How to Work with Resistance


When we set out to make a change in any part of our lives, especially the kind of change related to our own creative growth, we often experience some level of resistance as our mind and body approach a new way of doing things. Whether we’ve decided to wake up earlier, exercise regularly, learn a new skill, or simply say no once in a while, changes require a bit of extra effort and support in order to gain traction, as my gifted teacher Amy says, in the new terrain.

This initial phase of change is when our particular forms of resistance are likely to manifest, and because their function is to keep us in a safe-feeling, familiar pattern, they can be tricky to identify. Resistance is a different kind of phenomenon than the voice of your inner critic. In many ways, it’s more subtle, often masquerading as fatigue, rationalization, procrastination, pessimism, defensiveness, or general negativity.

One way I know I’ve drifted into my own resistance is that I either start complaining or I start cleaning, which are both excellent ways of not writing a book outline. If my resistance is more intense, I become irrationally critical of people and situations around me. Earlier this month, as I was working my way through Flora Bowley’s outstanding intuitive painting e-course, I spent several days convinced I had wasted my time and money and that the design of the course was flawed, its content repetitive and unhelpful. Underneath this externalized criticism, I felt totally lost and farther out of my comfort zone than I’ve been in a long time, and I was throwing up a ton of resistance around being a beginner again. I was terrified of failure.

I’m not proud of my critical tendency, but we are all human and change is uncomfortable. There’s a reason we resist: change and growth make us feel vulnerable, and because most of us have been culturally programmed to avoid it, vulnerability can make us defensive. The powerful research of Brené Brown, however, reminds us that our vulnerability is an indication of our strength.

Here are some questions to ask yourself if you suspect you’re encountering resistance (hint: tired, grouchy, angry, critical, distracted, argumentative, or avoidant). They may not remove your resistance altogether, but they might soften it just enough to get moving again.

1. If I weren’t feeling this resistance, what might I be open to learning?

2. If I weren’t feeling this resistance, what might I be willing to do?

3. How will I feel when I’ve completed the next step of my goal?

How does resistance manifest for you, and how do you address it to keep moving forward? Leave your stories in the comments, or learn more about how empowerment techniques can guide you through the process of personal change.