When you want something new, you must change something. Change is a “charged” word. We talk about the need for change right alongside the resistance to change. Google “manage change” and you get 892 million results and 97.5 million for “resistance to change”. That’s a lot of conversation about change. The conversation even goes back to at least 500 BC as seen in the quote below.
The only constant is change.
Most of my clients have heard me talk about “ego resistance” at some time in our work together. I see, in myself and in my clients, a pattern that goes something like this…
I would like to exercise more. And, I start by deciding to exercise 3 times per week for 30 minutes each. It sounds easy and manageable. And, for 1-2 weeks, everything is going along perfectly. I do 3 sessions of exercise each week, and I am beginning to feel great. Then, in Week 3, my exercise buddy gets sick and cannot meet me. I only manage to exercise once that week, and only because I make myself go without her. Then in Week 4, my schedule just gets crazy and I only get in one session. In Week 5, everything is so out of control that I skip it for the whole week. After another 3 weeks, I realize that my last exercise was over 4 weeks ago!
You can substitute any new habit or change into the above scenario. And, I imagine that there are at least a few of you that relate to my story. While this particular story is made up, the pattern is my point. We shift something and are really good at it for a while. Then, something gets in the way and before we realize it, we are right back to where we started. No change, just the same situation as before.
Ego resistance is what happened!
My explanation of ego resistance goes something like this… There’s a part of our ego that has the job of keeping us safe. And, safety is defined as that which is known — you could call it the comfort zone. What is in the comfort zone is safe, in part because it is known. What’s outside of the comfort zone is considered, by this part of the ego, to be dangerous. When I want to do something new, i.e. change, it is certainly outside of my current comfort zone. If the change is big enough, it may even be perceived to be life threatening, certainly threatening to life as our ego knows it. When I begin something new, it seems as though the ego says “go ahead and dabble in it if you want, but don’t get too serious”. I am able to do this new activity for a while. Once the ego believes that I am serious about this change, it throws up resistance to do its best to stop this new activity. This resistance can wear the mask of: getting sick; car breaking down; schedule getting out of control; employee quits; and a host of other masks the ego hides behind as it works to stop the change. If I let these hindrances stop me, I am going to go right back where I started. When I am ready for the change, I thank the ego and go ahead and do it anyway. I find ways to circumvent the obstacles that ego throws in my path and keep going for the new habit until it becomes part of my comfort zone. Then, resistance is gone, because it is now part of my comfort zone.
Now, the therapists in the audience are probably throwing up their hands at my explanation. I am using the term “ego resistance” and the description above as a way to describe a pattern that I have seen in myself and have helped many clients through. It happens. And, it happens every time I change. Yes, it gets easier. Yes, some change is easier than others. And, it still happens.
When I notice ego resistance, I like to cheer! It means that we are actually changing! That’s the whole point! Congratulations! Yes, it is awesome.
And, we need to find ways to keep going through, past or around the resistance when we are ready to claim the change. We can choose to stay where we were, or we can choose to go ahead anyway and make it to the other side.