In any creative endeavour, it’s critical to pay attention to where you encounter Resistance. These are the places which will give you the most trouble, but when you finally “get it”, will give you the most value and insight.
For a brilliant treatise on Resistance and how insidious it can be for creative people, I highly recommend Steven Pressfield’s books, “The War of Art”, “Turning Pro” and “Do the Work”, in which he examines the many ways Resistance can make itself felt. He anthropomorphizes Resistance in such a way as to give it intention and desire. That desire is the work of our unconscious, finding sneaky, near-undetectable ways to sabotage ourselves so that we don’t have to change, ‘cause the the amygdala, or lizard brain, thinks change is scary and dangerous.
How Resistance Manifests
When I was an art student, I had a terrible time with foreshortening – a technique in which a long object is seen end-on and recreated on paper or canvas. Because I already knew that arms were a certain length, I kept trying to paint them that long, so that when I looked at what I’d done, everything was out of proportion. No matter what the teacher told me, I just didn’t get it, and I was becoming more and more frustrated.
Soon, thank goodness, it was break time and I was about to go for a coffee, when the model, who was also an artist, took some time to help me. He had also had trouble with foreshortening when he was learning. He told me it wasn’t a question of learning to draw, it was a question of learning to see. He spent his entire break working with me to show me how to see what I was drawing, instead of letting my previous knowledge get in the way.
I had to un-learn what I already knew about how long were the model’s arms (and other body parts!) and draw only what I could see, even if my previous knowledge and logic said what I was actually seeing made no sense.
That skill, re-assessing an issue to find a better truth, has stayed with me for over fifty years.
Where Does Resistance Come From?
When we’re children, we tend to adopt the beliefs, values, habits and moral code of our parents and the culture in which we’re raised. As we grow older, we begin to seek out the people and like-minded tribes which reinforce those beliefs, thereby cementing them as hard truths, unless something comes along to upset the applecart.
My father always believed that business people were evil, out to get you, sleazy, slimy types who’d steal the shirt off your back. As a child, I adopted this belief through the kind of osmosis that every kid experiences.
When I began trying to build my first business, I had to identify that mistaken belief and then re-think it in a way that would allow me to feel that I wasn’t cheating people by offering them what they needed and wanted.
Just as in that art class so many years ago, I had to unlearn a specific way of thinking in order to move forward. It’s taken years for me to let go of a nagging sense of guilt at the thought of sharing my knowledge and skills, even if people really want to know what I’m teaching.
Alter the Outcome
It’s all too easy to go into a brand-new situation depending solely on our hard-won knowledge gleaned from similar situations, because habits are familiar and dependable. We think we already know that things will turn out fine, ’cause they always have before.
So why do we expect a different outcome if nothing else has changed? I love this quote, often (mistakenly) attributed to Albert Einstein: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”
How to Thwart Resistance
We need to alter the parameters. Sometimes — frequently in fact — we can benefit by looking at a situation from the point of view of another person. Or maybe we have an habitual way of thinking about something, but for some reason, we can’t make headway towards our goal. We need to create new thought patterns.
Generally, what makes the difference is learning to identify a situation where we’ve made a judgement call based on previous experience. If we can question some thought process, habit or mindset that we’ve always believed to be true, then turn it on its head, suddenly a new avenue opens up and the way forward becomes clear.
What’s Stopping You?
What mistaken judgements have you made over the years? Where are your prejudices, emotional roadblocks and self-limiting habits lurking and how do they manifest? What courses of action make you uncomfortable or stop you in your tracks? What oft-repeated stories do you tell yourself that prevent you from achieving your goals and dreams?
What “truths” do you need to debunk? What are you afraid of? What are you avoiding? Where do you find yourself procrastinating? What do you need to un-learn?
Why haven’t you written your memoirs already?
Some Limiting Beliefs and Questionable “Truths”
I’m not good enough
I’m not important enough – who cares about my memoirs?
I can’t write well
I’m lazy or unmotivated
I’m too tired
I’m too busy
I don’t know where to start
I don’t know what’s important
I can’t remember
I can’t afford it (time, money)
I don’t know how to do research
I never finish anything
I’m afraid to: (ask family, learn the truth, fail, succeed, change, be obligated, commit)