You know you should do it. It would be good for you. You'd be happier. You'd feel better. But you don't do it. What the heck is going on? Hint: nothing is wrong with you.
I had a real aha moment in a session with a client this morning - we both did, actually. We were talking about why they resist doing this particular thing that would help them feel better. "I know it would help," they said, "but I just don't WANT to do it. It's like there's a little kid inside me with their arms crossed saying 'NO.'"
How often do we have this experience? There's something we know we should do. Maybe we even want to do it. But some part of us resists. Maybe we "forget" to do it. Or keep procrastinating with it. Or tell ourselves we don't have time. Or find something else to do instead. Resistance is showing up. Some part of us is resisting this thing that another part of us knows would be good for us. It's maddening, isn't it? Doesn't it make you feel like you don't have any discipline? Or that you're lazy? Or that maybe secretly you don't really care about yourself enough to change your behavior? You wonder if it's subconscious self-sabotage. It's a shame shit-storm.
Those thoughts arise, unbidden, but they are not true. They are not helpful. They are critical, stressful, anxiety-provoking. And we'd never say anything like that to someone we love. If a child didn't want to eat his vegetables, would you say "what's wrong with you? Don't you know these are good for you? Just eat them already!" And if you did (we all have our moments of exasperation) it would probably backfire. Raise your hand if you hate broccoli or peas because you were forced to eat them as a kid. 🙋🏻♀️
As I have discussed here before, negative motivation does not work, not in the long run. It may get you to do something in a moment, but it doesn't lead to the kind of change we really want -- the kind that promotes true well-being. Often it has the opposite of the desired effect. We push and prod and then we "fail." We feel shame. We stop trying. We reinforce our negative stories about ourselves. We stay stuck.
So what's the alternative? I call it compassionate curiosity. I'll use a story to explain.
Back in the fall I had successfully used the techniques of Pain Reprocessing to eliminate my chronic pain. It was remarkable, mind-blowing. (I wrote about it in a series of blog posts, starting with this one). I was mostly pain free for the next couple of months, through my husband's cancer diagnosis and treatment (which was all the more remarkable given the stress and hectic schedule). Then, as he began to recover, the pain returned. I was really pissed off. I felt robbed. I felt scared, too, but mostly really angry.
I was able to give myself a little grace for a while -- honoring the magnitude of what we'd just been through. I understood that my body was having a delayed reaction to the trauma. I understood why it was freaking out in that moment.
But now it's mid-May and the pain is still here. Shouldn't I be "better" by now, 3.5 months after the end of his treatment? Why can't I get back to where I was in October? I keep trying to re-engage with the Pain Reprocessing practices - somatic tracking, messages of safety, expressive writing, cultivating positive feelings. I know it works. I know it would work again. I know that freedom from pain is right there - just around the next corner, within reach. I'm coaching others to use the tools and seeing THEIR progress. It's so close I can taste it.
And I haven't been able to stick with it consistently enough myself to see real progress. Some part of me is resisting.
[Side note: Shame is arising here and now as I write this. My inner voice says "are you sure you want to share this? People won't want to work with you if you admit that you can't even do this work yourself! You'll reveal yourself as a fraud. You'll jeopardize your practice." And, again, I choose to be honest and transparent here. It's why I write this blog. To be real so others can see themselves in my challenges as well as my triumphs.]
The default thought process has kicked in. That I lack discipline. That I can't ever stick with anything. That maybe, secretly, I don't want to heal. Maybe I "need" the pain and so I am subconsciously manifesting it. Why can't I just DO it? It's not hard. I know how. And yet I don't. Can't? Won't? These inner narratives are depressing, disempowering, frustrating. I'm frustrated, angry, discouraged, pessimistic.
No wonder my body hurts. My mind is spewing mental and emotional poison.
So it's time to let go of judgment and shift to compassionate curiosity. It starts with this question: What is the most compassionate explanation for what is going on with me right now?
Why might it be challenging right now for me to feel authentically safe? Pain relief can only come when there is an authentic felt-sense of safety - not just in the mind but in the body. I was able to BE there - in that authentic place of safety - back in October, before The Diagnosis.
But cancer and its aftermath shook my foundations. Lingering side-effects of his treatment are still daily reminders. Many old, deep wounds have been re-opened for both of us, and between us. I'm feeling feelings that I desperately want to avoid. I numbed them out for a while - to get through and be the strong one when that was required. Now I just can't do that anymore. Numbing out itself perpetuates pain. Because the body knows the feelings are there, even if I am drinking wine and binging Netflix.
What we resist persists.
So the only way out is through. I can't un-feel all of this. I can't rewind to fall of 2021 when this pain wasn't here. I can only care for it, tend to it, soothe it.
There are many different models of mind-body pain relief. The Alan Gordon plan worked for me 8 months ago. Now I am being called to a different path of healing. This one involves allowing suppressed emotions to surface. Feeling them. Getting intimate with them. They are memories, reflections of old wounds - from childhood, from past relationships, from medical trauma.
That's why I've decided to train in Compassionate Inquiry. The first few months of the training involve applying the method to my own internal life. It's a continuation of work I've been doing for decades - but with a new lens and a new set of tools. I'm always seeking new tools, new lenses. It's my nature. I am an insatiable learner - I have been since I was very little. I remember my grade-school teachers telling my parents that they had to stretch to keep up with me. I spent a lot of time in the school library. I spent six years in grad school to get a PhD. I was a professor, a researcher, and and a leader for fifteen years after that.
When that life fell apart - over a decade ago now - I set out on an entirely new path, the path of a healing guide. And the insatiable consuming of knowledge continues.
I love that about myself - the endless curiosity, the thrill I still get opening a new book or discovering new ideas, new fields of study, new questions to explore. I take great pride in the depth and breadth of my understanding and my toolbox.
That is the gift of compassionate curiosity when we feel stuck. It transforms self-critical stories of what we are lacking into opportunities to discover and learn and grow. That internal resistance does not mean there is something wrong with you. It is not a message that you need to fix or improve yourself, or push yourself harder or yell at yourself louder. It's a trail-head. A doorway. Pause at the threshold and adopt the most compassionate mindset you can. Cloak yourself in kindness. Investigate with awe. You have no idea what wonders you might discover.
I have a couple of openings in my coaching practice for new clients right now!
Is there an area of your life where you could use some compassion? Pain, illness, body image, stress, burnout?
I love to hear your feedback and reactions - as well as your own stories. So please reach out at email@example.com. And please share this blog with others.
If you'd like to read earlier blog posts on a variety of topics, you can find them here.
To be notified when a new post is published, please subscribe.