The brain is a funny thing – I know that you are here, reading this, because in some way, you want to improve yourself. I’m here writing it because I want to do the same, improve myself and our world by shining a light to help others improve themselves and the world around them.
But we all suffer from “Resistance” – the negative force inside all of us that wants to maintain the status quo, wants to not “feel the fear” but to “stay safe” and to hide away from change and growth. Because change could harm us right? Best not do that then, just stay here in our nice little world and be secure, even if we rationally hate it and want, even need to change it…
The need to “stay safe” comes direct from the Amygdala, AKA the “reptile” brain, which operates as a part of the Limbic brain, but at an even lower level – Evolutionary studies show that this is the part of the brain system that we have now that evolved first. One of its jobs is to be in charge of the part of “fight or fight” (our instinctual decision making and emotional response) that is based on previous emotional memory patterns.
So, why is our learning to discern when this little nugget of our brain is activated important to our progress? When the Amygdala is activated, it makes our gut feelings on something not quite so trustworthy as usual, as it is basing its reaction on past emotional memory patterns, usually formed when we are very young.
Like the limbic brain, it has no language or sense of time, it acts in the now to keep us alive and safe, and will always point towards short term satisfaction and pleasure over long term gain. (As an aside, it’s also the part of your brain responsible for weird and irrational snap decisions around instant gratification – that sweet sticky doughnut you ate cos it tastes nice, or those lovely new shoes that you have no idea why you bought for instance! Marketers play heavily to this instinctual behaviours as they lay out shops, they know how to make your Amygdala give you a short term gain “happy”!)
This “short term view” can make us freeze in our tracks or even run away when a “big unknown” comes up; something that we’ve never encountered before may well be harmful! This can very much rob us of the want to act for our own greater good. Where the Neocortex knows that progress towards “a long term change towards greater good” will improve us and our world, the Amygdala puts up “stay safe, be happy in your now, don’t change” signals.
Nite that when the Amygdala signals, these are taken by the brain as a whole to be the appropriate reaction response to the situation – Limbic reacts faster than rational Neocortex. And so the Neocortex gets overruled and we feel Resistance.
Resistance takes many shapes: fear, self-doubt, procrastination, distraction, addiction, timidity, ego and narcissism, self-loathing and perfectionism, to name a few. I’m sure that you’ve feel these come up in your lives, I know I have in mine! (Procrastination is the main way my resistance shows itself. I’ve learned ways to turn it to my advantage, but that’s a whole ‘nother post!)
Knowledge is power however, now you know why you are feeling resistance, and because we can actively gauge and use the strength of the Resistance we feel against “the good thing that we want to do” we can use that as a compass.
After all, as Steve Pressman says in “Do the work”: Resistance wants us to not move away from our current state of mind; it’s a negative, repelling force. It will outright lie to us, fabricate reason after reason for us not to act, and cajole, seduce or bully us into not moving forward.
However, Resistance, being negative, is always lying, and it is totally full of bullshit.
The fact that resistance is always a liar means that when we are feeling the most resistance to an new idea or change, that is when we most need to act, using the feelings of resistance to guide us towards the calling or purpose that we know that we must follow. The more important that work is to us, however much we want to achieve our goals towards “greater good”, as the “greater good” grows so does the resistance we will feel towards our perusing them.
The work (your ideas, dreams and goals) can be anything: Writing a book, dropping your excess body fat, lifting weights to gain muscle, learning how something works so that you are more able to support yourself in using it, designing and launching a website to share your ideas, painting, creating or drawing something and then showing it to people or embarking on a 6-month around the world adventure – all these things have long-term gain for the good in common. They all pretty much require short-term pain of some form: planning, organising, potential financial shortfalls or simple courage of convictions to press on.
There are a few ways to combat the Amygdala, and so, armed with this new knowledge, what are you feeling resistance against doing in your life? What goal in your life are you procrastinating around doing, or fussing over “because it has to be perfect”? Leave me a comment below about what your resisting, and we can start working on connecting those dots.
Catch you next week!