Following his appearance on the Mann on a Mission podcast, I have been reflecting and diving deeper into the work of Dr Judson Brewer (Episode #22)
Dr Jud is an expert in behaviour change and has had remarkable success in helping people break bad habits (see his Ted Talk with over 16 million views - https://www.ted.com/talks/judson_brewer_a_simple_way_to_break_a_bad_habit?language=en)
I have been delving into one aspect of his work in particular – Resistance.
Resistance is so often a heavy burden to bear that we don’t even realise we are carrying. Resistance to what is taking place in our experience (internally and externally) takes energy and this ‘using up’ of vital energy can really create huge levels of suffering.
In response to this, Dr Jud talks about the concept of ‘un-resistance’ and it really gets to the core of a catch 22 that I think many of us face.
The ‘Why’ trap
Resistance often amounts to a pushing away or trying to ‘fix’ negative states of mind so that we can feel ‘better’ and get away from the unpleasant feelings that we are experiencing.
This is where we can easily fall into the ‘Why’ trap, where we try and work out (cognitively) just why we are feeling the way we do, so that we can get the answer.
This cognitive reasoning seems perfectly logical as it fits with our conditioned way of approaching problems to be solved. Hell if it works with the plumbing, the car, the computer or the business then why not the mind?
The only problem is the mind doesn’t work that way. This cognitive search for the answer IS resistance. And that resistance only serves to fuel the fires of tension, anxiety and negativity. It perpetuates the ‘loop patterns’ of behaviour that keep us stuck.
In short as you will no doubt have heard many times, it comes down to – what we resist persists…
Let negative feeling and emotions run amuck?
So if ‘doing’ something about these negative states doesn’t work, what is our alternative option, to do nothing?
This sits at the opposite end of the spectrum and leaves us open to the tyranny of our negative thinking and the ensuing emotions that come from it.
Yes we can self medicate, distract or deny for some time but as most of us recognise (on some level) this is no long term strategy for a fulfilling, productive and healthy life.
The answer of ‘un-resistance’ sits somewhere in the middle, along the spectrum.
So what is un-resistance?
It is an understanding and an approach that recognises we can’t change negative feelings by controlling them (they are already there!).
We can however ‘un-resist’, which as an active process of accepting negative feelings and changing our relationship to them. Paradoxically, once we stop fighting them, we can begin to let go of them.
Un-resistance therefore, is neither pushing negative feeling and emotions away or just being passive and letting them have their way with us.
It begins with an open curious awareness to move closer to the felt experience. This may feel difficult (really difficult) especially when in throws of negative emotions when we may fear they will overwhelm us.
The key is to firstly become aware. This can be done by simply asking ourselves, ‘I am experiencing feelings of constriction or expansion?’, the next step is the act of noting ‘am I resisting?’
This awareness in itself can be enough. Waking up to what is actually taking place, can change the relationship to our direct experience in the moment.
It can give us the space to ‘un-resist’, to turn into and even put out the welcome mat for the very feelings and experiences we so often fight.