Working with the Ebbs & Flows of Your Resistance

By Leo Babauta

There is a part of us that resists things that are hard, uncomfortable, overwhelming, or a big change. Even if we really want to do it.

What is this resistance, and how do we work with it?

The resistance is simply our mind not wanting to do something that feels uncomfortable: anything uncertain, difficult, overwhelming, different than our normal way of doing things, awkward, painful, sad, lonely, stressful. It makes sense that we would avoid these kinds of discomfort.

Resistance shows up in so many places in our lives:

  • Procrastinating on our meaningful work
  • Getting addicted to distractions, social media, checking messages, shopping (as a way to avoid what we don’t want to face)
  • Resisting changing our diet to something healthier
  • Sitting too much, which is resisting moving more and getting away from the comfort of devices
  • Resisting relaxing and not doing anything productive
  • Resisting doing things productive when you just want to relax into distraction
  • Resisting meeting new people, going to social events, participating in group activities
  • Not wanting to open up to others, or open up to the person you’re in an intimate relationship with
  • Not wanting to say what you want, to yourself or others
  • Not committing fully to something, out of fear of not being able to do it

These are just a few common ways that resistance shows up for us. But it’s everywhere in our lives.

And it’s not a problem. Resistance is natural, just a sensation in the body that is a response to change, discomfort, uncertainty. Our minds have a hard time dealing with these things, because we like routine, comfort, certainty.

Here’s the thing: the resistance isn’t always at a constant, full-on intensity. Resistance ebbs and flows.

With that in mind, let’s look at how we can work with it.

Playing with the Ebbs & Flows of Resistance

Let’s say you have been feeling resistance to working on a big project …

You put it off, you put it off … and if you bring awareness to it, you can actually see and feel your resistance. It feels like tightness in your chest, it feels like antsy-ness and nervousness, it feels like dread or something you need to get away from.

If you pause and stay with the feeling, you might notice that it’s not that intense, it just might not feel pleasant. But it’s something we often want to avoid, find anything else to do — busywork, email, messages, social media, distraction.

But if you stay with it for awhile — don’t let yourself turn away from the project or your resistance, but just stay still for a bit — you might notice that it’s not consistently intense. It doesn’t always stay strong, but can ebb a bit.

It can also get stronger. But it can’t maintain its strength for long. You can breathe, stay with it, wait it out. Bring curiosity to it. Give the feeling a little compassion and kindness.

Play with it. Dance with it. Bring a smile to your face. Play some music. Laugh, and bring some lightheartedness.

It will ebb to a low tide. And then you can act even though you’re feeling resistance.

You can do the same with any kind of resistance:

  • You want to eat healthier, but have been resisting making healthy changes to your diet — let yourself feel the resistance, but don’t give up. Keep at it, reading articles, talking to people, looking up healthy recipes, keeping reminders that you want to be healthy all around you. Your resistance will ebb if you stay with it, and eventually you’ll be ready to flip the switch and start the change you really want.
  • You want to write something, but have been putting it off. Keep it front and center. Let the resistance come, but relax around it. Smile with it. Play some music that makes you want to rock out. Jot down notes here and there. Don’t just give up, but stay with it as much as you can, and the resistance will fade to a manageable amount.
  • You’ve been putting off making a scary phone call, or writing a message or email to someone. Again, feel the resistance, turn towards it. It’s just a sensation in your body. Breathe. Smile. Don’t run. Or if you do run, come back. Keep coming back. It will ebb, and you can then dance with it.

Stay with it. Come back, again and again. Bring lighthearted joy to it. And find that resistance isn’t anything to be afraid of after all — it’s just a natural defense mechanism that goes away as you realize that it all isn’t so heavy after all.

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