The Neuroscience of Resistance and How to Overcome It!

Whether we're starting a new project or trying to meditate, we can experience resistance, says Elisha Goldstein. But there are ways we can train the brain to get out of the resistance loop. 

We all experience resistance everyday when we’re trying to do something that matters. Whether you want to sit and meditate, work on a new project, get out and exercise, whatever it is that is in the direction of growth, resistance comes alive. In my next book, Uncovering Happiness (can’t wait to share it with you—January, 2015), I explore some of the neuroscience behind what keeps us stuck in a depressive loop and how to get unstuck and even find our natural anti-depressants and thrive. While resistance lies within a depressive spiral, you don’t have to have had experienced depression in the past to know resistance, it’s a universal daily experience for all of us.

But the deeper question is, where does it reside in the brain and how do we overcome it?

I don’t believe anyone has conducted a brain scan specifically on resistance, but one thing we do know is that the right side of the prefrontal region that lies behind your forehead lights up when we’re trying to avoid something. This same region also lights up with negative emotions.

One thing we’re wanting to do is intentionally practice and repeat shifting the activity to the left prefrontal region that is more associated with approaching things in life and with resiliency.

The fact is resistance is relentless, it’s a deeply ingrained wiring that we all have to move away from what the brain anticipates to be uncomfortable and stay with what’s comfortable. Not only is this hardwired into most of us, but we’ve practiced is so often that it’s strengthened the default. The brain has such a lock on us, that we’re not even aware of it.

This is why procrastination is so common.

So what do we do about it?

K.N.O.W Your Resistance

1. Know resistance is inevitable and relentless—it’s not personal.

2. Notice it in your day as a way of disentangling from it. The moment you’re aware it, you’re mindful and have created a little space between yourself and the resistance.

3. Open to the experience of it, how does it feel in your body? Get intimate with it so you can recognize the sensations of it, the thoughts surrounding it and behaviors it defaults you to that lead you away from your intention. This begins the left prefrontal shift.

4. Whack it! This may seem very unmindful, but it can be kind of fun to think about it this way. We have to remember that mindfulness is awareness and opens us up to discerning what is best for us in the moment. If whacking it is too strong of a term for you (because it implies harming), you might prefer Welcome it and Let it go as a more compassionate response.

Play with these four steps in whatever you notice yourself resistant toward. Remember, you’re not alone. Every human being has resistance, even the most talented people you can think of sense it prior to getting up and performing.

The brain is powerful, but you do have the ability to change it and overcome resistance when you get to K.N.O.W it. This isn’t easy so be forgiving toward yourself along the way, but also investigate the resistance to continue to learn from it.

Whatever it is for you, don’t put it off until tomorrow, that’s just the subtle voice of resistance talking, every moment is an opportunity to step into the life you want to live.

Adapted from Mindfulness & Psychotherapy