[Author’s Note: I love this article and think it still offers some useful perspectives so please read on and enjoy. However, my approach to answering this question for clients, “How do I Get Myself to Do What I know I Need To Do?” has changed dramatically over the last few years. There is a far more simple and direct route to releasing the binds of procrastination and resistance. I encourage you to check out my new posts, videos, and programs to learn more.]
“I always planned on writing more once I retired. I have so much to share and yet I can’t seem to get myself to do it.”
There it is. That persistent frustration that crops up in my work (and life) approximately 1 million times a month: How do I get myself to do it?
Susan and I were not in the middle of a coaching session but rather long-time acquaintances on a kayak trip. We were drifting along in the middle of a pristine lake soaking in the sun.
One could easily look at Susan’s situation and offer her a number of suggestions based on solid time management principles:
- Start protecting a sacred time each day just for writing
- Break down a specific project and work on one small section
- Track your writing ideas in a list to stay motivated
- And so on
And while these are helpful tips they miss the mark on what is really going on. Intellectually Susan knew what she needed to do to write more but this knowledge wasn’t getting her any closer to writing.
This is a very common situation. So often we know what we need to do to have more time, to be more organized, to live a fuller life – and yet we can’t seem to get ourselves to do it.
And when we can’t get ourselves to do that thing – most people assume it’s because they are somehow a defective human being. “If only I had more discipline I would get this done.” or “If I was smarter I could figure this out.”
So what gives?
In a word: Resistance.
Steven Pressfield author of The War of Art defines Resistance with a capital R as “an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential. It’s a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.”
Resistance is found inside any new goal, habit, project, or system we’d like to create.
Resistance is designed to protect us from change. From being uncomfortable. From looking bad or “failing”.
Resistance encourages chaos, confusion, crises, competing priorities, overwhelm, and self-doubt that will keep us from moving toward that which our soul desires.
To put it bluntly Pressfield quips, “Resistance is always lying and always full of shit.”
So how do you overcome such a strong force when (re)starting something new?
- Taking up painting
- An exercise program after a long hiatus
- Setting new time boundaries in your schedule
- Adopting a new food plan
- Being vulnerable and open in a new relationship
Here are 5 tips from Pressfield, my own experience, and my courageous clients on how to work with Resistance and get yourself to do what you know you need to do:
1. Accept its presence: Resistance is part of the human condition. Now that you are aware of it you will be able to recognize, label, and distance yourself from its impact. It is now separate of you. This makes it much easier to circumvent.
2. Notice its impact: In my experience, running from Resistance is one of the biggest causes of overwhelm, overwork, and other self-sabotaging behaviors. It is far easier to fill our lives up with busyness and over-consumption than it is to turn towards that which we most desire: to create, to contribute, to grow.
3. Befriend the Foe: Resistance is there for a reason. Pressfield talks a lot about slaying this dragon but in my experience befriending it has more of an impact. This resistance is ultimately trying to protect you – its intentions are good even though it can hold you back. Be kind to resistance (and yourself) and you will greatly reduce its grip on your life.
4. Let it motivate you: Resistance only shows up when you are growing your soul. Take its presence as giant flashing neon sign that you are on the right track. Use it as a trigger to remember why you are committed to following through on your goals.
5. Stop thinking: Overthinking is Resistance’s way of slowing you down. It is using your thinking against you. Do whatever you can to take a small action toward your goal or away from thinking and into movement. Take some deep breaths, go for a run, imagine a bucket of ice falling on your head. Get out of your mind and into your body.
Back on the lake, my conversation with Susan flowed on like the water beneath us. Soon we found ourselves on the fascinating subject of food and emotional eating.
As our kayaks slowly drifted apart Susan was quiet for some time. Finally she asked, “Do you have any ideas on how to get myself to stop overeating?”
“Write more.” I called back.
She got it.