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Taming Dragons: Resistance

Our dragons lurk in the darkest parts of our mind, heart and soul. They go by many names, take on many different forms. But while they may be fearsome and dangerous, they needn’t be our enemies. Today’s dragon is called: Resistance.

dragon of resistance
Photo: Comodo Dragon by Joel Sartore (via National Geographic)

Small But Annoying

Recently I have been working on taming one of my smaller but incredibly annoying dragons. Every time I want to – or need to – do something, it will nag at me not to. With Resistance on my shoulder, getting through the day is like running a marathon with a ball and chain. I might have a chance of reaching my goal, but I will be exhausted well before the halfway marker.

I have no love for athletics – more on that later – but nevertheless, for years this was what every one of my days looked like. Not only did I get nothing done anymore, but every time I did accomplish something, it had cost so much energy that the gain was barely worth the effort.

Eight therapists had failed to help me tame my flock of dragons, and even this one kept slipping through the maze. Until one day, not too long ago, I noticed my son copying his mum’s behaviour…

Clearly, a change was in order. Conventional therapy was out the window, but the ideas posed by coaches James Clear and Benjamin Hardy resonated. Working from their principles, my son and I wrestled our Dragons of Resistance into submission.

We ended up needing only these two simple techniques.

Always Have A Plan Of Attack

Insecurity paralyses. To our poor highly-evolved brain, not knowing what to expect next is utterly terrifying. While flying by the seat of your pants can be exhilarating at times, more mundane tasks like homework or household chores benefit from a plan of attack. Even if that plan is just a list of groceries you need from the shop this afternoon.

Your plan of attack can take on any form, as long as it makes clear what your next step will be. Think of to-do lists, agendas, company procedures, etc.

For my son, a to-do list makes all the difference. He used to slouch around after school, complain constantly, and dragged his feet doing hi homework. And no, he hasn’t hit puberty yet.

These days the two of us compile his to-do list in the morning before school. Now when he comes home, he knows exactly what happens next. He checks all the boxes on the list without complaint and without delay – knowing that the last item on the list is ‘free time’ that he can spend as he likes. So where before he resisted every step of the way, he now has energy to spare after all his chores are done.

In addition to a to-do list of my own, I use outlines: my stories, blog posts and reports start as bullet point lists. Every step (subject or paragraph) is listed in order, so I don’t need to worry about remembering what comes next. And as more steps are added, the outline eventually grows into a full-fledged first draft.

Plans Are Living Creatures
Plans change. Constantly. Whatever you use to help you make sense of where you are in your day, in your work, in your writing, that plan will evolve. Some new branches appear (your boss giving you a pile of extra work) while others die off (something got cancelled).

“Plans are living creatures: they evolve constantly.”

These sudden changes are natural, but they can be harrowing. Our brains object to change almost by definition, but they will have less difficulty to cope – and thus less cause to resist – if you fit those changes into your overall plan. Even if that plan is nothing more exciting than your agenda.

But why stop there? Each individual task comes with its own plan of attack. The same principle, but with smaller steps. Baby steps.

Smaller increments

Simple law of physics: small changes take less energy than big changes. The smaller the increment or step, the less daunting it is, the less insecurity or resentment you will feel about doing it, and the easier and faster that step will have been completed.

Our Dragon of Resistance resists this notion as much as it resists the change itself. It will tell you that baby steps are a waste of energy because they don’t amount to anything. Don’t let the dragon fool you: however small, each step is still a step forward.

“However small, each step is still a step forward.”

That is how I hoodwinked my dragon and overcame my resistance to exercise.

As I said, have no love for exercise. I realise that sitting on my butt all day will not keep me healthy, but even so, I would rather climb razor wire than go to the gym. In light of that hatred, going out of my way to get my daily exercise is not sustainable. My Dragon of Resistance will see to that.

So instead, I started doing planks while the coffee machine pours me my morning coffee. Then I added squats while the kettle boiled for tea. Lunchtime means more tea and maybe some tilted push-ups against the kitchen counter. In the afternoon, weather permitting, I’ll go for a walk to iron out a plot issue in my latest story.

By themselves, such tiny increments seem useless. Yet together they compound to a 15-minute daily workout. Going to the gym twice a week would amount to the same, only now I don’t feel like I’m working out, so there is no resentment. This way it costs me no energy at all to exercise daily, yet I have a visibly better-toned body all the same.

No resistance means less effort to yield the same, if not better, result. But you will have to work with your dragon to manage it.

Taming The Dragon…

Much about this dragon makes sense when you realise that resistance is born from fear. Resistance is the apprehension caused by small, recurring fears like ‘did I forget anything?’ and ‘what will they say?’. In and of themselves these small fears don’t frighten us. They just make us wary. And the human mind despises wariness and will do anything to avoid it.

Behold: the source of procrastination.

The Dragon of Resistance is annoying, but mostly harmless and it can be very friendly once you get on better terms with it. To tame it, start by identifying where in your life your Dragon of Resistance is wreaking havoc. Then plan which of those aspects to tackle in which order, and break these down into still smaller increments. The dragon ignores small steps and won’t see you coming until you are already there.

Had a rumble with your Dragon of Resistance? Let me know in the comments how you tackled it.

Disclaimer: If you do decide to challenge your dragons head-on, please don’t do it alone. Even experienced snake handlers have assistants at hand when dealing with large or unpredictable constrictors.



3 thoughts on “Taming Dragons: Resistance”

  1. Em says:

    Thrilled to read it. Yours advice makes a lot of sense. Small steps are good. As Ms Moncrieff said, anything is better than nothing, so in between gyms, my dragon (he is white) now accompanies me around the lake or on a long walk to the grocers. Let’s hope it will continue to enjoy our outings.

  2. J.H. Moncrieff says:

    Great tips, Chris, and I’m happy to finally be able to leave comments for you again.

    I’ve had a really difficult time getting back into exercising. I used to be in excellent shape, a muay thai fighter, but after training hardcore for a year straight for my fight, I crashed hard. That was back in 2011, and I still haven’t gotten back into a routine. I can’t believe it’s been six years!

    I’ve already seen that forcing myself to go to the dojo isn’t working, so I thought about an exercise DVD or walking on the treadmill, but I’m still not even doing that. I think I need to follow your advice and start even smaller. Anything is better than nothing, and I’ll be so angry with myself if I don’t turn this around.

    1. Chris Chelser says:

      The anger – resentment – feeds the dragon, while even baby steps are an improvement to staying stuck. Just permit yourself to be happy with 5 reps of something. That is enough to start with. This routine is a bit like the story of the chess board and the grains of rice: you start with 1 grain on the first square, then double that in the next square. After the first 8 squares you have 1+2+4+8+16+32+64+128 = 255 grains. That’s nothing, right? But by the time you get to the 64th square, you will have millions upon millions of rice grains!

      Those 5 reps compound, and they will increase, which also compounds, etc. Eventually these tiny bits of effort will build your energy to a point where you WANT to go back to the dojo. Give it a try and let me know 🙂

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