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Last year I read a book called Resisting Happiness1. I found the title intriguing. Why would anyone resist happiness? Doesn’t everyone want to be happy? Well yes, but apparently resistance stands between us and happiness and the book promised to show me “how to recognize and conquer it” in my life. Cool.
So, what is resistance? “It’s that sluggish feeling of not wanting to do something you know is good for you, it’s the inclination to do something that you unabashedly know is not good for you, and it’s everything in between. It’s the desire and tendency to delay something you should be doing right now.”
Not wanting to do something I know is good for me – yup, I do that. Doing something that I unabashedly know is not good for me – uh huh. The tendency to delay something I should be doing right now – hmmm, procrastination – really good at that. I started this particular blog post over a year ago!
The book explained that “Simply naming, defining, and learning to recognize resistance in the moments of our days causes it to lose most of its power over us.” I realized the truth of that simple concept one morning when I got out of bed and headed into the bathroom. I was tired and even having a shower felt like a huge undertaking. I saw my dry brush hanging on the bathroom door and thought I can’t possibly brush before my shower today – I’m too tired and it will take way too much effort. Ding! That’s resistance.
Saying it out loud gave me the push I needed to grab the brush and spend the whole minute it took to dry brush. It’s a small example but once I recognized resistance in action and named it, it really did lose its power over me. It was easy to push past it to do something good for my body.
Now I notice resistance come up most days. I’m too busy to meditate. I’m not in the mood to write. I’m too tired to floss my teeth. So why does my brain do that? Why does it tell me not to do stuff that I know is good for me?
According to psychotherapists Phil Stutz and Barry Michels2 it’s not just me and my brain. It’s human nature to want to avoid pain. So, anything we deem as painful, we avoid. And often just the thought of doing something equals pain – more pain than actually doing it. We get caught up in “this will take forever, I don’t even know how to start this, I don’t want to do this” and then can’t move forward past the resistance.
Human brains are always looking for the easiest way to do things because conserving resources is essential for basic survival. But lots of the good stuff, the rewarding stuff, isn’t always the easiest to do. It takes some effort. Recognizing resistance is a good way to stop for a moment and discern which activities are good for me and worth the effort. Not flossing is less effort than flossing, but flossing is more rewarding than tooth decay.
I still give in to resistance sometimes. I can’t always name the resistance and make myself start writing or meditating. But I can tell you that ever since that morning I recognized resistance to dry brushing, that small task has become habitual. It’s like my brain built a new neural pathway and now dry brushing is associated with easy, so I just do it. And doing it feels much better than resistance.
1 Resisting Happiness by Matthew Kelly
2 The Tools: Transform your Problems into Courage, Confidence, and Creativity by Phil Stutz and Barry Michels