The Thing that Keeps You From Doing Great Things
Somewhere inside your head, my head, and everyone else’s head is a traitor. Meet the Resistance.
The job of the Resistance is to keep you where you are. Because where you are is safe, and it’s pretty tough to fail when you’re standing still.
What the Resistance looks like
- When you stare, paralyzed, at the signup page for your first marathon, telling yourself that the jump from 13.1 to 26.2 is just too great, that’s the Resistance.
- When instead of just choosing a race, you research it to death until you finally decide on doing nothing, that’s the Resistance.
- When you want to stop eating animals or putting junk in your body, but all you can hear are reasons why you can’t — your family, your work schedule, your friends — that’s the Resistance.
- When you give in to the craving and eat the junk, that’s not the Resistance. But when you bought the junk at the store because you knew you’d be craving it, that was the Resistance, doing its best to keep you the way you are.
It’s easy to recognize the Resistance when it shows up as fear. It’s a lot harder when it’s in disguise.
Have you ever noticed that when you finally sit down (or stand up) to do something that’s important to you, that’s when every distraction in the world shows up?
You sit down to read, and you realize you’re hungry. Or thirsty. Or that there’s a show on now you can try to catch while you read.
You open up your computer to write, but first you check your email. And then Facebook. And then you remember that bill you have to pay, so you do that.
You’re ready to start a new training plan, to really get yourself in shape. But you know, you really could use a new pair of shoes before you start. Or maybe you should just wait until next week, after that big thing that requires you to eat / drink / be busy is over.
See what’s happening?
These are crucial moments. They’re crossroads, where you’re just about to do something that literally changes the direction your life is headed. And this is when the Resistance gets really clever.
I’m just recovering from a bloody battle with the Resistance myself. You see, I’m very fortunate to have recently been able to make this internet thing my job. My real, only job; my source of putting food on the table for my family.
Naturally, with this new importance of what used to be just a hobby, I decided I need to start treating it right.
So I made the website look better. Then I caught up on the 350 emails sitting in my inbox.
But then before I could sit down to write, I organized my office. After all, the creativity’s gotta be able to flow.
Then I cleaned up my desk.
And then I moved icons around on my computer screen.
Though I didn’t realize it, this was all the Resistance. Given the new importance of writing, it became scarier (and harder) than ever before. And good old Resistance showed up, innocently enough, in the form of easy, mindless stuff that was seemingly good. Necessary. Urgent!
I’ve faced similar things with running, and you probably have, too. You know you should be running. You even want to be running. And yet, for a variety of reasons (some of which sound really, really legit), you’re not running.
It should be called runner’s block. It’s no different from what writers and artists face. In both situations, the hard, essential thing — the reason all the peripheral equipment, plans, goals, and talk even exist — is the one thing that’s not getting done, and you can’t explain why not.
How you beat the Resistance
During my little bout with all of this, I read all about it (another form of Resistance, I suppose). Steven Pressfield is the guy who coined the term, in the War of Art.
And, after 160 pages, I’ve learned that the way to beat the Resistance as it tries to keep you from running, working, or anything else, is ridiculously simple, and disappointingly non-shortcutty:
Act. Do whatever it takes to get yourself to do it one time. Then again. Then again.
With writing, it’s about sitting down for a few minutes every day to produce something.
With running, it’s about getting out the door and putting one foot in front of the other. For five minutes even, if that’s all you can mentally commit to.
Do it one time, and all the sudden the Resistance doesn’t look quite so big and bad.
Then when you go to do the important-but-scary thing again the next day, it’s just a tiny bit easier. And then with every word, step, mile, blog post, and workout, you build momentum, until your mojo is undeniably back.
So next time you’re ready to do something that matters — something that’s hard, maybe even scary — be aware that the little diversions that pop up to prevent you from acting aren’t just innocent coincidences. They’re the handiwork of the Resistance, and their sole purpose is stop you from doing something great so you take the safe, easy path instead.
And if you don’t recognize that and take control, rest assured, the Resistance will.
Yeah…..resistance is working against me right now!!!!!! It’s so hard to fight!!!!!!
Nice post. Thank you for this, I am currently feeling the resistance for both writing and running, myself. Being a teacher, and having the summer off, the resistance is like a passenger that likes to talk about seemingly interesting things. However, the resistance is more like the E! Channel: it masks itself in the guise of interesting topics, but it’s actually like neurotoxin. It’s like Skittles, they taste like fruit, but after you eat them, your moth feels sticky, you feel tired and you haven’t actually ingested any fruit. Anyway, thank you for your posts, I’m running my fourth marathon at the end of July in San Francisco, and I am planning on going meat free from here on out. I started my meat-free lifestyle a few days ago, and I am dedicated to training with a healthy plant-based diet. This shouldn’t be heard, considering that my wife is a vegan, and my dad has been a vegan for over 25 years now. Keep up the good work.
I faced down the resistance this morning, and won. Now to apply this attitude to school…
I like that!
Great post! I am so struggling with this right now. I think the breaking it down to small pieces of time really helps. We can all commit to 5 minutes and once we do, it will easily become 30!
Thanks, Matt – I really needed to see this today. Thank you mucho.
This post just blew my mind. It is all the things that I am currently experiencing! Too many things keep coming first and it is keeping me stagnated and I reverted back to being a casual jogger. No more! Viva la Resistance!?? NO! THANK YOU for what I needed to hear.
So need to hear this, right now! I am currently training toward a BQ (from a 4:25 PR – long way to go,)trying (without any progress) to lose 10 pounds, starting a new job (possibly two,) going back to school (next month,) working my way back toward complete vegan, starting a personal blog, and probably a few other things I’m not thinking of, at the moment.
I’m actually doing ok, all things considered, but the Resistance certainly is strong!
Yes. Ok I’ll start running now and being a bad-ass.
So wait you not going the Phd route anymore? Im about to start mine in August.
This post was another reality check for me. I’m supposed to be training for a triathlon but I keep finding excuses to avoid training. I’m really tired this week, I haven’t eaten yet, I’ll skip the gym and workout at home, etc. I just need to do it, because once I start it’s always fine and I feel great. It’s just getting my butt out the door or in the pool.
You just need to take the first step. That Resistance sure is strong though.
Yep, my biggest challenge is overcoming resistance. I don’t know why, but it does hold me back. Usually I break through when I get so tired of it that I “just do it”. Overthinking is my achilles.
I love The War of Art! It allowed me to name the enemy… and made me realize why I felt like I was avoiding or overlooking something in my life. 🙂
Good post Matt, and congrats on making this internet thing a full time enterprise. I am guilty of what you call the Resistance most days. I somethings flow easily for me. Exercise for instance, I most always make it to the gym. When others have all the excuses in the world, I am dedicated. Photography is another thing entirely. I love it, but find every excuse in the world to avoid it. Pamela and I are going to Paris later this year, and I was actually considering NOT taking my camera. I haven’t figured out why this is, why some things in my life move easily and others are almost impossible, but I think it boils down to fear. I cant imagine why I would be afraid of one of my artistic outlets, but apparently I am. Its something I am working on. I keep meaning to the The War of Art…its on my to read list. Sadly so many books so little time. Cheers!
Nice post. I always call this force inertia, and I wrestle with it for almost every run. And frequently at work, like right now….
Thanks for this. I’m printing it out and hanging it on the wall in my office next to this, my other go-to for a kick in the butt when frustration, or, I guess, resistance, has taken hold: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2004/jun/26/weekend.guybrowning
Thanks. And I liked the Seth link, too. I’ve called it my “reptile brain” for a long time, he calls it lizard brain.
The reptile brain wants everything as easy as possible. It’s a dumb Beavis and Butthead kind of brain.
I think I have learned that you just have to do it! Put your mind to it and do it. Address the outside distractions (which can be the hardest part) and DO IT! I am trying to finish my thesis right now and I keep postponing it. I’m inspired and I am going to get it done already. No more resistance…
This post came into my inbox at just the right time. I was checking my email/procrastinating and there was your post catching me red handed! I promptly exited and pulled on my shoes and went for a run. Thanks for the kick in the pants!
This is great, Matt. It seems like a simple answer yet difficult in the same way. I think just reading this and realizing when resistance is present is the first step. I have loved all your posts about just starting things and taking the first important steps.
For experiencing “writer resistance” this is a pretty awesome post. I just wrote about my 5 tips to working out on the road and one of them was “just commit to 20 minutes” and if you don’t want to continue after that it’s fine, you’ve done something and that’s better than nothing but, usually that 20 will turn into more once you get going. Thinking about that, it’s all about beating the resistance. You just need to make the goal small enough that it’s manageable for you on that day and you will slowly begin beating down the resistance.
Resistance is futile…. sorry, couldn’t resist. 😉
Resistance is a huge issue for me – I can make an excuse to avoid anything! Fear is the primary reason I don’t start new (big) things, as for skipping workouts, that’s just sheer laziness, and I need to work on that too.
Taking steps to conquer both by setting small goals and working toward them daily.
This is exactly what I needed! I just broke a chain of over a month sticking to my training regimen and need to get back out on the pavement.
The wife and call it “avoidance behavior.” Easy to recognize it in each other when it’s going on, but harder to see it in ourwelves. You need backup, someone to call you on it whent hey see you doing it.
We are all a work in progress.
I’ve wanted to start a blog for a while, but the Resistance got to me. I finally took the plunge, and I’m so glad that I did! Why did I wait so long?!*
Matt, just wanted to say congratulations on getting this blog to be a full time job for you! That is so awesome to hear that news. I’m very happy for you!
Great post, Matt. Resistance (said with a French sneer) and I are on first name terms. Thanks for the tips!
Thank You! I was wondering what was distracting me along the way! Great post, I enjoy your writing and find it inspiring!
I love “The War of Art”, it’s such an incredible book, glad to see it mentioned on here. Also glad you’re making this your full time job, this site has been very encouraging for me as I attempt to run my first marathon. Keep up the good work…and keep giving resistance hell! 🙂
I’m 57, and went completely plant based while training for my first triathlon 8 years ago. That’s because during training I had symptoms that prompted a triple coronary artery bypass. Laying in bed after the surgery, as a physician, I new of work on disease reversal. I was in great shape, 10% body fat, eating a “healthy” mediterranean type diet. Had I known then what I know now, I would not have had that “elective” surgery but would have gone on a “reversal” diet. Since then I have done numerous triathlons, including Ironman, full and half marathons and many shorter races. I’m an emergency physician, but teach, for no compensation, a health class. I get people off diabetic, blood pressure, cholesterol, and even arthritis meds all on a plant based, carb centered NO MEAT diet.
The Resistance almost stopped me from reading this post. I knew that if I read the entire thing, I would be motivated to get back out and running, and I just don’t feel like it in the current heat and humidity. But you’re right and long story short – my coworker and I are going for a run tomorrow at lunch. Small steps.
Wow! This was so timely.
I so needed to read this.
SO weird, I JUST read [and finished!] this book yesterday :]. Definitely a HUGE motivator!
I nominated you! http://www.healthytippingpoint.com/2011/07/5-miles-7-links.html
Right now I’m manually stirring our blender with a wooden spoon to help it along. If I had a Blendtec it would help me provide healthy fresh fruits/veggies for my 3 1/2 year old daughter who suffers from eczema. She refuses to drink the chunky mess our current blender provides. =(
Great post! Definitely going through some of this right now as I train for the NYC marathon. Thanks for the motivation to take action and keep going!
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