By Jeremy Godwin
Welcome to Let’s Talk About Mental Health, the weekly podcast full of simple ideas for better mental health by Jeremy Godwin. Each episode focuses on practical and simple things that you can do every single day to improve and maintain your mental health and wellbeing, based on quality research.
This is Episode 65 and this week I’m talking about resistance. I’ll be discussing what resistance is, why overcoming resistance is essential for your mental health, and how to resist less and grow more. So, let’s talk about mental health!
Listen to the podcast episode now in the Spotify player below (or using your preferred podcast service; see below for links) or continue reading for the article/transcript version.
Watch this week’s episode of Let’s Talk About Mental Health TV, focused on social media and better mental health:
This episode was originally released on 7 February, 2021.
Hello and welcome to Episode 65, and thanks so much for joining me! This year is The Year of Wellbeing here on the Let’s Talk About Mental Health podcast… because wellbeing doesn’t just happen; it takes work. So each week on the podcast I’ll be continuing to share simple ideas for better mental health and practical advice for improving your overall wellbeing, by exploring lots of different things you can do every day to make a positive difference in your life.
This week is all about resistance, which we’ve seen a lot of over the past 12 months as we’ve all faced multiple roadblocks that force us to choose between having a tantrum or finding new ways to do things. At the end of last week’s episode I shared that infamous quote by the Borg in Star Trek, which is “resistance is futile” and while I wouldn’t completely agree with that (I mean, the French Resistance certainly wasn’t futile given the important role they played in World War II, but that’s a conversation for a history podcast and maybe not one focused on mental health…!), the thing about resistance is that it can very often make things far more complicated and difficult than they need to be; when we don’t accept reality with grace and dignity, or find a way to work through difficult times or things we don’t necessarily agree with but which are out of our direct control, we create pain and suffering for others and for ourselves… and I’m all about less pain and suffering in this show because, you know, pain sucks!
Before we jump into this week’s content, a quick word about the latest episode of Let’s Talk About Mental Health TV which is out now on YouTube. In Episode 3 I’m talking about social media and better mental health, and I’m sharing a few ideas about how to be more thoughtful in the way you use these tools in order to look after your wellbeing and not find yourself becoming more disconnected from the people you care about. You can find that episode now on YouTube or head over to letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au/YouTube, and take a moment to subscribe to the channel. I also do a second weekly episode there which is a mini-version of this podcast, and I share five of the how-to tips from each weekly podcast episode so it’s a good tool as a quick refresher if you’ve already listened to the show here and want to refer to it later, or even if you want to share it with someone you know for some quick advice.
So, now, on with this week’s episode about resistance…
We all face resistance at one point or another; when you wake up some days and think “I just do not want to get out of bed yet!”, that’s resistance, and often it can involve robbing our future happiness for a moment or two of rest or procrastination now (like when you hit snooze repeatedly and then have to rush because you overslept). We tend to resist many things in life, even if they’re actually good for us, and we can often try to control things that we just cannot control… so it takes some work to be able to identify how to deal with all that stuff so we’re controlling what we can and letting go of what we cannot (but without being a pushover).
Where resistance becomes an issue is when we resist the stuff that’s in our own best interests; in other words, where we choose unhealthy actions instead of healthy ones across some or all areas of our wellbeing (physical, mental, spiritual, social, emotional and financial). Dealing with and overcoming resistance so that you can make progress towards being the very best version of yourself possible takes work, and that’s what I’m looking at today. First…
What is resistance?
Resistance is refusing to accept or comply with something, especially when it comes to doing things you don’t want to do. There’s also the saying “the path of least resistance” which means choosing the easiest course of action or the options with the least amount of difficulty or unpleasantness (which is actually a great strategy that ties back to Simplicity, which I talked about in Episode 63). But what we’re talking about here is resistance in terms of refusing to do things or struggling to do things.
Ultimately, overcoming resistance is about getting stuff done (whether in your head or actually getting things done) so that you can make progress. I will note here that not all resistance is bad; resisting hatred, bigotry and oppression are some examples that spring to mind here and without resistance throughout the ages who knows where we’d be today… but for the purposes of today I’m focusing on your own resistance towards yourself in terms of taking action and making progress.
Probably the most well-known form of personal resistance is procrastination, which is when you delay or postpone doing something and often it leads to you having to rush to complete it on time (I am an expert on this). Procrastination is a form of resistance, but it’s one of those judgemental phrases that makes us feel like we have no discipline, which then creates internal shame, which can then send us further into a spiral of resistance and procrastination.
When I was writing this episode I found myself struggling to remain focused — somehow it was easier to do two loads of washing and clean the kitchen than do more than a few minutes of writing, because I’d been having a really hectic week and was exhausted by the time it got to writing this (plus that’s the double-edged sword of working from home — the commute is great, but there are a thousand and one distractions like housework and my office assistant Igor, our cat, who randomly decides throughout the day that he requires immediate attention — most often while I’m on a Zoom call!). So…
Why does resistance happen?
We’re hard-wired to seek security and safety, and so when things are challenging or difficult, or when we feel overwhelmed by the number of things we need to do, finding the mental and physical energy we need to get things done can be really painful — even if we know that it’s in our best interests. Fear can play a role here as well, depending on the circumstances.
Some people are really good at pushing through physical or mental discomfort and pain so that they can do what needs to be done, whereas others find it difficult either in some aspects or just in general, and that’s why some people are really good with physical fitness while others find it easier to sit on the couch with a bag of chips (myself included).
But when we resist the healthy stuff and instead do things that are unhealthy (either physically, mentally or spiritually) we are making life much more difficult for ourselves in the long run. Often when we put off completing small tasks or making simple changes that are in our best interests, what we do is start a snowball effect where things get bigger and bigger and even more difficult, until we’re left having to deal with MUCH more complex issues than we might have had if we had just dealt with it while the issue was small — if you’ve ever heard the expression, “tackle the molehill before it becomes a mountain” it means that if you deal with things while they’re small, they tend to be much easier to resolve than if you just let it go and then it will get bigger than it needs to be.
For example I have talked quite openly lately about my weight gain, and these things often happen incrementally; I didn’t just pack the weight on again overnight, it took months and months of effort (which would probably be better framed as self-sabotage, but anyway).
For me, this stuff happened because I wasn’t dealing with the resistance or the root cause of my issues, being that I gravitate towards food for comfort and so that requires me to re-learn all of my behaviours around food as well as needing to find better coping strategies for when I’m stressed or the shit inevitably hits the fan. You might have your own things that you resist — cooking, cleaning, exercising, dealing with difficult people, calling your parents, dealing with problems, addressing addiction issues… the list goes on. But I think that, like all wellbeing, it’s not enough to just address the symptoms, because resistance is a symptom of something much deeper, so it’s about digging deep to work out what is really going on and why so that you can then deal with that instead of just trying to put band-aids over things — and I’ll come back to that point shortly.
For some people resistance is a form of control, either over themselves or the environment around them — for example, anorexia nervosa is an extreme manifestation of resistance and self-controlling behaviours. For others, it can be tied up in self-sabotage and negative self-talk. Whatever it is the result is the same — self-destructive behaviour. You might have heard the saying, “What you resist, persists” and that refers to the fact that if you keep resisting things you need to sort out for your overall wellbeing, the same or similar issues will very likely come up for you time and time again until you do finally address them. So while it might have been a bit dramatic of the Borg on Star Trek to say, “resistance is futile”, it can definitely be said that resistance is self-sabotaging. Do you want to improve your wellbeing? Stop resisting!
So how do you do that? Well, let’s jump into the how-to section of this week’s episode…
How to resist less and grow more
Identify where you might be resistant to change — being able to do this is a really critical place to start because it’s about being honest with yourself and self-aware (which I covered in Episode 62) and the cold hard fact is that even small amounts of resistance can have a big effect; if you’re prone to leaving a work or school assignment until the night before it’s due or putting off things until they become bigger issues than they need to be, you’re overcomplicating things (and as I said in Episode 63, Let’s Talk About… Simplicity, when we focus on making our lives as simple as possible we make it easier to prioritise the stuff that really matters, like our relationships, and let go of whatever just doesn’t matter). So be honest with yourself about where you’re being resistant and that sets you up for better understanding what impact it is having on your life.
All things start with awareness and acceptance — don’t resist your resistance (because all you do then is make it more likely that you will resist even further)! Instead, seek to acknowledge it, understand it and accept it. Your resistance is happening for a reason, so rather than just trying to push past it you need to dig into it first and understand what’s going on. That starts with being aware that it’s happening (try labelling it) and accepting it as a sign that you have some work to do.
Once you’re aware of what’s happening, it’s then about understanding why; dig into it and seek to understand what is really going on — I talked about this stuff back in Episode 7 Let’s Talk About… Baggage and I’d highly recommend that episode, where I explore the Five Why’s process which can help you when you’re doing that ‘digging deeper’ thing… find the audio and the full transcript for free at letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au/episodes. Using myself as an example here, I haven’t just been overeating for the fun of it; it’s been happening because I’ve had some difficult and even traumatic stuff going on and it’s a coping mechanism for security, so much so that I now literally have my own security blanket in the form of all of this extra weight that I have to carry around with me. So if I just try to deal with the overeating without actually confronting the security and safety stuff, I’ll be doomed because that security stuff is closer to the root cause of my issues.
Address the root cause(s) — once you know why it’s happening (as in, why it’s REALLY happening), treat the root cause or causes. For the more difficult or challenging stuff, that may involve working with a counsellor or therapist who can help you to work through issues in a more objective way and may even be able to help you identify ways of addressing your challenges that you hadn’t considered before.
Reframe your resistance — instead of saying “I can’t do this” or “I’m too busy to do this”, say “Right now I don’t want to do this” or “I’m finding it challenging to do this because of my resistance”. ‘Cannot’ is a dangerous word because it means you’re putting up a wall, and we all know what happens when we smack our head against the wall repeatedly (we get ouchies and the wall still stands). Break down your walls, or at least find a way around them.
Revisit your priorities and be clear on how the task/action fits into those priorities — if it matters then make it matter; if it doesn’t matter then let it go. We spend so much time trying to do lots of different things or deal with multiple issues and frankly a lot of what we deal with each day just does not matter in the big scheme of things. If it’s a genuine priority in your life then you need to push through it (which I’ll cover in a second), but if not then let it go and just focus on what really matters.
If you’re able to push past resistance, especially for the big-ticket stuff that really matters, then push — not everybody can push through but that’s not to say that it’s not possible even if, like me, you’re prone to procrastination; sometimes you just have a light-bulb moment when you realise that your resistance is doing you more harm than good and that even a small step will make a difference. Sometimes the hardest bit about overcoming resistance is that sometimes the resistance seems safer than taking action, which can inevitably make things worse, and so just circuit-breaking the resistance can lead to a whole bunch of positive effects, not least of which includes feeling better about yourself for pushing through what has been blocking you. And as I’ve said many times before, positive change doesn’t have to be created through one or two massive moments — in fact it rarely is! Instead, making small changes and sticking to them will see you build your results over time, and that slowly-slowly approach can be much more sustainable because you’re creating long-lasting healthy habits (a topic I explored in Episode 29).
Be open to new ideas and to different ways of thinking about things — my partner and I started this thing a few years ago where we call one another on any negative speak or anything that’s dragging our mood down like complaining… this isn’t about controlling speech (and there’s a fine line on that) but for us we decided we wanted our words to be more aligned with our intentions in terms of being more positive and grateful instead of focusing on what annoyed us, because we’ve seen first-hand that when you focus on giving in to negativity then that’s what you attract and it multiplies, whereas the same thing can also happen when you focus on positivity (and given a choice between a more negative life versus a more positive one, I know which one I will choose every single time!). Just because you’ve always been a certain way or approached things with a certain thought pattern, that doesn’t mean that you cannot change… because everyone can change. It’s only not possible if you resist.
Stop trying to do or be everything all at once — I think we get so caught up in worrying about being a super-person and trying to achieve everything that we forget to leave some breathing space in our day to stop us from feeling overwhelmed. Part of that involves my next point which is…
Break down big tasks into smaller steps and focus on those instead — if you just focus on what you need to do today, that’s going to feel less overwhelming (and less resistance-inducing) than if you try to focus on all the big stuff. When I’m writing I tend to aim for 1000 words a day which I can knock out in half an hour to an hour… and that might not seem like much, but over 30 days that’s 30000 words which is a lot!
Clear distractions — work in a dedicated space, don’t put the TV on, stop flicking over to your preferred news website for an update every hour (all things I have been guilty of)… if you know you’re prone to distraction then remove the distractions as much as possible; it’s why I like to go to a cafe with my laptop every couple of weeks because I put my headphones on and in the space of an hour I probably get about 3-4 hours worth of work done because I’m in a different environment where, in spite of all the people around me, I feel less distracted. Obviously if you’re dealing with lockdown you can’t do that, but be creative and come up with different solutions rather than just focusing on your problems. If/when you’re stuck, remind yourself why you’re doing things (again, back to priorities).
Remind yourself of the benefits of doing things now rather than putting them off — I do this thing where I think about what my future self will think of now-self (who will then be past self) if I procrastinate on something… and it works, because when I get things done in a timely manner I find myself later thanking past-self for making life easier (and sometimes I find myself cursing past-self for screwing me over so he could watch TV instead of doing what he was supposed to do!). Things that you leave on your to-do list have a habit of becoming bigger than they need to be the longer you leave them, so sometimes you just need to push past that resistance and get it done (or at least get a bit of it done, because sometimes it’s just the starting bit that’s the hardest to get through)… remember to take things one step at a time which makes it feel less overwhelming.
If you are really stuck, do one small thing completely unrelated to what you need to do — if I’m struggling to summon the energy to write or do the housework on the weekend, I push myself to go and brush my teeth or trim my beard… and usually that is enough to give me a little uplift of momentum. Sometimes you just need to break through the resistance enough to open a crack, because that can then let the light in and can start you on the path to getting stuff done.
And as always if you are really struggling and none of this is working… get support from a counsellor or therapist — you don’t need to go through this stuff alone.
Summary and Close-Out
Because when it comes to resistance and mental health, what it all boils down to is this: We need to be mindful of resistance on a daily basis because it can just take a couple of setbacks to lead you towards unhealthy behaviours. Resistance and vigilance really do need to go hand-in-hand, because if you’re not vigilant on a daily basis then the resistance can creep back in and then you wake up one day and realise you’ve got some much bigger problems to deal with. When you let yourself repeatedly make unhealthy choices — even when you know that they are unhealthy but you resist even thinking about the consequences — you’re robbing yourself of your future happiness. There’s a big difference between living in the now and doing actual damage to your future life satisfaction, and so by focusing on making healthy decisions now you will be taking small steps towards becoming the best version of yourself possible.
The choice is yours, as it is with all things related to your wellbeing… so, what choice will you make today?
Each week I like to finish up by sharing a quote about the week’s topic, and I encourage you to take a few moments to really reflect on it and consider what it means to you. This week’s quote is by the Scottish-American industrialist of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Andrew Carnegie, and it is:
“People who are unable to motivate themselves must be content with mediocrity, no matter how impressive their other talents.”Andrew Carnegie
Next week I’ll be talking about connection. Connecting with other people is one of the most fundamentally important aspects of life and a big part of mental health and wellbeing, and since I just touched on it in Episode 3 of the Let’s Talk About Mental Health TV show on YouTube it seemed timely to expand on the subject in its own podcast episode. So next week I’ll be talking about what connection is, why it matters for your mental health, and how to improve the quality of your connections with loved ones and strangers alike.
I hope you’ll join me for that episode, which will be released on Sunday 14th February which is probably the perfect day of the year to talk about genuine human connection regardless of whether you’re single or attached! If you’re in Australia, New Zealand or the Asia-Pacific region, it will be available at 7pm; in the rest of the world you’ll have it sometime in the morning depending on where you are.
And of course, join me for Let’s Talk About Mental Health TV on YouTube, with new episodes released every Wednesday following the same schedule (evenings in the Asia-Pacific, mornings in the rest of the world).
Head over to letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au for links and past episodes (including audio links and full transcripts) and while you’re there join the Let’s Talk About Mental Health mailing list to have exclusive updates land in your inbox — those of you on my email list find out about new stuff at least a week before anybody else, so if you like this show then sign up at the website: letstalkaboutmentalhealth.com.au.
Thank you very much for joining me today — look after yourself and make a conscious effort to share positivity and kindness in the world, because you get back what you put out. Take care and talk to you next time.
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