I was the queen of procrastination. Attending a university triggered a whole host of self-doubts: I’m not good enough, I’m not smart enough, I’m definitely going to fail — you get the idea. I resisted doing the work until the last minute and sometimes passed on it. Instead, I ate, played games, chatted on the phone and reorganized everything in my apartment, just to avoid the emotional discomfort that the work triggered in me.
See, our resistance is made up of the emotional roadblocks that stop us from getting what we want or need. It comes in the form of our negative attitudes, thoughts and feelings, and in our self-defeating behaviors, like procrastination. It is the stickiness that keeps us from moving forward.
Negative self-beliefs such as ‘I am not good enough’ or ‘I’m a failure’ are very common and often pop up when we do something new.
Ideally, when we feel stuck, we go on a journey of discovery to find out why; we address the roadblocks and then progress again. Realistically, we don’t have always have time for this. Or we might already understand why. But our understanding doesn’t make it any easier to move forward.
A good therapist helped me recognize and tame my resistance, but to this day, I still struggle sometimes. During my own journey of discovery, I found some creative ways to work alongside self-doubt. Here is one of my favorites.
“Do the Work” author Steven Pressfield explains that we often confuse our inability to finish a task with our ability overall. If we view procrastination as an indication that we are incapable, we are bound to feel stuck. “You are not the problems that stand in your way,” he notes. “The problems are the problems. Work the problems.”
The truth is that our resistance is not an indication of our overall capabilities. It is only an indication that we are resisting. So, stop worrying about why you resist and get to work, Pressfield suggests. Think of your resistance as an external force, a Resistance Dragon.
Resistance Dragon is Pressfield’s personal representation. You can imagine your resistance in any form that you want — an animal, person, color, feeling or sense.
Externalize, bunch and label all your negative thoughts, feelings and behaviors simply as your own form of Resistance Dragon. You will save the time and energy that you otherwise would have used during introspection, or feeling guilty, inadequate and/or unprepared. Then you can apply this time and energy to moving forward.
Two Ways to Work the Resistance: Wage War or Befriend the Dragon
Both ways are effective, so pick the one that resonates with you, or use both. Sometimes, I feel friendly and sometimes, it’s war.
Pressfield says resistance is inside you, but it is not you. It is the enemy. “Resistance is an active, intelligent, protean, malign force — tireless, relentless and inextinguishable — whose sole object is to stop us from becoming our best selves and from achieving our higher goals,” he observes in “Do the Work.”
Your true self is creative, resilient and energetic. If your resistance is the dragon, then Real You is the knight. Real You must duel the Resistance Dragon. And you must conquer, rawr!
Research shows that resistance is the enemy mindset which can spark our competitive spirit, as well as motivate and energize us. Though dragon slaying might seem overwhelming, Pressfield suggests Real You is not alone in the fight. Your dream, vision, passion and enthusiasm will give you all of the courage and strength that you need to conquer dragons.
Conceptualizing yourself as a warrior fighting a battle that you will win also gives you a sense of power and personal agency. Using vivid imagery elicits a fighting attitude towards conquering a worthy opponent.
If you are up for a battle, then rawr! Here is how to wage war:
- Name that dragon: If you already understand the underlying reasons for your resistance, don’t go over them again. If you’re unsure of the reasons for your resistance, label your uncertainty as part of the resistance.
- Ignore the dragon: Start before you are ready! Don’t wait until you are ready to start, or until you have questioned, analyzed or overcome the resistance. Just start.
- Fight the dragon: No doubt that just starting will intensify the dragon’s need to stop you. Imagine that you are the Knight, equipped with power and determination. When we conjure confidence and enthusiasm, our brain blasts us with energy (doses of adrenaline, cortisol, oxytocin, DHEA and increased bloodflow). You know that the dragon is there, but you choose to storm past it down the path anyway.
- Take dragon-fighting breaks: Effective dragon-fighting requires regular energy refills. When you feel that you are tiring, take a walk, run an errand or better yet, talk to someone. This will help rebalance your stress hormones with feel-good hormones (serotonin and oxytocin), so you can keep going.
- Start dragon-fighting again: “Some days you win and some days you lose. Why you lost doesn’t matter. It only matters that you start again,” says Pressfield.
Befriend the Dragon
One problem that you might encounter with dragon slaying is that it is bloody exhausting. It requires a lot of strength. The thing about dragons is that they are nearly impossible to kill (actual fact). And if you manage to run them off, they tend to rear their ugly heads later on, perhaps in other shapes and forms.
Identifying an issue such as resistance as the enemy potentially increases our fear of it and directs attention away from any value it might have to offer. Similar to how our stress responses protect us, our resistance is trying to tell us something that might be informative, supportive or protective.
Real You and Resistance Dragon may disagree, but you don’t have to fight about it. When you befriend your dragon, you strengthen your self-comforting skills, encouraging you and your resistance to come to a working agreement. Here’s how:
- Thank the dragon: Recognize that your resistance is trying to protect you. It has your best interests at heart (no matter how disillusioned it may be).
- Listen to its concerns: Our resistance has something to tell us. Our task is to empathically listen to its fears, not to judge them or judge ourselves for having them. They may be based on past failures or they may be triggered by present concerns.
- Ask your resistance questions: Befriending our dragons is a difficult task. It requires being honest with ourselves. It may be difficult to uncover deep-seated or dormant fears.
If the reasons for your resistance are not forthcoming, close your eyes, focus your attention on your belly or your heart (or use any grounding technique that works for you) and ask the following questions. Write down what answers pop up. For example:
- What is it resisting? Perhaps “feeling unprepared and incompetent.”
- What is it protecting you from? Possibly “failing” or “looking stupid.”
- What does it envision will happen if you continue down the path towards your goal? Maybe “others will find out that I’m not good enough or I’m a failure.”
Detangle dragon-sized worry from realistic concerns. Resistance Dragons may bestow inner wisdom, but that doesn’t make it wise.
Negative self-beliefs such as “I am not good enough” or “I’m a failure” are very common and often pop up when we do something new. Such self-beliefs are over-simplified, over-exaggerated and unproductive. Identify and label your self-doubt, then refocus on constructive concerns. Ask yourself what is the worst-case scenario? How likely is that to happen? If you’re thinking, “The client will hate the idea, it’s not very likely, but still,” then what steps can you take to lessen the likelihood of that happening?
As long as you agree to keep a dialogue going with your resistance, writing down your concerns as they pop up while working and agreeing to revisit them at the end of the day or the end of the week, you can be proactive.
Our resistance can help us along the way, flagging weaknesses in our work that we might otherwise miss or try to ignore. The strength of the dragon often reflects the importance of the goal rather than our inability to do it. There is no such thing as a fearless warrior. Whether you choose to fight or befriend the dragon, working alongside the fear is part of the process.
Jena Field is a coach, therapist and psychology journalist who works with Pineapple Support and can be followed at TheMonkeyTherapist.com, on Twitter @monkeytherapist or on Facebook.com/Jennifer.Field.1000. Visit PineappleSupport.com for more resources.