Motivation and Resistance

Sometimes it seems that the concepts of motivation, resistance, procrastination, and avoidance are merged together. We believe we are not motivated when the truth is, we are very motivated, we are simply stopped by resistance. We think we are procrastinating (putting off until later) when we are really avoiding (not wanting to do at all).

With some reflection, we can easily feel the difference between a lack of motivation (I have no interest in that task even though I should do it) and resistance (I want to do it but I can’t get myself to do it.). These are similar but different from procrastination (I will do it, but later.) and avoidance (I want to do it but I’d rather not experience doing it because it is unpleasant or effortful.)

There are a number of books about motivation which are interesting, like The Procrastination Equation and Drive, which help with understanding motivation, but most leave out that pesky problem of resistance. Sometimes wanting to do something more, or fearing not doing it more, does not result in our doing it.

Resistance is about something perhaps not even in our awareness that blocks our doing what we want or intend to. Exercise is a good example. We criticize ourselves for insufficient motivation or lack of discipline but the basic obstacle is really a separate motive. Resistance might serve useful purposes. For example, it could be an unconscious awareness that we should not do what we think we ought. For example, we might be getting a cold, or have exercised too much in the last couple of days.

Or, resistance might be something else–some inner block that works against our best self-caretaking intentions. Our minds are complex, and they contain useful, constructive intentions as well as sabotaging, self-defeating motives. It seems odd that we would have internal motives that are bad for us, but they are really habits of thought or feeling that are imprinted early in our lives. Without our recognizing it, they can kick in and affect how we feel, how we think, and how we behave.

Pushing through resistance only seems to make it stronger. It seems that backing up and choosing the smallest possible step toward our goal and doing that for the satisfaction of that step and that alone is a workable  approach. In the face of resistance, like dealing with a stubborn child, we might be more likely to prevail if we woo ourselves onto a success spiral by making each step small enough to be a sure thing.

About norasblog

I am a psychotherapist with a private practice in downtown Chicago.
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2 Responses to Motivation and Resistance

  1. tonyputman says:

    I find it useful to consider that “coercion elicits resistance.” When we encounter resistance, it can be helpful to notice where the sense of coercion is coming from. Not infrequently, it comes from ourselves.

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