This summer, I’m dedicated to walking alongside all of you who are tackling big projects, doing some Summer cleaning, trying to establish a new exercise regimen, and needing to experience explosive productivity. If you’ve been reading my Monday Motivators, you have a clear summer plan that you’ve discussed with your mentors, and you have created some form of support and accountability. This week, I want to describe what happens to many people when they get really engaged in what it is they really want to do.
Identify What’s Holding You Back
It’s an odd situation, isn’t it? You’ve been waiting all year for the summer time so you can have the time, space, and energy for your goals. You’ve been fantasizing and yearning for months of quiet & solitude so you can finally finish your Big Unfinished Project. You planned to clean up a little every day and maybe even imagined losing track of time while immersed in your decluttering. And yet, when you actually sit down to clean, all of a sudden you experience an unquenchable desire to ____________ (check your e-mail, return some phone calls or organize your plants. Lol). Or you suddenly realize you need to read one more ______ (article, text message) before you can start cleaning. Or _________ (insert seemingly urgent crisis) appears and distracts you. Or maybe you find yourself gazing out the window and realize that life is too __________ (short, painful, unpredictable) to spend a sunny day inside cleaning. In short, procrastination, avoidance, and denial arise to distract and derail you.
Why is it that we so often find ourselves needing to clean, but then end up not cleaning at all (not even a little bit)? Most people I know genuinely want to leave in a clean environment, and just may need a little help getting the job done. Barbara Sher describes resistance (when you want to do something, but you just can’t seem to do it) as “an innately human defense mechanism that is uniquely designed to protect us from doing anything dangerous.” In other words, our resistance is like an ‘internal bodyguard’ that rises up to keep us from any undesirable situation.
Having an ‘internal bodyguard’ is mostly a good thing! On one hand, it keeps us from engaging in potentially harmful activities. On the other hand, our inner-bodyguard can’t tell the difference between physical danger and emotional danger, so it gets activated whether we are standing at the edge of a cliff or standing up to give a speech in front of a crowd. Both feel dangerous and raise anxiety. In response, our bodyguard leaps into action to stop us from engaging in this activity in the form of procrastination, avoidance, and/or denial. It will do whatever it takes to stop us from jumping off that cliff, or engaging in what feels (for many of us) like an equally dangerous act: public speaking.
Fear Drives Resistance
Wherever there’s resistance, there’s fear underneath, so it might be helpful to ask yourself: When I look around my home & think about cleaning it, what fears emerge? It may be fear of boredom, fear of running out of energy to get the job done, fear of missing out on doing something more fun, fear of making a bigger mess than when you started, or fear of not cleaning the way your spouse likes it. There’s no need to analyze or judge these fears; just to identify them. Knowing what you’re afraid of will help you to design strategies to maneuver around them.
There are many different types of resistance that are common, as well as, a broad array of tips, tricks, and strategies you can use whenever you feel this sense of fear. If you keep in mind that there is a difference between real and perceived fear then you will quickly realize that the trick to sneaking around your resistance is to keep your ‘inner bodyguard’ in a nice, comfortable, and relaxed state. For this week, it’s enough to resist those fears identify when it’s present and what it’s up to, and then look it in the eye, shake hands, and get acquainted.
Personally, I think it’s great that my resistance is really my very own built-in bodyguard at work! First of all, it brings me a sense of compassion and understanding towards the procrastination, avoidance, and denial I experience when I try to deep-clean every week. Each time I feel an irresistible urge to get on the phone to kill time, a sense I can’t clean until I color-code my sock drawer, or suddenly imagine that my cleaning will go faster if I watched someone else clean their home first, I can recognize that resistance as my bodyguard at work. Secondly, it frees me from the debilitating idea that if I could just fix one of my many personal flaws, then I would be free of any resistance to cleaning. There’s no sense in believing that if only I were more disciplined, more motivated, and more focused, cleaning would be quick, easy, and enjoyable. That’s just not how it works. And finally, it’s helpful to me to understand that my resistance is ALWAYS going to be with me because it’s part of who I am.
I hope this week brings you the willingness to identify your resistance as it occurs, a spirit of openness toward new ways of understanding your procrastination and avoidance behaviors, and a sense of compassion toward yourself in the process.