Steven Pressfield wrote about “the Resistance” in his 2002 book The War of Art. It’s a short (and, for me, transformational) book about overcoming all those thoughts, feelings, ideas and distractions that keep us from doing the things we want to do. You know, things like learning to play guitar, writing the next great American novel, or designing new technology to keep slow drivers from even getting in the left lane to begin with.
Pressfield was specifically referring to creative work in his book, and even more specifically to himself. At forty years old, he was still just an aspiring writer, never having been able to finish any project he started. But once he identified the existence of the Resistance, he was able to devise ways to thwart its power.
Pressfield’s teachings may seem specific to creative work, but they apply to just about anything we do. Resistance isn’t just something that writers encounter. Remember the little voice in your head when you thought about going back to school? Or applying for a new job? Or joining the gym? Or committing to losing weight? That’s Resistance.
Getting past Resistance is a feat we all need to master if we are looking to become the very best versions of ourselves we can be.
First, You Must Identify Resistance
Let’s look at Resistance and how it applies to your journey to health and fitness. What are the thoughts, fears, concerns, and distractions that keep you from achieving your fitness goals? Lack of motivation, lack of time, not knowing what to do, social pressures — you know the ones that apply to you.
The first step is always recognizing the problem. So take a minute and think of the times when you had planned on working out or staying away from the nachos and Resistance won. What made you reach for the TV remote or that jar of queso instead of your gym shorts and an apple?
Write those things down. Give them a name. They are all Resistance.
Now, You Can Move Past Resistance
Now that we’ve identified our particular manifestations of Resistance, we can also identify how to move forward. I have some specific suggestions for you based on Pressfield’s teachings.
Step 1: Know Your Big “Why”
I’m talking your great, big, grown-up, no-messing-around why. Not the little baby why you throw out when someone asks you about your lunch order that includes the grass-fed burger with no bun and extra avocado. That person doesn’t deserve to know your big why. Your big why is the one that reaches into the depths of your soul and touches your deepest, darkest fears.
Didn’t know you had a why like that? Well, you do and it’s time to get to know it by utilizing “The Five Whys.” Here’s how it works. Ask yourself why you are doing the Whole Life Challenge or starting to eat better or exercise more or whatever other thing you are doing to increase your health and fitness.
That first reason you just came up with is your baby why. Keep it handy for that jerk at lunch who makes fun of your order. Now ask why again. And again. And again, for a total of five times.
By your fifth why you’ll probably find something surprising that might make you feel uncomfortable. That’s your great, big, grown-up, no-messing-around why.
Here’s an example:
Why am I running every day?
Because I want to be healthier.
Because I want to feel better.
If I feel better, then I’ll be more productive.
Because I’ll be more confident.
Because I won’t feel like the stupid, ugly kid everyone made fun of in second grade.
Oooh. Ouch. Stuff just got real. There is some buried reason that motivates us and we need to dig that up to move forward.
Now, let’s turn that why into a positive — what we’ll call the “Big Why.” Why are you running every day?
“Because I am sleek and fast and love to use my body like the beautiful creation that it is.”
That’s a really good why.
Step 2: Turn Pro
Professionals do what’s necessary to accomplish their tasks. Amateurs are hobbyists. They haven’t taken that next step to become pros. And, while being a fitness pro might conjure visions of baby oil and bikinis, you need to be a pro at taking care of you, or at least you should be. Really, that’s your most important job in the world.
Build a strong and fit body by working out. Feed it healthy food so it can repair itself. Have a solid recovery plan so you can work out even better the next day. Sounds like a pretty meaningful and important job to me. So be professional about it.
Being professional means you take care of business every day. You seek out the resources you need — healthy food, a coach, a nighttime ritual — and you follow through. Even on those days when you don’t feel like working out or eating kale or going to bed before 10pm, you do it because that’s what a professional does.
That doesn’t mean you have to be uber-serious about it all. It just means you have to follow through on the things you said you were going to do because they support your great, big, grown-up, no-messing-around why. Skipping your workout, eating that double helping of mac and cheese, staying up until 2:00am watching Sister Wives does not support a healthy-life-oriented why.
Once you’ve committed to being a professional, you’ll find the power of the Resistance fading. By consistently deciding to do the things that move you forward, you’re building the habit of good choices and killing the habit of giving in. Doesn’t that feel great?
How to Overcome Resistance in Your Life
You’ve made a fantastic commitment to the Whole Life Challenge. That’s an amazing first step in the battle against Resistance. Now, it’s time to stay vigilant.
Notice when those nagging doubts start to creep up. Name them for what they are. Whether it’s fear or doubt or just plain laziness, know it is just your own personal brand of Resistance. Practice “The 5 Whys” any time you feel Resistance creeping up on you. Love your “Big Why.” Become a pro at your life.
Then, after that, won’t one of you, please, design new technology to keep slow drivers from even getting in the left lane to begin with?