Breaking Through Resistance: Achieving More by Overcoming Your Blocks

By Robin Madell (San Francisco)

Do you find yourself repeatedly facing a particular type of task or experience that you just don’t want to deal with? What is it that keeps us stuck in some areas, unable to move forward even when we desperately want to do so?

According to the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey, participants list lack of willpower as the top reason they fail to move forward with changes. But while you may think that you can push your way through your blocks by the force of sheer willpower, that may not be enough.

“Will-full” Thinking

Research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology has shown that actions requiring self-control through willpower actually reduce the levels of glucose in your blood, giving you less energy to perform the desired task. Therefore, career expert Donna Hartney, author of The AHA! Handbook: How to Spark the Insights That Will Transform Your Life and Career, recommends not relying on willpower alone to break through resistance.

“Willpower is a great tool if you need to overcome the resistance to do something once and then move on,” says Hartney. “It is extremely difficult, though, to maintain willpower over an extended period of time.”

Everyone has their own secrets to help them over personal hurdles. Hartney practices a technique she calls “finding your trump.” “There was a time when I couldn’t be in the same room with anything chocolate,” she recalls. “Try as I might, I couldn’t resist. Then I found my trump. I noticed that when I ate chocolate, my mood and productivity would take a nose dive, not the next day but the day after. Feeling good and being productive trump chocolate for me. Now I have all the discipline in the world when it comes to that sweet treat.”

So what else can you do to overcome what’s holding you back? We turned to Libby Gill, author of You Unstuck: Mastering the New Rules of Risk-taking in Work and Life, for advice. In her book, Gill profiles a senior law partner’s slow and painful transition process as she struggles to overcome fear, doubt, and the perceptions of others while attempting a career change. Ultimately, the partner learned to break through her own resistance and became a successful judge using a common-sense process that Gill calls Clarify, Simplify, and Execute.

“It’s a simple decision-making matrix into which you can plug any relevant data,” explains Gill. “The beauty of working through resistance like this is that you can approach your goals objectively rather than emotionally, which is when fear often gets in the way.”

Clarify Your Vision

The first step in the process is to outline exactly where you want to be in your career when you look one year down the road. Gill suggests asking yourself: What is the one non-negotiable milestone I want to reach in the next year?

“Thinking longer-term can be too overwhelming; shorter-term sets the bar too low,” says Gill. “Create a concrete picture of what your professional life will look like – what’s on your calendar, who are you meeting with, what projects are you working on, are you in the same organization or somewhere else? Think of this as your Emotional Assignment, something you have willingly signed on to accomplish no matter how lofty your goal.”

Simplify Your Path

Step two requires that you look down the road and remove any obstacle that is not key to reaching your main goal. Gill recommends that you also determine who or what – for example, training or certification – can accelerate your path.

“Break down your vision into attainable goals – again, lofty enough to take you to a new level, but modest enough to be doable,” she says. “Create an itemized action plan with quarterly milestones, then further chunk it down into monthly, weekly, and daily goals.”

To do this step right, ask yourself these questions:

  • Is each step doable – can you accomplish it yourself or does it require the cooperation of others?
  • Is it measurable – can you answer yes or no as to whether you’ve achieved it?
  • Is it meaningful – do you care enough to go the distance?

Execute Your Plan

The third and final step requires aggressive follow-through. You need to determine what will hold you accountable to action toward your goals and stick with it. “Find internal factors – like satisfaction and sense of accomplishment – but also make sure you have enough external accountability factors to help you through hard times,” says Gill. “Consider drafting a friend or loved one for check-ins, or using technology to keep you on track.”

By choosing the right objective – one that you feel passionate about achieving – Gill maintains that you will shorten your growth curve. The result? “Both your confidence and competence will increase as you move forward, despite the inevitable setbacks,” she says. “And soon your baby steps will become giant leaps.”