A Coaching Power Tool Created by Birte Kuhn
(Conscious Leadership and Corporate Coach, CANADA)
Learn to recognize the Resistance and say ‘No, thank you. I’d rather move onward.’ (Mark W Guay)
When I did a google search on “Resistance in life” the first results that came up explain how to overcome Resistance from other people. Only after scrolling down, I found articles about internal Resistance to certain changes in our lives. That surprised me, as it is the internal resistance that we have to overcome first if we want to move forward in life. This power tool will explain why this is so important and how we can overcome inner Resistance.
A True Story on Resistance
At the end of 2018, we took a drastic decision. Our family of four would move to Canada and build a new life there for ourselves. The plan was to move in summer 2019 and preparations began. We started saying goodbye to our friends and family, which we would have to leave behind. We began selling some of our belongings that we wouldn’t be able to take with us. We planned our new life and dreamed about all the things that would be different, better. I dreamed about reviving my career again and share work, household, and children more equally between my husband and myself, something which had proven very difficult in our current home country.
Then, in March 2019, in the middle of our moving preparations and all our excitement, came the job offer. It was a job offer too good to reject it. So my husband took it up and our moving plans were suddenly put on hold, or at least postponed for an additional year. I was in shock! All the planning, preparation, emotions we had already been through, for nothing! All my plans and dreams of a career and a new life had just gone out of the window. Now I would be wasting another year, just sitting at home, while the rest of my family was living their lives. I felt completely alone! My husband didn’t mind postponing our moving plans, he had a great new job! My kids were happy they would get another year with their friends and visiting the school they loved! But what about me?! I seemed to be the only loser in this deal! I was angry, upset, frustrated, overwhelmed. For several days, if not weeks I was battling this situation unable to move forward. I was stuck.
So what had happened to me? I was completely resisting the situation, instead of accepting it. All my energy focused on fighting the situation and I was trapped in a circle of negative emotions. I was in a state of Resistance. And I might have been stuck there for a lot longer if it wasn’t for my coach, who helped me change my perspective. Here is what happened.
During a coaching session, I suddenly realized that I was indeed alone with my struggle, as everyone else in my family was making the best out of the situation and I realized I wanted to do the same. While thinking about other possible perspectives to look at the situation, it suddenly hit me. I could suddenly see that I wasn’t losing out at all! But instead, I was getting a great gift! The gift of time! One year, in which I would have lots of time to do with whatever I wanted! What a luxury! I could use the time to build my online coaching business, do some of the online courses I always wanted to and several other ideas started bubbling up, once I had started to Embrace the situation. Once I understood the concept of Embrace, I could use it in other situations in my life. (And it also really helped me, when a few months later things changed again and we did end up moving in late summer, but this is a different story.)
What is Resistance?
We experience Resistance when we are triggered by something that does not meet our expectations when things are not in line with our plans. When we resist, we refuse to accept a situation for what it is. In consequence, we are shying away from it, complaining about it, resenting it, protesting against it, and battling the situation. Those reactions are generally accompanied by negative thoughts and emotions, such as stress, anxiety, anger, frustration, impatience, or even fear, shame, pain, and feeling hopelessly out of control. Your mind may be racing with thoughts about how you are being mistreated, wronged, or inconvenienced. Physically, you may feel tightness and tension. All of this makes for great internal disruption.
Resistance can be defined as “a refusal to give in or to something that slows down or prevents something.” (Yourdictionary.com) It is “the refusal to accept or comply with something; the attempt to prevent something by action or argument.” (lexico.com)
There are four important aspects to these definitions. Firstly, there is some external force, like a specific situation, that affects and triggers us. An outside event that unsettles our sense of stability. We do not trust ourselves to be able to handle what happens to us. This reaction is based on the false assurance that we are fully in charge, whereas in reality, we never know what life will bring, so we have to let go of fixed outcomes. Spiritual teacher Pema Chodron explains, “Life is a good teacher and a good friend. Things are always in transition if we could only realize it.”
Secondly, resisting this external force, trying to prevent it or stop it, is an action. It takes work and energy. In a state of Resistance, any energy available to us gets bound up by our unconscious reactions fighting against the situation. Then, there is no energy left anymore to process what is happening and to find a solution for it.
Thirdly, Resistance slows us down or even completely prevents forward movement. We get stuck. And even if we are trying to move forward or get into action without understanding what gets us stuck, the Resistance will get into our way, or at least slows us down significantly. Resisting means closing, which is the opposite of feeling openness and lightness.
And, lastly, Resistance is a choice and there is an alternative, which is to Embrace. When we choose Resistance, we limit ourselves from being able to see the situation from any other perspective. We develop tunnel vision and can only see the negative in any situation. We get into blaming and feeling like the victim, which keeps us from seeing what we might be responsible for in the creation of it all, and we lose the potential to learn anything of value.
According to Eckart Tolle “to offer no resistance to life is to be in a state of grace, ease, and lightness.” What he is describing is the state of Embrace. It is the state of flowing, of being able to dance at the moment. “The definition of Embrace is to hug, eagerly accept, or to be serious about starting something new.” (yourdictionary.com) In other words, Embrace means to “accept or support (a belief, theory, or change) willingly and enthusiastically.” (lexico.com). What is very clear from both of these definitions is that Embrace can only be done wholeheartedly, when nothing is holding you back, when there is no Resistance. Embrace requires effort, but when our energy is not bound up in Resistance, we have enough of it to handle whatever life gives us. Choosing acceptance involves expending energy to remain open and conscious. Approaching circumstances and experiences with curiosity will offer new perspectives, unfold new opportunities, and hence put us in a much more powerful position. We become able to respond instead of reacting, and take responsibility instead of placing blame because we have the energy to do so. From here, we have the power to make sound decisions and to create opportunities for great learning.
Once we can fully Embrace our lives, we are more flexible, we can adapt quickly and change direction if needed. Picture a strong tree next to some tall grass. The tree seems a lot stronger, but in a heavy storm, some of his branches might break. The grass would be a lot more flexible and just bend with the wind. Once the storm is over the tree will still be startled about what happened and count its fallen branches, while the grass is already growing taller.
Uncertainty and Self-Trust
How do we change the perspective from Resistance to Embrace? First of all, we need to ask, why is it that a change in circumstances or an unexpected situation can be so startling for some people? Why does it make them freeze, putting them into a state of shock and making them react instinctively with rejection and Resistance? The reason is the underlying belief that we need to be in control of what’s happening, to be safe. The moment we lose control, we are lost. Hence, there is a deep fear of losing control. This fear is fuelled by a lack of confidence in ourselves. It’s a lack of trust in our abilities to handle unknown situations. So in an attempt to eliminate the uncertainty of life, we spend a lot of energy on planning and organizing.
However, we all know life is unpredictable and can’t be planned. We need to start by accepting this fact. More importantly, we need to overcome the fear of this uncertainty and start trusting in ourselves and in our ability to handle whatever comes our way. What helps us do that is to understand the power of choosing our perspective. Eckart Tolle explains that “the primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation, but our thoughts about it.” In other words, the outcome of any situation is mostly determined by how we react to it. The good news is, that we can choose our reaction and by doing so, we can have a great impact on our lives. Understanding this truth is empowering and creates great freedom. By doing so, we can accept any situation for what it is, evaluate possibilities on how to deal with it, choose what we want to do, and move forward.
Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. Victor Frankl
When the coach works with the client to change the perspective from Resistance to Embrace the immediate goal will be to move the client to the perspective of Embrace for a specific situation. The second step is to implement strategies that will help the client deal with similar situations in the future.
To help a client with an immediate situation, like the one described at the beginning of this power tool, the coach uses a multiple-step approach.
1. Understand that there are always multiple perspectives and that we have a choice
This step is about creating awareness that there is a distinction between the situation and the feelings and reactions about this situation, which the client is experiencing. This step sets the base for the client to understand that he has a choice in how he responds to the situation. Possible coaching questions are:
- What is beyond your control here?
- What can you control?
- What is stopping you from accepting the things that are beyond your control?
- If nothing changed, what would happen?
- Who would you be if you accepted this?
- What could acceptance do for you?
- In what ways is or isn’t this supporting you?
2. Take a step back and assess the situation (look at facts without interpretation)
After exploring and acknowledging the client’s feelings and emotions around the situation, the client needs to move beyond the emotions and look at the bigger picture. What is happening, what is true here, and what is just the story the client is making up in his head? Possible coaching questions might be:
- What are the facts in this situation?
- What is true here?
- How would a neutral observer describe the situation?
- What can you take responsibility for?
3. Identify possible perspectives
In this step, the coach will help the client identify alternative perspectives to look at the situation. Possible coaching question is:
- What would be a different way to look at the situation?
- What choices do you have?
- What about this situation that could be fun?
- What in this situation can you be grateful for?
- What are the positive aspects of the current situation?
4. Choose a new perspective
In this step, the coach supports the client in choosing a new perspective, which is supporting the client moving forward, rather than holding him back.
Possible coaching questions:
- What is the most enjoyable aspect of this?
- How can you turn the current situation to your advantage?
- How can you challenge the situation instead of letting the situation challenge you?
5. Identify opportunities
After choosing a new perspective, the coach and the client will explore this perspective to discover what possibilities unfold for the client. Possible coaching questions might be:
- What opportunities might arise from this situation?
- In what way could you benefit from this situation?
- What possibilities exist here?
- What can you learn here?
6. Open the space for action and move forward
Once the client has identified the new opportunities in front of him, the final step is to move the client to action. Possible coaching questions are:
- What would your next step look like?
- What are the options for action here?
Once the coach helped the client to move from Resistance to Embrace for a particular situation, the coach will help the client to develop a personal strategy to deal with similar situations in the future. The coach will help the client by creating self-awareness to help the client recognize when he is about to fall into a perspective of Resistance. For that, it is important that the client knows and understands what he feels, emotionally and in his body, when he is going into Resistance mode.
The next step is to help the client to create the space between stimulus and response, as per the quote of Victor Frankl. One great exercise that can be used in any situation is a breathing technique, which Brene Brown (in her book “Dare to Lead”) calls “box breathing”. While you are doing the exercise you imagine going along the lines of a square. You start inhaling while counting to 4. Then you hold your breath while counting to 4. Then you exhale, counting to 4. Hold your breath counting to 4. And then you can start again with the inhale. This technique can be done anywhere anytime and it can help create the space that we need to choose our response, rather than jump to a hasty reaction.
Another technique is RAIN, as presented by Tara Brach in her book “Radical Compassion”.
The acronym RAIN stands for:
R – Recognize what is happening
A – Allow life to be just as it is
I – Investigate inner experience with kindness
N – Non-Identification
This technique can be used in any life situation and directly de-conditions the habitual ways, in which we resist. Providing this tool (or similar tools) to the client allowing them to practice moving to an Embrace perspective in their life repetitively. Once the client starts practicing this process and going through it several times, it will become a habit and with that, the self-trust in handling unexpected situations will grow. The growing trust in the capacity to overcome whatever arises will help to let go of the need for control. Ultimately the client will experience a state of flow, which means taking circumstances and situations as they are. The client will be able to recognize what he can and cannot control and can look at each situation as an opportunity to learn and grow.
Brach, Tara. Radical Compassion. Penguin Audio, 2020
Brown, Brené. Dare to Lead. Random House Audio, 2018
Chödrön, Pema. When Things Fall Apart. Random House Audio, 2017