How to overcome mental resistance.

We all have so many things we would like to do, but for some reason actually doing things is hard.

I think mental resistance is to blame. As soon as our minds think doing something might be effortful or the slightest bit displeasing, alarms are sounded, and mental barriers are raised. Now I might be alone in this, but I feel like it’s a pretty universal problem. So how do we get past this?

I’ve been thinking about this problem for a while and I’ve broken down my approach into two parts (1) lower mental resistance to tasks and (2) practice pushing through discomfort. In combination, these two strategies make doing pretty much anything easier. So, without further ado…

1. Lower mental resistance to tasks

If we can notice when we feel mental resistance to a certain task, we can then try to identify what part of the task is creating the resistance and find a way to avoid that type of resistance. For example, when I began my 365 day challenge I would find a place to prop up my phone every day, press record, hope my phone didn’t die, and have a 10-20 minute discussion about my daily reflections. After that, I would upload the video to my laptop, load it into iMovie, label each question with text, record the timestamps, write down my answers, make a YouTube thumbnail and instagram post, upload everything. This was not a streamlined process to say the least.

The first area that I noticed resistance to was the filming process. Having to find a place to set up my phone, get situated, and pray that technology would not fail me. One night I decided to do a front-facing camera because I was feeling lazy and this seemed to lower my resistance to the task. So I began filming my videos on the front-facing camera of my laptop instead. The first time I tried this I knew I had struck gold, because the whole entire task just felt so much easier. I could make sure I was recording the whole time and even somewhat felt like I was talking to myself instead of just the back of my phone. Yay! Mental resistance lowered.

The next thing I noticed was that the editing process was quite tedious. I would sometimes get backlogged with a couple of days of videos because I didn’t feel like editing and was procrastinating. And since procrastination is also the result of mental resistance, I knew an opportunity was there. I realized that labeling each video with a timestamp and text, was unnecessary because I was unlikely to ever reference those timestamps. This would save me around 20min a day, but more importantly made the task of editing seem so easy. And boom! Resistance lowered again.

A while later I realized I had saved myself a lot of time on the editing process, I still would have to scroll through most of the video to find the two questions I was typing out the answers to every day. And sometimes, I would find myself extremely annoyed with this process. So, what if I just wrote down those answers as I was saying them instead of waiting until after. Then I wouldn’t have to move through the video at all! …even less mental resistance!

This process continued evolving in this way until I had created a CLI bot to ask me all of my daily reflections and automatically update spreadsheets in my google drive, forgoing the video entirely. I now feel exponentially less mental resistance to doing my daily reflections and sometimes even get excited about the process.

This was a long-winded example of how to start lowering mental resistance to certain activities. Another example could be meditating in your bed instead of on the floor, or even laying down instead of sitting up. For a lot of activities, just getting started is what matters and so sacrificing a little bit of structure of actually doing it is totally worth it.

2. Practice pushing through discomfort

This second strategy is one I’ve only recently begun exploring, but I’ve already found it to be extremely useful. Basically, any time you notice that you don’t want to do something, you use this as a trigger to make yourself do it. It’s kind of like as soon as you notice, a bell goes off, and now you have to do that thing just because you don’t want to do it, just to practice pushing through that feeling and doing things you don’t want to do. Because in doing things that we feel resistance to, or that make us uncomfortable, or that we are afraid of, we are building our capacity to push through those feelings and do more things. And in that process, we are also expanding our comfort zone.

I first started doing this when I was studying abroad because so many things made me uncomfortable. Everything that was happening around me was at a minimum in a language I hadn’t studied since high school. So anytime I didn’t feel like talking to someone, exploring a new place, or doing something alone or scary, I would use that feeling of resistance as an impetus to actually do exactly what I didn’t want to do. It seems complicated, but it boils down to having to do something anytime you feel resistance, because of the resistance itself. To practice building strength to overcome these feelings and get outside of your comfort zone. More recently I’ve been using this strategy with physical activities and actual fear, so pushing myself to climb unstable trees, do scooter tricks, etc. The point is it doesn’t matter how simple or easy something may seem, as long as you feel resistance to it and you push through that resistance and do it anyways, you’ll grow in the process.

Now I’m not saying that either of these steps themselves are easy, but with practice we will get better at them. An important skill in improving both of these strategies is self-awareness. Being able to notice when you feel more or less resistance will help you find those paths of least resistance and being able to notice when you feel uncomfortable will help you push past those feelings of discomfort. This is one of the areas I’ve found meditation to be extremely helpful because the longer I practice meditation, the more I’m able to monitor and be aware of my thoughts and feelings. Another good way to increase self-awareness is through journaling and reflection.

Armed with these two skills, we should be able to face any type of mental resistance. We might not be able to lower our mental resistance to every single activity and we might not be able to push through all of our fear, but by practicing both and using whichever strategy seems to best fit the situation, I know we’ll just keep getting better.