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What has brought the most happiness/success in your life?
- Pushing through resistance and procrastination to keep taking action towards a big goal
- Following your intuition and starting and stopping taking action based on how you feel
When learning about human behavior and how people accomplish big things, I find that there are many advocates for both options. Much of the psychological research I’ve read points to the first option but there are many, many successful people who proclaim the value of the second option.
In my own life, I have seen both work as well. Big and complicated projects have almost always required some amount of perseverance. I’ve had to keep on working even when I felt like giving up. But I’ve also had amazing opportunities come up from following my intuition. I’ve gotten new jobs or found a new apartment with barely any hustle effort at all.
These two approaches feel diametrically opposed. Their contradiction ultimately comes down to a question: when you feel resistance, should you push through it or move away from it?
To answer the question, it helps to get more specific about what resistance is. For me, resistance feels like:
- Tightening in my chest
- Energy drain
- Repulsion – this sounds dramatic but sometimes I have a visceral feeling of “I absolutely cannot do that”
- Mental block
Each of these feelings has a slightly different quality. And for me, I think the answer to whether or not to push through or move away from resistance comes down these questions:
What is the quality of the feeling of resistance? And how important is it to my overall goal?
The two main qualities of resistance that I feel are fear-based resistance and gut resistance.
Fear-based resistance usually comes from something that requires me to step outside of my comfort zone. Change is always going to be scary on some level, and there is a part of my brain that creates the feeling of resistance to keep me safe.
Gut resistance is more like the feeling of repulsion. It’s something that is not sitting right with me or feels like it requires an inordinate amount of energy to push through.
For me, fear-based resistance is worth pushing through. My instinct is to avoid something in order to make the fear go away. But actually, the only way to make the fear go away is to face it head-on. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been stressed out and afraid of something, only to realize after the fact that it wasn’t as big of a deal as I thought it would be. And pushing through fear-based resistance also often has the additional side effect of massively increasing my confidence and energy.
This is not to say that pushing through fear-based resistance is easy. Since the fear is often based on distorted thinking, I find Cognitive Behavioral Therapy strategies extremely helpful for reframing my fear, which usually lessens the resistance just enough for me to get the strength to push through it.
When I feel gut resistance, it’s usually worth it to me to pause for a moment. This is a good chance to check-in and ask some questions, for example:
- What might it mean that I am having this kind of reaction?
- Is this something I actually want to do?
- Is there a better way to go about doing this?
- Is the timing right for this action I want to take?
If you’re feeling gut resistance, a good strategy can be to postpone whatever is causing the resistance. While this looks a lot like procrastinating, it’s all about your attitude. If you’re having a strong enough reaction to something, you probably won’t do your best work anyway. So try it again later with fresh eyes and mind, and see if the same things come up for you.
If the same feeling comes up time and time again, reevaluate your priorities and goals. Can you accomplish what you want to accomplish without doing this thing that is causing so much resistance? What new creative way can you go about doing it?
Resistance almost always comes up when we are taking action on things that we think will help support our overall goals. If we always stop taking action when we run into it, it’s likely that we won’t make much progress. But if we always push through it, it’s possible we’ll pursue goals we don’t really care about or go about things in a harder way than is truly necessary.
The difference between fear-based resistance and gut resistance can be unbelievably subtle. And very personalized. So, the two common pieces of advice of whether or not to push through can be really easy to misapply. Your power here comes from quieting the outside advice and paying attention to your own thoughts and responses. We all have the internal wisdom to know what the right choice is. It then takes courage to push through your fear and it takes courage to walk away from something that isn’t serving you. Combine your internal wisdom with your courage and you will be unstoppable.