We all encounter resistance. And what’s really interesting is why we resist the things that we KNOW are good for us.

While conventional wisdom would have us believe that we need to try harder, be more disciplined, and use our willpower, there is a deeper reason we resist doing things that are in our best interest.

Resistance can show up in many forms:

  • Buying a yoga or gym membership and not going to class even though we know we will feel better after
  • Buying a heap of healthy foods, only to leave them rotting in the fridge while we snack on comfort foods
  • Buying a book, course, program and never using it
  • Deciding on a savings plan only to go on a spending spree days later

I’m no stranger to resistance, and I have done all of these things too. I’m not trying to shame you for feeling resistance; instead, I want to normalise it and provide an alternative perspective on the issue.

We resist change for a good reason even if the change is good for us, even if we’re the one to initiate the change, even if we have a strong motivation for change.

When we fail to follow through on a change we’ve initiated, it’s really common to criticise ourselves as lazy, unmotivated or stupid. But self-criticism NEVER works, and it certainly doesn’t drive behavioural change. The opposite is true. Self-criticism and judgment just shame us, makes us feel worse, which means we’re less likely to take action.

The deeper reason we resist change

The reason we resist change is not laziness or lack of willpower – that’s just a superficial excuse. The deeper reason we find it hard to change is due to a lack of congruence between our conscious and subconscious minds.

A good analogy to understand our two minds is the Rider and The Elephant.

The Rider sits atop the Elephant and provides direction. The Rider represents our conscious mind, and it has a plan of the direction in which we want to move. The Elephant represents our subconscious mind and is the energy, power and motivation required to move forward.

If our Rider and Elephant want to move in different directions, the Elephant will always win as it is far stronger and more powerful than the Rider.

The Rider is motivated by seeking happiness, satisfaction, growth, development etc. In contrast, the Elephant is motivated by safety and security. So if the Elephant senses danger or feels threatened, it won’t cooperate. This is known as a subconscious block, where our subconscious mind is sabotaging our efforts.

The top 3 reasons why our Elephant won’t budge:

Fear of change.

Deep down, we have a craving for routine, habit and predictability. Our nervous system prefers the familiar and is scared of the unfamiliar. And any change, including the change that’s good for us, is scary for our nervous system because it’s unknown. Our nervous system’s job is to keep us safe. It’s not interested in happiness, growth or development. It just senses a threat and responds accordingly.

Even though our current situation may be less than desirable, it’s safer from the Elephant’s perspective than the unknown.

Rather than whipping and cajoling our Elephant to move, it’s best to go slow, acknowledge that change can be scary and show some self-compassion. Also, reward yourself for your progress rather than criticising yourself when you stumble. A criticised Elephant won’t feel safe and won’t cooperate.

Fear of success

Sometimes, we’re afraid of actually getting what we want. It sounds silly, but it’s ubiquitous. We can fear success for several reasons, but often it’s to do with what we perceive to be the negative consequences of our success.

We worry that if we achieve our goals, we might lose something else. We may lose friendships, attract criticism or negative attention, have to let go of our old selves, or that being successful may upset the delicate balance in our lives (e.g. make our relationships change).

Feeling unworthy

Our Elephant won’t move if we feel unworthy. Deep down, some of us feel us feel like we don’t deserve to be happy, healthy or successful. When we feel like we’re not good enough, our Elephant will sabotage our conscious efforts.

If we’ve experienced any trauma in our lives, this may have left a legacy of feeling deeply flawed and unworthy of good things. This core belief of unworthiness will influence all aspects of our life and will act like an inner thermostat keeping us in a state of familiar struggle. If our thermostat setting is low, we will have a hard time getting what we want because our inner setting doesn’t believe we deserve it.

Uncovering and healing our core wounds is deeper inner work and is best done with guidance and support.

3 Questions to reveal what our Elephant is feeling

When we notice that we’re resisting the things that are good for us, these questions will help us to understand how our Elephant is feeling:

  1. What is the worst thing that could happen to me if I was successful at this change?
    E.g. would getting fit and healthy alienate me from my friends? Would it change my relationship, would it attract unwanted attention, or would I feel more visible and perhaps less safe?
  2. What am I afraid will be revealed if I make this change?
    I hear this often with meditation: what if I realise that I hate my job? What if I realise that I’m unhappy in my relationship? What if I realise my current situation is unworkable and I need to take action? These underlying fears are often at the root of the resistance we feel. Sometimes, it feels easier to bury our head in the sand rather than deal with life head-on.
  3. Deep down, do I feel worthy of this change?
    If our answer is no, we’re presented with a powerful clue as to why we resist change. If you choose to do the inner work to release this limiting belief, it may just be the most rewarding thing you do.

Lasting and sustainable change is made at the level of the subconscious mind. Our conscious mind and its tools of willpower and discipline can only take us so far. Understanding our underlying emotions and healing our core wounds will help our two minds to become congruent and move forward in the same direction. Otherwise, it can feel like we’re driving with the handbrake on, burning out and not getting anywhere. If you want to learn more about meditation, check out The Meditation Habit.

Remember, yoga isn’t just about poses, yoga can help us to know ourselves on a deeper level, and when we know better, we do better. Yoga doesn’t just make us more flexible; it increases our capacity to deal with life.

Leave a comment below and let me know if this resonates with you.