This article first appeared on Happify.com.
When working with clients towards their goals, I’ve sometimes experienced a subconscious resistance that seems to be dragging them back every time we try and work on ways to move forward. “I really, really want to change our relationship” or “I desperately want to take charge of my life” seem reasonable and passionate goals, until we discover something much deeper.
This is called “outcome resistance”—when we say we want something, likely because our conscious minds tell us it’s a good thing, but the inaccessible jungle of memories, beliefs and experiences fear the outcome. And until we brave our way into this jungle, it stays like the key knot in a “knot-jam”, tight and resistant. But once we do, and get it to move, we open up the pathways to success pretty quickly.
If there’s an area in your life where you’re not getting the results you “want”, it may help to consider your reasons for wanting it.
Ask Yourself: Why Do I Want this Outcome?
“Why” is the most important question we may ever ask. From German philosopher Frederick Neitzsche, who said, “He who has a why can endure any how” to Simon Sinek in his book Start With Why, philosophers and scientists across the ages have emphasized the importance of getting to the core reason driving our actions. When these reasons are intrinsic and important to us, we pursue our goals with passion and grit, and are far more likely to achieve them.
Ask Yourself: What Do I Gain by Getting It?
The path from where we are to where we want to be is not always smooth sailing because of changing circumstances and unexpected experiences. But the real struggle is often internal, a result of the opposing motivations of our human paradox. There is the pleasure-seeking self that wants to feel the momentary high, while the meaning-making self strives for satisfaction in the future. To be fully committed to our goals, it helps to make a list of everything we gain by achieving the outcome, so that we take pleasure from it even as we put in the effort.
Ask Yourself: What Do I Lose by Getting It?
Sometimes the price of the effort outweighs that of the gains, however bright and attractive they appear to be. This is because we also fear losing something that we haven’t voiced yet. So develop an attitude of genuine curiosity: “What do I gain by staying where I am?”, “What do I lose by changing?” It could be something tangible or monetary, affecting our physical selves, or something deeper such as a façade of perfection, related to our psychological selves.
Ask Yourself: What If I Did Nothing?
When the fear of changing is stronger than the fear of staying the same, it’s well worth remembering that things cannot permanently stay the same despite Newton’s law of inertia. Life applies its own unbalanced force upon us, and if we were to do nothing, matters can often get worse. If you believe in the outcome you want, then writing down how bad things can eventually get by your doing nothing, may be just the motivation you need to move forward in the cycle of change.
Ask Yourself: What If I Succeed?
Imagination is both a blessing and a curse. Thanks to our innate negativity bias, we often use this capability to create doomsday scenarios in our minds that scare us into inaction or escape. Instead, if we were to use it to imagine ourselves having achieved the best possible outcome, we would get ourselves in a state of positive emotional attraction that fills us with hope and optimism. And comparing it to the current situation builds momentum and sets the stage for action.
Doubt and ambivalence are part of the journey of change. It’s in being genuinely curious about our desires, creative in our imagination, and aligned in our motivations that we stride wholly ahead towards our goals.