong choice, we can always course correct.
Some fears are well-founded. But, many are an illusion. Let go of that mental trap.
Most of the things that we worry about will never happen. So, instead of avoiding the worst-case scenario, face it head-on.
4. Stop underestimating the cost of inaction
When making decisions, we are very good at considering what might go wrong. But, we underestimate the cost of inaction.
Avoiding or postponing action can have negative consequences too.
Inaction is not a risk-free choice. Self-paralysis can be costly.
Ask yourself, “If I avoid action or making a decision, how could that impact my life?”
Write down the impact in one day, in one week, in one month, and in one year.
Consider all aspects, not just the ones linked to a specific decision or action. A professional choice impacts our health, emotions, finances — our entire life. And vice versa.
The worst decision you can make is not doing what you want because you fear the consequences. Live to create memories, not regret.
The cost of inaction is atrocious. Stop worrying about what can go wrong.
5. Focus on what you can control
Most things in life are out of our control.
Realizing this unleashes a burden. We are free to focus on what we can control instead. Stop waiting for things to happen. Become in charge of your life.
Michael Phelps won the men’s 200m butterfly gold medal, not because he swam faster than others. He focused on swimming the best he could.
It was a challenging race. Phelps and Chad le Clos were swimming very close to each other. But, his arch-rival made a big mistake. And paid a huge price for it.
le Clos worried about Phelps. He was so concerned that he looked at his opponent and lost his focus. He didn’t even make it to the medal stand.
Phelps focused on what he could control: swimming. le Clos focused on what we couldn’t control: how his rival was swimming.
When we try to control everything, we end managing nothing.
Focus on what you can manage: your emotions, reactions, priorities, and effort. Control your act. Don’t waste your energy on what’s beyond your control.
Move towards your resistance. Face it. Be kind and empathetic. Instead of avoiding your resistance, confront it. Learn from your opponent.
Resistance is a signal that reminds us that we are on the right path. What is yours trying to tell you?
Move closer to your resistance. With an open mind. That’s my invitation to you.
Gustavo Razzetti is a change facilitator who helps leaders and teams drive positive change. He advises, writes, and speaks on personal growth, team development, and culture transformation.