Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sustaining Your Momentum: Releasing Resistance

In the midst of the countless demands on you every day, you may wonder how you can effectively sustain all the changes you want to make in your life.

How can you maintain the momentum of your efforts when so many external and internal obstacles threaten to drag you down or stop you?

Most people have been conditioned to believe that their successful changes require buckling down, pushing through, struggling, working harder, depriving, and other ways of "forcing" themselves to keep moving toward their goals.

This approach often fails to produce the desired results, and can generate many unhealthy physical and emotional symptoms such as resentment, headaches, guilt, digestive problems, loss of confidence, and so on.

As an alternative view, here's the first of three methods (ways of being and doing) that can help you sustain your momentum, or adjust your direction as needed, to create the changes you desire.

Releasing Resistance
In the Buddhist tradition, resistance is viewed as the source of all suffering. Although pain inevitably exists in the world, suffering is optional. When you resist, you have a judgment that "what is" should not be the way it is, and that you should be able to do something about it.

For example, imagine you're making great progress in a new exercise program at your gym. A month into the routine, you learn that the machines you've been using are unavailable for a week or two for necessary emergency repairs to that part of the building.

You would probably feel some upset and disappointment ("pain") about this unexpected event. If you resist what has happened ("what is"), and focus only on what you can't do now, your pain will become suffering and limit you. You will lose sight of other options you might pursue to keep your exercise regimen intact.

Similarly, suppose you love someone, and discuss a painful experience you have had with him. You talk about possible changes for both of you in the relationship, and express support for his efforts. After several months in which you have developed and applied some new skills, your lover says that he is unwilling to work on the changes you desire.

You feel disturbed and betrayed by his position. If you resist his lack of motivation ("what is"), and drive yourself to figure out what else you can do, your relationship pain will lead to your suffering. In your myopic state, you might easily overlook the benefits of your own growth, and the opportunity for you hidden in his announcement.

An economics professor from the University of Texas once told me about a class in which he interviewed "self-made" millionaires. Besides not having inheritances, these people shared one important characteristic that distinguished them from less successful businessmen and women.

In the development of a business idea, if they encountered prolonged blocks to progress ("pain"), they would stop, cut their losses, let go, and start something new, rather than continue to invest in a dying enterprise.

These people knew that resistance could create suffering, become counterproductive, and involve an enormous waste of time, energy, and other resources. They learned how to integrate their desires with the flow of events by releasing their resistance.

In this way, they practiced the spirit of this prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr:

"God, give us grace to accept with serenity the things that cannot be changed, Courage to change the things which should be changed, and the Wisdom to distinguish the one from the other."

In the next two parts of this discussion, I'll explore how "allowing" and "being patient" can powerfully nurture your momentum.

In the meantime, whenever you encounter some form of pain that threatens to stall or block your progress, pause to give yourself some space. Then, support the flow of your creative and meaningful changes by playfully entertaining this question:

"How easily can I release my resistance now?"

Love and Peace,
Dave

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