10 ways to beat your internal resistance

Graham Allcott — №10 with Seth Godin

Seth Godin’s excellent book “Linchpin” talks about our need to “ship”. “Shipping” — the art of completing and moving on rather than striving for perfection and procrastinating — can be hard.

Most of us at one time or another struggle to “ship” things because we’re scared about the consequences and without even knowing it, we’re battling our Lizard brains – the part of the brain that looks after survival, fitting in and not taking risks.

Seth quotes from one of my favourite books on this topic, Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art”, which defines the creation of art as a war with our own “resistance”. I personally don’t think any of us can conquer our internal resistance completely. Instead, we can listen to it, confront it, and occasionally even tame it. But importantly, in our quest to be productive, we must never allow our lizard brain’s resistance to stop us from “shipping”.

Here are 10 ways to beat the resistance, battle by battle:

1. Create a deadline in someone else’s world.

We all know deadlines are great for focusing the mind and replacing our number one fear (“looking foolish”) with a new number one fear (“letting someone down by missing the deadline”). Indeed, I’m on a deadline with Michael to finish this right now, and believe me it’s my favourite way of getting my fingers to make that tappity-tappity sound that magically produces writing! However, setting deadlines for ourselves doesn’t work. We don’t mind letting ourselves down because there’s no pain involved in that. So tell a colleague, a client or someone else that you don’t want to look bad in front of. Now it’s easier to ignore the resistance’s fear about producing bad work because you have a commitment to keep, and you’ll ship.

2. Just do the next action.

David Allen’s great question in “Getting Things Done” is “what’s the next action?”. It produces momentum because it overcomes the fear that a project will be large, complicated, difficult or boring. I run my own business and occasionally need to spend time on the finances (which I hate for all the above reasons). Telling myself I’m only spending five minutes on something allows me to start. Momentum builds and things get easier.

3. Create space and enjoy the silence.

If your resistance’s voice is screaming loudly in your mind telling you not to do those difficult, daring or high-impact pieces of work, you’re going to find ways to block out all that noise with other noise. There are so many potential distractions available to us to take our minds away from the task and our ears away from the resistance’s voice. Creating the space to focus your mind on what those fears are, is scary because it means we have to go into battle with the resistance. But that’s what we need to do. Get to your desk when it’s quiet, an hour before your team arrives. Turn off your email. Take a walk. Eliminate distractions so that you can confront the resistance and then work out how to beat it.

4. Get a coach or mentor.

Often the resistance starts to win because you’re not aware that it’s winning. Talking through a difficult project or issue with a coach or mentor allows you to externalise negative thought patterns. A good coach will help you to explore whether the consequences of “shipping” really would be as bad as the resistance would have you believe. You start to see that you’re in control. You connect positive ideas together. Magic happens.

5. Smile!

If you’re about to make a phone call that you’re dreading or about to walk into a terrifying meeting, take a deep breath and smile. Use your body positively to send positive signals and reduce the fear. Walking tall really helps.

6. Change the paradigm from “what if it goes wrong?” to “what if it doesn’t?”.

Our fear often points us towards imagining our failures in such a way that we fail to realise that the consequences of our actions could be unbridled and wonderful success! On the other hand, if we imagine every task as potentially the thing that our ultimate success depends on, it becomes overwhelming! So pick yourself out of the negative thinking and imagine a world where your next action doesn’t make you a millionaire, but certainly doesn’t bankrupt you either! It’ll all be fine. Now go ship.

7. Recognise and Review.

The only way to realise you’re resisting doing something is to have a pretty good handle on everything you’re not doing. Keeping good project and next actions lists will, I’m sure, be second nature to you if you’re reading Productive! Magazine, but make sure you are conducting a thorough weekly review of your projects and actions. In knowledge work, we don’t just do our work, we also define what that work is. We’re simultaneously both a boss and a worker. Make your weekly review the time you set aside for your boss-self and your worker-self to meet and talk: your very own personal supervision meeting. A good supervisor or boss is someone that coaches you through problems and inspires you to succeed. Your weekly review is your own opportunity to give yourself that gift.

8. Change the view.

Sometimes things are just stuck. Try looking at the same thing in a different way. If you’re staring at your inbox, try printing the page out and attack it with a pen and paper. If you’re stuck on a problem, why not open up a Word document or draw a mind-map. Similarly, if you’re feeling stuck at your desk, grab your laptop and head to a coffee shop or sit somewhere with a nicer view. A different perspective on the same issue is sometimes all you need to get unstuck.

9. Develop playful, productive momentum.

It’s a phrase we find ourselves using a lot on our Think Productive workshops. If you think about defining the opposite of stress, it’s “playful productive momentum”. Indeed, in Linchpin, when Seth talks about our ‘inner artist’ he talks passionately about the fact that we’re all born as curious artists and it’s only as we transition to become adults that our creativity and playfulness is knocked out of us by schools, careers and conveyor belts. So give yourself permission to play, think positively and ignore the consequences. If a child draws a bad picture, they rip it up and start again. Don’t consider that a failure, just consider it an experiment or some useful practice time.

10. Make an appointment for the war and put it in your diary.

I’ve been experimenting for a while with the idea of “power hours”: once a day, for an hour, work only on those things that you resist the most. Define these things as the ones that have sat on your lists incomplete for the longest time or have the largest potential pay-off. Like Aristotle once said, “Excellence is not an act, but a habit”. What we do consistently, often in small steps, is what will ultimately define us. What the “power hour” idea allows you to do, of course, is NOT confront the resistance for the other six hours of your working day. But you’ll find if you start the day with a “power hour” and experience how liberating it is to win a battle with the resistance way before lunchtime, you’ll start the day feeling like anything is possible. And guess what? When you feel like that, anything is possible.

Like I said at the beginning, I don’t think you can win the war against your resistance completely. I also don’t think lifehacks or shortcuts will help too much here either; it’s about using different tactics for each battle, being aware of where your resistance comes from and finding the ways to “ship” things anyway. Good luck!

Photo: © grivina / Shutterstock


Graham Allcott

Graham Allcott specializes in personal organizational systems, strategies to deal with the information overload and ‘action management’. A naturally 'too strategic to be organized’ person who has trained himself to be productive throughout the development of personal work-flow systems and developing the power of good habits.

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