Awareness and Resistance

September 9th, 2005 by Steve Pavlina

I’m well aware that many people will become pissed off, turned off, put off, or simply want me to step off when I stray from “safe” topics like productivity and time management and explore more sensitive, even controversial topics like relationships, health, or spirituality. However, from past experiences I’ve seen that it’s the ideas we resist most vehemently that are fertile ground for new growth experiences.

Through this blog I’m providing ideas for you to react to, and your reaction to those ideas becomes the seed for your own personal growth. If an idea resonates with you, great. If an idea seems to have no impact on you, it’s not likely important for your growth. But if an idea sparks a fire of resistance within you, there you have a potent seed for growth.

Exploring your own resistance to ideas can help you clarify your own thinking and understand why you believe what you do. My goal isn’t to convert everyone to my way of thinking about subjects like diet or spirituality or relationships. My goal is to help raise your awareness of how you think and behave and to encourage you to make such choices more consciously and deliberately instead of falling back on social conditioning and/or mindlessness.

I have more genuine respect for the meat-eater who takes the time to explore and think about his/her diet carefully, makes a conscious choice about what to eat, acts in accordance with those beliefs, and continues to remain open to new information, than I do for the vegan who simple eats that way because it’s how s/he was raised to behave and never gave it any conscious thought. I have the greatest respect for those who consciously and deliberately explore all aspects of their lives without excessive fear, defensiveness, or resistance — those who are most open to finding out the truth as opposed to justifying their current beliefs. Becoming more conscious and aware requires that we do know, and that we don’t ignore information, especially when it provokes resistance within us.

Live consciously and deliberately, with full awareness of what exactly it is you are doing and being. That process leads many people towards similar types of diets, relationships, and spiritual beliefs, but pursue this path for yourself and see where it leads you. The goal isn’t to adopt some particular lifestyle. It’s to look at all the information you’ve gathered from your own personal experience and make what you genuinely believe to be the best choice for you.

If you want to become more conscious, one of the best places to start is with your resistance. By noticing the areas of your life where you can easily be made defensive and resist ideas emotionally, you will see the places where you have tremendous opportunity for growth. Imagine for example a couple you may know whose relationship seems lifeless. If you try to raise the issue with them, they may practically boot you out the door — you meet with strong resistance. For that couple their relationship is an area where they have high potential for growth. Where we most resist change is precisely where we must change.

Resisting an idea emotionally and becoming defensive isn’t the same as disagreeing with an idea. If I tell you that I’m really 250 years old, you may dismiss me as a liar or an idiot, but my statement is unlikely to provoke your emotional resistance or make you defensive. You simply disagree, but you don’t resist. However, if I tell you that you look fat and should change your diet, that may indeed provoke some emotional resistance, depending on the degree to which that statement reflects back to you an area where you need to grow.

I believe that if an idea provokes emotional defensiveness and resistance (and not merely intellectual disagreement), therein lies a grain of truth that must be faced in order for you to grow. If I tell you your marriage is a sham and that you should get a divorce, you’ll simply blow me off if you don’t believe it. But if there’s an element of truth to my statement, you’ll likely become defensive, with increasing tenacity the more I press the issue. But the only way to get past that resistance is to face it and to become more fully conscious of exactly what you’ve been resisting, such as the reality that your marriage isn’t working, that your diet is wrong for you, or that your career isn’t fulfilling.

If you and I were to have a one-on-one conversation about your life, which topics could I bring up that would provoke you to become emotionally defensive and resistant? What could I say that would really piss you off and even make you angry at me? Your health? Physical body? Job? Finances? Relationship(s)? Social skills? Parenting skills? Family? Religious beliefs? Political beliefs? Emotional state? Your courage? Your confidence? Your discipline? Your sordid past? Your worst habit? Your addictions?

What will provoke the fight or flight response, making you feel a strong need to either kick me out or fight back hard? Not simple intellectual disagreement — but the type of response that shuts down your ability to think logically and has you reacting far more emotionally. What is it?

Resistance shows us where we need more conscious clarity. As you recognize and explore resistance in yourself and become more courageous in facing the unfaceable parts of your life, you will in fact become much more conscious and aware, which will increase your ability to face down other areas of resistance with greater success. It will be increasingly difficult for anyone else to put you into a state of emotional defensiveness because you will become open to new ideas and information without needing to resist them. Clarity will become more important to you than comfort. Change will feel more natural than stability.

Invite ideas to flow through your awareness freely. Think about them. Agree or disagree with them. But when you find yourself emotionally resisting them, recognize that the resistance is within you, not the idea. When you track down the source of that resistance, you will soon recognize where you most need to grow.

Here’s a related article which explores what to do when you recognize where you need to grow but don’t yet feel strong enough to face it consciously:
The Courage to Live Consciously



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