How to Overcome Resistance
All leaders encounter resistance. All leaders need to learn how to overcome resistance. The best place to begin is with yourself.
The Most Important Step
Our natural instinct is to resist uncomfortable feelings, thoughts and physical sensations. The most important step to overcome resistance is to create space for whatever discomfort we’re resisting.
Creating space means being fully present to the experience of those uncomfortable, even painful, sensations, thoughts and feelings.
Being fully present to life’s joys and discomforts leads to:
- Greater well-being
- Decreased reactivity
- Better decisions
- Increased effectiveness
The Negative Effects of Resistance
Try this quick experiment to sense what resistance does to your body.
- Raise your hands to chest level prayer style
- Press them against each other and push, each hand resisting the other hand’s energy
- Push harder
- Where do you feel your body tighten?
- Wrists? Arms? Shoulders? Neck? Jaw?
- Slowly release and relax your hands
- Where else does your body relax and let go?
To overcome resistance, you have to feel it. The first place it shows up is in your body. Once you notice the clench of resistance in your body, you’ll find it in your heart and mind as well.
A clenched and constricted mind defends its position and closes itself to other possibilities. Possibilities enter the mind only when the door is open. An open mind can choose the most effective solution, or response, from the variety of possibilities that enter.
Charlotte Overcomes Resistance
Charlotte arrives for her coaching session and slumps down in the chair. “I have no energy. This pain is exhausting. I just want to go home, take a pain killer and sleep.” Charlotte’s back pain is constant, at times debilitating. Two surgeries haven’t helped. She can’t exercise. She’s gained weight. As a result, her back pain, and her self-image, are worse.
I offer, and Charlotte agrees, to try a different approach. If it doesn’t work, she’ll go home, take the pain killer and sleep.
Me: Notice the pain. Where is it in your body? Describe the sensations you feel there.
Charlotte: Tight knot. Heat emanating across my lower back. Dull ache.
Me: Keep noticing and gently direct the in-breath to that area. Then release the out-breath from that area.
Charlotte closes her eyes and breathes.
Me: Notice what’s happening to those sensations.
Charlotte: The band of heat is shrinking.
Me: Keep directing your breath into and out of those sensations.
Charlotte’s knot loosens. The radius of pain and heat becomes smaller. Her breath is slower and easier. She notices her whole body is more relaxed. She realizes, for the first time, how much tension she’s been holding. She cries, from relief. Her entire being has been involved in resisting the experience of her back pain. Once she allows space for the pain, her body and mind let go and relax.
Our natural fight response to pain, and the threat of pain, constricts and tightens our body, mind and heart. We’re trying to defend ourselves. Maintaining this defense is natural and exhausting.
When we allow our experience to be exactly as it is, we stop pressing against it. A space opens up between us and it. In this space we, and the experience, soften.
Overcoming resistance to our emotions works the same way, but that’s a blog for another day.