Russell Bishop Blog

#29 – Resistance

Let’s get comfortable because this could get uncomfortable for some.

As you have made your way through these thoughts, have you noticed that some part of you has resisted one or more elements of what has been suggested? I don’t know that you have, so I’m just asking.

Resistance can take many forms, ranging from the outright and obvious to the more subtle and passive. “That will never work” is one form of resistance.  “That’s dumb – you’ll never catch me doing anything like that” is another. Both are probably pretty obvious. And even though we keep suggesting taking on the “what if” possibility as a no lose way of testing these ideas, some just won’t go there.

Have you encountered that kind of resistance before in your life, either coming from inside your own self or as something you have bumped into in another person? Surely you have seen it at work?

There’s a more subtle form of resistance that can sound more like self doubt: “I’m not sure I can do that.” (Remember what Henry Ford said about can and cannot). Or, “Oh if I tried, I’d only come up short.” (Remember the piece about trying vs. doing). Or, “Never mind – it’s not that important to me anyway.”

One way to look at both the obvious and the more subtle forms of resistance is that they really aren’t that different underneath – they just look and sound different on the outside.

John-Roger, my mentor for many years, once took me aside in one of the Insight seminars I was teaching. This group was more difficult than most for me, with lots of intellectual push-back and hesitancy to play the “what if” game. As I was growing more frustrated, I’m pretty sure I looked and sounded that way to anyone observing the seminar.

On a break, I was muttering something about how resistant this group seemed in general, and named a couple of participants in particular. It was this point in time that John-Roger took me aside and said something quite profound to me: “You know, RB, resistance is only a sign of insufficient understanding. Perhaps you could help them with what they don’t yet understand.”

Well, that uncorked another internal landslide as all kinds of past experiences kind of came together and crumbled some internal walls. I flashed back to many instances in school as a little boy where I first became frustrated and then bored because no one else in the class seemed to be getting what to me was so obvious.

The good news about me is that I tend to get things fairly quickly (except, of course, when I don’t J). The bad news is that I tend to get things fairly quickly, and then tune out – perhaps tuning out before I really get to the depth of understanding that is available.

Sound familiar to any of you?

So, back to the seminar room I went, and this time began asking questions to better understand what the group was hearing, regardless of what I was saying. (I tend to think of myself as pretty clear so if someone else doesn’t understand, it must be something about them – couldn’t be me now could it?) Unless, of course, it is me!

So then a few other things began to converge inside in the form of expanding awareness.  Of course, these would be things that I had been busy teaching, just not doing.

(You know the old cliché: “those who can’t do, teach.” Peter Drucker, considered by many to be the dean of American management consulting, was once quoted as having added to that cliché: “Those who can’t do, teach; those who can’t teach, consult; those who can’t consult, write.” So here I am, one who has made a career first of teaching, then consulting, and now writing.)

Anyway, the awareness that showed up was that as much as I might be teaching about awareness, choice, communication, response-ability, accountability and the like, there I was blaming them for resisting or not understanding.

So, as I took on the response-ability of improving my own communication, it occurred to me that perhaps it was going to be less about what I told them, and more about what I asked them. The more questions I asked, the more I understood about where to take them so they could expand in their own awareness.

As I have continued to learn more and more about this phenomenon of apparent resistance, the more I have discovered that I call resistance is really just a form of self-preservation that takes many forms.

If someone shows me something new and that something new looks potentially dangerous, then it would be “normal” to resist trying it out until I felt a bit more safe. Imagine someone putting you in the cockpit of an airplane right now and they said, “Go ahead, fly the thing – don’t worry, it’s easy.”

Unless you’re already a pilot, this might seem a bit daunting.  It might not be too surprising to hear you say something like, “Oh, I’m not sure I can do that.” What’s being said underneath, is more about not understanding how to actually fly an airplane and that if I try now, based on my lack of understanding, something terrible is likely to happen.

When we ask you to consider trying on new habits or behaviors in these writings, it may seem a lot like asking you to fly an airplane. Even just imagining a changed life circumstance can be unsettling. Why is that? Because when you begin imagining a changed set of outcomes, all kinds of other things come into question, at least sub-consciously.

For example:  if you were to imagine yourself as considerably more wealthy than you currently are, what might come up for you.? At first, you might be thrilled with the thought. And a bit later, what might come are any number of those “beliefs that create poverty” that we discussed earlier on.

“I’d lose all my real friends – they’d only like me for my money.” Or, “I’d have to abandon my friends because they couldn’t come along.” Or, “If I had it, I’d only lose it and I couldn’t take the disappointment.” Or any of a number of other limiting thoughts might arise.

And what’s behind that form of “resistance.” You may have seen others struggle with suddenly changed circumstances and so have “proof” that it’s hard to do, if not dangerous.  And what’s really going on is a form of self doubt that fears you won’t be able to make the transition. That you might lack the skill or knowledge to succeed in the new lifestyle. And rather than risk failing at the new lifestyle, why not just stay where you are?

After all, weavily peanuts at least have some nutritional value!

So, resistance can be a sign of self-doubt, lack of understanding, or fear for personal well-being. In any of these instances, we usually like to advise the advisors of the world to be careful about what they are asking someone else to do or change. The general admonition goes something like this: “never ask someone to give up something without replacing it with something of equal or greater value.”

The question, then, is how to actually determine what is of equal or greater value. As it turns out, that determination actually belongs to the person who is making the change.  And how do they determine the value? By looking to their desired outcome or preferred experiences in life.

So, further counsel might be to consider that if you are encountering resistance, it could well be the case that the other person has not yet perceived the possible and preferred value of the new circumstance. If you couple that with an underlying fear of failure or some other form of self-doubt, you could easily reframe the apparent resistance as a form of self-preservation.

Somehow, self-preservation seems so much more understandable than resistance. At least it does to me!

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