How to overcome resistance and actually get stuff done

Are there things you resist doing?

You wake up – today is the start of a brand-new day you say to yourself. I’m going to launch my new business. I’m going to do my bookkeeping. I have to climb on top of my pile of clothes to find what I need - I’m going to declutter! I’m going to start that new exercise regime.

Two months later, it’s still sitting on your list. And you feel stressed and anxious. Or worst still, you feel guilty?

Whoever you are, no matter how talented or capable, I bet there’s things you’re resisting doing. So how do you start getting a handle on the resistance monster?

I believe there’s different types of resistance. It’s important that you identify which category it falls into.

1. There’s some things we resist because fundamentally we don’t want to do them

Maybe you think you want to launch a business but deep down you know that the business isn’t the right one for you. For example, at one point I was really getting into the affiliate marketing business. I bought the books, did the online courses and paid a bucket-load of money for a premium affiliate marketing course. I even launched a couple of campaigns. But something didn’t feel right to me. It took me a while to figure it out but I what I realised was that I didn’t really want to be an affiliate marketer. I just didn’t care, particularly as many of the products available to market was things like games and dodgy face creams. It was a meaningless endeavour to me.

For these bigger life decisions, such as starting a new business or transitioning to a new career, you need to really want to do those things - otherwise you will always encounter resistance.

I have a friend who has what would seem like a great job. Others would probably give their right arm to be in his position. But to him, the job lacks meaning – it’s not aligned with his values, his life purpose, his life mission. And so every day is a struggle – he has to actively use his willpower to force himself to get his work done. That’s a lot of wasted energy that could he could divert to what he really wants to do with his life.

If there’s an area of your life where there’s a lot of resistance coming up, ask yourself Do I really want to do this? Do I really want to be in this profession? Do I really want to start that new business? Do I really want to be in this relationship?

If the answer is no, you need to start making some changes.

2. There’s some things we resist although we do want to do them and know they are good for us

In this category I would put things like exercising, meditating, decluttering, managing your finances and so on. You know that if you did these things your life would be better. You’d feel healthier, happier and have more peace of mind. Yet, you can’t seem to get yourself to do them.

Let me give you an example so you get a better understanding of the psychology of resistance. I have and still resist decluttering. I am a little bit of a hoarder (I used to be a big-time hoarder, but I’ve gotten a lot better over the years!). I’ve been going through a process of decluttering for a little while now. I will break down the mental barriers that stand between me and a relaxing, blissed out (fairly) minimalist home.

Maybe you think this is a silly example. Decluttering is not important I hear you say. But the reality is your outer world reflects your inner world. If there’s mess, disorganisation and chaos in your outer world, there’s guaranteed to be the same in your mental and emotional world. Changing your environment is one of the fastest ways to help re-wire your mental and emotional world.

A. There’s so much to declutter. It’s going to take too long. I don’t have the time

This chain of thoughts still crops up in my head and I have to jump on it when it rears its ugly head.

True, there’s a lot to do and overall it will take a long time to declutter everything. But, the trick that worked for me was to start really small. I started to declutter for 5-10 minutes every day. Granted, I wasn’t able to do much in that time, but over the course of 2 weeks, those 5-10 minutes added up and I made some decent progress.

See, us human beings are wired to chase progress. We love that stuff. Even a tiny bit of progress gives us a dopamine kick. So each time I made a tiny bit of progress, I felt good.

I also made the action so small, what I like to call a micro-action, that it was almost impossible to fail. Because I was taking this micro-action I built up confidence that I could do it. By taking these micro-actions, I felt good and I started to built confidence in my ability to tackle this decluttering thing and finish the job.

B. I need to do this decluttering thing perfectly – l want to be the Konmari Queen!

If you haven’t read “The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organising” by Marie Kondo (aka Konmari), do check it out. The essence of the book is only having objects in your life which spark joy. It’s a beautiful concept and a deep philosophical stance when you apply it to all areas of your life. Imagine a world where your environment sparks joy. Your career brings you joy. Your body brings you joy. Your relationships bring you joy. Alas, I digress - that’s a longer post for another day.

Back to decluttering. The problem was that I had this perfect idea of how I wanted to declutter. Every object in my life needs to bring me joy. It’s a really high standard and for a hoarder who always thinks What if – What if I need those business cards from 2007? I should keep them just in case - it’s an overwhelming number of decisions to make and so many What if fears to overcome.

So, I threw perfectionism out of the window. I’m not going to be the Konmari Queen, but that’s ok. I really don’t care enough to put in the level of effort and energy it would require to attain such a high standard in this area of my life. But I want it to be good enough – so that I don’t feel stressed about papers, files and random bits of flotsam and jetsam floating around.

I allowed myself certain categories where good enough is good enough. So, yes I have a big bag of old USB sticks. A bag of random old keys. A box of old wires and cables. A big drawer full of (now working) pens and pencils. I may tackle those one day. Maybe. But in categories where it’s really easy for me, like shoes, clothing and books, I easily whittled those down to what really sparks joy.

Anything you’re resisting presents an opportunity to deepen your understanding of yourself. As you identify and overcome resistance, you start to change your relationship with yourself. Perhaps like me you understand that you need to throw perfectionism out of the window. Or you hoard because your brain is fearful at some level and likes to prepare for different What if scenarios.

For you, maybe you don’t meditate because the thoughts which arise are overwhelming? Maybe you are not exercising because at some level you're ashamed of your body?

So you start small. Start with a few minutes a day and observe what happens. Observe how you feel - see what comes up for you. And you practice self-compassion. Overcoming resistance is the start of the journey to understanding yourself. Starting to understand yourself is an act of self-love and self-compassion.