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Why Is It So Hard to Change?

Steve Schlafman
Steve Schlafman
23 min read
Why Is It So Hard to Change?
Photo by Nadine Shaabana / Unsplash
“Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.”
–Steven Pressfield The War of Art

The holiday season is upon us and New Year’s is around the corner. You may be thinking about what you want to focus on in the new year, and who you want to become. You’ll likely have a vision, identify what you want to change, create some goals, and determine some next steps that align with that change. You might even develop a new routine, purchase a Peloton, and get a new journal, with the hope of changing yourself. On New Year’s Day, you’re off to the races, but you’ve lost most of your steam by January 15th, and you’re back to where you started by January 31st.

According to a 2016 study, 41% of Americans make a New Year’s Resolution, but only 9% succeed in keeping them. Sound familiar? I know I've been there many times before.

So, why is it so hard for most of us to create lasting change?

When we set out to change anything—ourselves, our families, our communities, our organizations—we often focus on a vision, a goal and a plan, but we fail to account for the often invisible and internal inhibitor of change—resistance.

Prevailing Models of Change

Kurt Lewin, the father of change theory, was one of the first people to recognize and write about resistance, in the 1940s. He argued that in order to change, “driving forces” had to be greater than “restraining forces.” He called this Force Field Analysis.

Driving Forces > Resisting Forces = Change

Driving forces are pro-change and move you forward towards a desired state. They tend to be positive, though they don’t need to be—an inspired vision, a significant financial reward, or pressure from a boss. On the other hand, restraining forces are anti-change, and limit progress towards our desired state. They tend to be negative—an unwillingness to take risks, fear of uncertainty, conformity to a specific way of life. In other words, driving forces want to promote change and restraining forces want to maintain the status quo.

David Gleicher, a consultant at Arthur D. Little in the 1960s, took this concept one step further with “The Change Equation.” It was later adapted by Kathie Dannemiller in the 1980s and then expanded by my teachers Jim Dethmer and Dianna Chapman of The Conscious Leadership Group (CLG). Collectively, they argued that for organizational and individual change to occur, three factors must be present and greater than the resistance:

(Vision x Dissatisfaction) + First Steps > Resistance = Change

So, you need to be unhappy with the status quo, have an exciting vision for the future, and determine practical and concrete first steps. That’s what scores of people, myself included, identify when we want to change something, especially at the end of the year when we’re setting our New Year’s resolutions and goals. However, Gleicher and Dannemiller argued those three factors alone don’t lead to change. Taken together, they need to be greater than the resistance of change, the “restraining forces” as Lewin called them.

When I talk with clients about change, they usually want to focus exclusively on their vision, goals and concrete actions, perhaps in the hope that these alone will make examining the ‘restraining forces’ unnecessary. Why is it that we often focus on what and how we want to change, but not the obstacles that might impede us? Cultivating a vision, setting goals, and crafting a plan is motivating, but thinking about all the ways in which we’re going to fail or hold ourselves back is demotivating for most. Additionally, it’s easy to overlook the obstacles that might stand in our way, because they’re often unconscious, we’re unwilling to look, or we simply don’t know how to discover them. Most importantly, it’s much easier to remain “comfortable” and stuck than step fully into the unknown and face our fears and big questions head on.

I think there’s another reason why facing our obstacles to change isn’t so common—I believe these prevailing models are flawed.

The Fatal Flaw

You can’t simply reduce humans and our behavior to a linear equation. How we and our lives unfold and evolve is not linear, so fitting our dreams, behaviors and limitations into a neat equation is reductionist. We’re highly complex creatures moving through a highly complex and interdependent world. We’re constantly changing and in transition along with everything around us. Everything is impermanent, multivariable, and in flux.

No doubt, your experience of change has most likely always been non-linear—that’s why they say ‘1 step forward, 2 steps back.’ We have fits and starts, setbacks, disappointments, triumphs, more setbacks, followed by more triumphs, and so on. Additionally, we’re influenced by our inner experience—thoughts, habits, patterns, emotions, sensations—as well as external forces—people, places, ideas, situations—and how we choose to respond to these shape our context and understanding of the world. That’s life. Life is messy and perfectly imperfect, just like us.

Here’s why the old thinking is wrong: the models of change we have make the assertion that as long as we have motivating forces, the parts of ourselves that create resistance don’t matter. Motivation by itself is enough. But we can’t fully move on if there are parts of ourselves we reject and repress. They will hold us back—in increasingly sinister and twisted ways—unless we accept them and agree to carry them lovingly with us.

To focus on and optimize for “driving forces” or to be “at war” with resistance is doing ourselves a disservice because we’re ignoring, disowning or battling conscious and unconscious parts of ourselves. To prioritize these motivating forces or one side of the equation, is to deprioritize parts of ourselves that have wisdom and something to share. The idea that all you need is motivation is a rejection of the self.

Philosopher Alan Watts understood this when he wrote, “I can only think seriously of trying to live up to an ideal, to improve myself, if I am split in two pieces. There must be a good ‘I’ who is going to improve the bad ‘me.’ ‘I,’ who has the best intentions, will go to work on wayward ‘me,’ and the tussle between the two will very much stress the difference between them. Consequently ‘I’ will feel more separate than ever, and so merely increase the lonely and cut-off feelings which make ‘me’ behave so badly.”

I believe that we need to understand and appreciate the parts of us that resist as much as we understand and appreciate the elements on the other side of the equation. If we spend more time with resistance, honoring whatever we find, it will lead to greater self-understanding and acceptance—the true first steps to sustained transformational change.

So What Is Resistance Really?

Resistance is a mentally-constructed force that resists change, evolution and creation. It’s what stops us in our tracks when we’re moving toward a desired future state. Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, refers to it as “a form of self-destruction” that we resort to “to maintain an illusion of control.” Most of the time resistance originates within us, even though we think it comes from external sources like family, the weather, a disempowering boss, or a schedule. It wants us to maintain the status quo, so it keeps us comfortable and makes us feel safe in the moment, even if staying still isn’t what we really want. We often see this resistance as conscious and logical, but it's not.

When we fail to consciously recognize what stands between us and the change we want to make, we remain stuck in “the life we live” rather than the life we want—the unlived one buried deep within our soul. But we can’t change or create something new until we know what’s holding us back and what we’re afraid of. No one is immune to resistance. We all face it in our lives and within ourselves. It’s universal.

Through my experience transforming myself and coaching countless leaders, most people instinctively know something is holding them back, but can’t quite paint the full picture and make sense of what’s going on. They can see that they’re not making meaningful progress, but they don’t fully understand why. They might say, here we go again because it’s a familiar pattern and result. Sometimes we have a conscious aversion to or fear of change, and other times we want to change but some underlying traits, beliefs and habits that are below our level of consciousness hold us back.

Robert Kegan, a Harvard psychologist and a father of adult development theory, called these unconscious blockers an “immunity to change.” In other words, unpacking resistance is difficult, and often requires the help of others to see what’s hidden below the surface. Decades before Keegan coined that phrase, Carl Jung famously wrote, “Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

So if you want to change and create that unlived life you’ve been dreaming about, you must be willing to look in the mirror and investigate your resistance. This isn’t for the faint of heart. To fully understand the inhibitors to change, you’ll need to shine a light on your shadow, which according to the author and Jungian Analyst, James Hollis, is “those parts of ourselves that when brought into consciousness we find troubling, maybe they’re troubling because they’re contradictory to our values, maybe they’re troubling because they violate our expectations, sometimes they're troubling because they ask things of us that are uncomfortable.”

According to Dr. Richard Schwartz, the creator of an evidence-based psychotherapy called Internal Family Systems (IFS), “A part is not just a temporary emotional state or habitual thought pattern. Instead, it is a discrete and autonomous mental system that has an idiosyncratic range of emotion, style of expression, set of abilities, desires, and view of the world. [It] is as if we each contain a society of people, each of whom is at a different age and has different interests, talents, and temperaments.”

The shadow "parts" that Hollis describes operate autonomously and furtively, and were once helpful strategies that we learned earlier in life, often to cope with trauma or respond to traumatic events, like neglectful parents at home or bullying at school. When these parts get activated in adulthood, we often experience anxiety, tension, inner conflict, and more. This is why change is so hard, as stepping into a bigger and more liberated life is threatening to a variety of these parts in different ways. Additionally, change often alters who we are at our very core, and those identities will resist that change to preserve themselves and their patterns.

This is what I experienced when I was leaving the investment profession to become a coach. As professional poker player Annie Duke said, “The hardest thing to quit is an identity.”

Despite this, all parts, particularly our protector ones that create resistance, have a positive intention and are trying to help us. They want to keep us safe, accepted, comfortable, and in control—all things that every human being wants and needs on a primal level. When these parts get activated, they are simply doing a job that they learned earlier in life and are trying to help us, even if it doesn't seem that way now.

When we ignore, repress and disown the parts that cause resistance, we allow them unconsciously run the show and rob us of what we truly want. We let them keep us in our status quo, or keep moving backward. We get stuck. We get scared. We stay small. We lose confidence in ourselves. We shame ourselves. We numb ourselves. We remain polarized. We start and quit—a lot!

So I have some bad news. No matter how much a future vision of your life is motivating you, no matter how dissatisfied you are now, you can't force out resistance. Doing so would mean either unconsciously ignoring it, or consciously rejecting parts of yourself that are actually trying to help you. Instead, you have to open the door, invite those parts in, ask them questions, appreciate how they’re trying to help you, and eventually choose how you want to move forward.

So what is resistance, really? It’s the unconscious and conscious parts of ourselves that hold us back. So, to begin the change process we need to understand the types of resistance and how to work with them.

The Types of Resistance

Many of us have between 30-50 parts, and a number of them create resistance. It is not uncommon for different parts of our psyche to resist change, particularly when those parts have different goals, motivations or roles to play. In some cases, the different parts may work independently. In other cases, the different parts may team up and work together to resist change. In still other cases, the different parts may be in opposition to each other, leading to inner conflicts and instability. Ultimately, the ability of a system to adapt and change will depend on the nature of the interactions between its various parts—to begin, we need to understand, appreciate and value the parts that create resistance.

Over the past 18 months, I’ve learned “parts work” from Steve March of Aletheia and Jim and Dianna of CLG. I’ve also devoured a dozen books on the topic, including Internal Family Systems Therapy by Dr. Richard Schwartz, Self-Therapy for Your Inner Critic by Jay Earley and Big Mind Big Heart by Dennis Genpo Merzel, Through this work, I’ve come to understand and appreciate that all of us have a constellation of parts that create our resistance. Here are some of them and what they might have to say:

  • Critic: Just give up. You’re not capable of doing this. You don’t have what it takes. You’re not attractive enough. You’re not good enough. This work is not good enough. You’re not smart enough. You’re not talented enough. You’re a failure. You’re not worthy. You’ll never be successful.
  • Procrastinator: I have too much going on. This can wait. I’ll just get to this tomorrow or later this week. I just can’t fit it in or make the time. Ugh, I just don’t have the motivation right now, and the conditions aren’t perfect or ideal. Actually, next week is much better for me to start because I’ll have less going on in my life.
  • Rebel: Just this one time. It’s not that big of a deal. YOLO. You can’t tell me what to do. In fact, I hate being told what to do. I march to the beat of my own drum. Fuck it. Rules? What rules? LOL.
  • Cynic / Underminer:  This isn’t going to work out. There’s a 0% chance you’re going to succeed. Do you even know what this entails? You don’t have the skills or the knowledge. Don’t even bother. There’s no point in trying. You have so many other things going on. You’re just fooling yourself.
  • Controller: Let’s closely manage and monitor this. Actually, let’s put in some rules and guardrails to make sure that we comply. What are you doing? You said you weren’t going to do that, and here we are again. Why does this keep happening? You need to step up your game. We’re out of control right now.
  • Self-Reliance: I can’t possibly ask for help or trust anyone else with this. I need to do it all by myself. This is all on me. I need to put it on my back. can’t seem weak or incompetent. Oh, this is getting hard. I’m carrying the weight of the world on my shoulders.  
  • Dummy: This is so hard to understand and grasp. I can’t wrap my head around any of this. I’m just not that smart. I never understood this and I can’t figure it out so there’s point in trying. It’s way over my head. I feel so dumb. I’ll never be able to learn this.
  • Guilt tripper: What’s wrong with you? You say you really want this but your actions speak otherwise. You haven’t gotten off your butt. You shouldn’t have done that again. Just close your mouth and don’t move your body. Just stop. You should have done this differently. What the hell is going on with you?
  • Perfectionist: This isn’t good enough. You aren’t good enough. There are too many mistakes. It’s not perfect. Do you see all of these blemishes and mistakes? To be the best you need to dramatically raise your standards. Let’s be honest, you’re not doing enough.
  • Denial: You know what? After thinking about it, I don’t really need to change. It’s really not that big of a problem and I actually feel fine. In fact, I think this actually helps me and gives me an edge. Just forget about it for now.
  • Taskmaster: You’re slacking. Pick up the pace. You gotta work harder, and can’t quit. You’re falling behind and there are a million things to do. You should work hard and be successful through criticism.
  • Impatience: I’ve been working on this for weeks and I haven’t seen any progress. I’m still the same person. I don’t feel any different or look any different. It seems like I’m just spinning my wheels, going in circles and wasting my time. I’m exactly where I started. This isn’t for me. Let’s abandon ship, move on and focus on something else.  
  • Conformer: What are other people doing? I should do that. Don’t worry about what you really want. Let’s look a certain way for my friends, family and colleagues. In fact, let’s just go with the flow, maintain the status quo, and follow what others are doing. Imitation is the greatest form of flattery, right?
  • Destroyer: Why even bother? You’re way in over your head. You’re unworthy, deficient and clearly not enough. Just give up and throw in the towel.
  • Bypasser: Let’s get high or drunk. Netflix and chill, anyone? I don’t want to feel anything so let’s meditate and let everything just melt away. Let’s go shopping—a little retail therapy never hurt anyone. Who wants ice cream?  
  • Planner: I’m not ready but one day I will be. Before I can really get started, I need to develop the right plan, cultivate the right skills, purchase the right tools, and build the right network. I can’t possibly start until all those things are in place. Let’s start planning now, and I’ll be ready in a few years time.

If you’re human, you likely experienced these resistor parts when you’ve wanted to make a change. All of these parts have a good intention and are trying to proactively or reactively protect us from painful feelings such as deficiency, unworthiness and brokenness. And even though they’re trying to help us, they activate other parts that are laden with shame and guilt. So when we let the resistors run wild without understanding, appreciating, and valuing them, we feel broken and loathe ourselves, sometimes subconsciously, and sometimes very consciously. This creates a self-perpetuating cycle.

For years I instinctively knew I had issues with cannabis, and I thought I wanted to get clean, but kept it to myself. I had an inner polarization—a part that wanted to get sober but a constellation of other parts that kept me stuck. With the benefit of hindsight, this created an inner stalemate because there was a lack of understanding, trust and appreciation among the parts. There was a fearful part that was afraid to come clean to my wife. Would she leave me? What would she think? There were other parts who couldn’t imagine a life without substances. Could I have fun? How will I go to work events? Would I lose my friends? What will others think of me if I don’t drink? Could I even cope and survive? Every Sunday night the part of me who wanted to get sober would say, “I’ve had enough. I’m done.” But by Monday night I’d be stoned because my rebel was running wild unchecked, saying, It’s only weed. Just one more time—fuck it. And then I’d shame and guilt myself for perpetuating the addiction.

I was programmed to seek substances from a young age because they numbed me, gave me comfort, and helped me escape reality. I was scared of giving all of this up even though there were real costs to my usage—chronic health issues, integrity breaches, anxiety, a void of coping mechanisms. At a certain point, the cost and pain of drinking and drugging outweighed these fears, and the certainty that I needed to get sober allowed me to begin to accept the parts of myself that were afraid and rationalizing my drug use. The first step in AA after all is, “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable."  As I look back, I see and appreciate that there were about a dozen parts activated during those years in my life.

My other big resistance journey has been in writing. I started my blog back in 2011, and would journal every few months despite feeling a deep desire within my soul to write daily and devote myself to the craft. I would purchase journals and fancy pens only to have them sit empty on my shelf. I had a part that would tell me stories that I believed. You don’t have the time. Writing isn’t that important. You’re a slow writer. It’s just wasting time. You’re going to lose your edge as an investor if you’re not taking as many meetings. Let’s start that new journal habit tomorrow. Resistance had me in its grip for nearly twelve years. Twelve years!

And these resistors still show up daily in my life, even though I have all the tools and I’m committed to radical self inquiry. I’m just human, after all. Right now, there’s a part of me that wants to work out more and there is an army of parts that are holding me back from that goal. And there’s another part of me that wants to pivot my coaching business to focus exclusively on founders and leaders in transition and another part who’s afraid to walk away from my existing thriving and profitable coaching practice. All that said, the opportunity to know yourself better by honoring all of your parts is a daily practice and a lifelong pursuit.

It's important to recognize that these thoughts your resistor parts share with you are not necessarily true, and that it is important to be kind and compassionate towards oneself. It is also important to find healthy ways to manage and challenge these thoughts, rather than letting them control your actions and self-perception. Finally, it's important to recognize that these thoughts may be motivated by a desire to avoid discomfort or stress in the short-term, but resisting these parts of us can lead to more stress and discomfort in the long-term.

And remember that all resistance isn’t counterproductive or negative. You may be feeling resistance for good reasons, like someone else wants you to make a change and you know it's wrong for you, or when you’re not ready to make the change emotionally even though you are intellectually. Telling the difference is an important and difficult skill.

Shining a Light on Resistance

Identifying and getting to know your resistance, especially the parts that get triggered and stop you in your tracks, is how you’ll begin to go beyond what you thought was possible and appreciate and relate to yourself more fully. With practice and presence, you’ll see that different types of resistance emerge depending on the situation and context—what you’re doing, who you’re with, what’s at stake, etc. In other words, resistance is fluid, dynamic, and slippery. Yes, it’s difficult to nail down, but I have good news—it’s not impossible.

Start by identifying what you want to change, what you desire in life, and what that looks like. Once that’s identified then you can begin to tune into all the ways in which resistance presents itself and you sabotage yourself. Do you move closer or farther away from your goal or do you remain stuck? This requires self observation and self awareness. This requires you to look at your behaviors and personality patterns.

Before you get started, I recommend finding a therapist or coach with proper training and experience, especially if you have a history of mental illness or trauma. Opening these doors without professional guidance can surface difficult and repressed emotions and thoughts. Make sure you talk with your doctor, therapist, or coach to ensure it’s appropriate. And remember to seek support if old traumas are uncovered or you become triggered during parts work at home.

That said, here are a variety of approaches and techniques to help you get started. As you go through these practices, I encourage you to get curious and compassionate. None of these are a panacea but they will help you increase self-awareness, which will enable you to play a more conscious and compassionate role in the change process.

Discovering Your Resistor Parts

Start by slowing down, getting very present, and noticing your thoughts when you picture the change you desire or you catch yourself in the act of behaviors that are counter to that change. What’s the content? What words are entering into your awareness? What’s their tone? How do you react to your thoughts?

Keep in mind parts have different energetic qualities. When you notice a shift in your aliveness, it’s likely a sign that a different part has come online and you’re identifying with it. Here are some questions you can ask yourself: Am I upbeat? Am I drained? Am I focused? Am I scattered? Am I restless? What’s the quality of my attention and energy right now?

Parts are often behind emotions and body sensations. Are you happy? Are you sad? Are you tired? Are you irritated at yourself? Are you guilty about something? Are you filled with anxiety? What’s your posture? Are you open and upright or closed and slouched? Do you feel twisting in your stomach or tightness in your shoulders? What’s your body temperature? Are you cold or hot? When we notice an emotion or a sensation we can usually find a part behind it. And from that place inquiry and understanding can unfold.

Remember, the resistor parts that get activated depend on a variety of factors including your inner and outer context. Not all types of resistance are created equal and they might show up at different times and points in the change process. And you might be in a storm of parts and struggle to discern which is which.

Once you identify a part and energetically make contact with it, you can ask it a variety of questions to get to know it better:

  • How do you (the part) feel right now?
  • What’s your job?
  • How do you protect and serve me?
  • When did you make your first appearance in my life?
  • Who in your life did you learn your style from?
  • What feelings are you protecting me from feeling?
  • What behaviors and strategies do you use to protect me from feeling this way?
  • What’s your superpower?
  • What role do you want to play going forward?
  • What do you want me to know about the topic at hand?

I recommend journaling for this practice, especially if you don’t have someone to practice with. Simply note your experience and whatever words, images, emotions or body sensations come to the surface. The point of this exercise is to increase understanding and compassion of your parts so you can build a new relationship with them until they’re no longer unconsciously running your life. Once they feel seen and appreciated they will often soften and fade in the background.

Look for Your Comfort Zone

This is a useful exercise from The Tools by Barry Michels and Phil Stuz, the therapist who was featured in Jonah Hill’s excellent documentary Stutz.

“Pick something you hate doing. It could be traveling, meeting new people, family gatherings, etc.. How do you organize your life so you can avoid doing it? Imagine that pattern is a place you hide in. That’s your Comfort Zone. What does it feel like?”

Now, this exercise doesn’t have to be used exclusively with something you hate. It can also be something that makes you feel uncomfortable or gives you angst. The key is to identify what triggers you to move into your comfort zone. Your thoughts, emotions and body sensations are valuable waypoints in this exploration. As we learned, change often brings us out of our comfort zone, so note what you do especially when you’re experimenting with new routines or habits associated with your New Year’s resolution.

How Are You Being Complicit?

The vast majority of us say we want to change aspects of ourselves or situations that we don’t like, but we often fail to see how we’re unconsciously creating or perpetuating the situation.

In Reboot, Jerry Colonna, the legendary CEO coach, says, “We must take the radical step of inquiring into our selves, seeking to see ourselves with clarity, grace, compassion, and a fierce commitment to cut through our own bullshit. We open ourselves up to ways we’ve been complicit in creating the conditions we say we don’t want.”

To borrow Jerry’s signature question: “How are you complicit in creating the conditions you say you don’t want?” A different but related question I ask my clients is, what are all the ways you resist what you want?

How does one uncover this? First, consider and make a list of the recurring issues in your life that you would like to change. For example, I typically eat a bowl of ice cream most nights before bed even though I know it’s not healthy for me. This is something I’ve wanted to change for years, but haven’t.

Once you’ve identified the repeating issue, it’s time to identify all the ways in which you keep the issue going. In other words, how have I been complicit? Let me count the ways. I believe that a scoop of ice cream before bed isn’t that big of a deal. I buy ice cream when I go to the store or order it for delivery. I say that my streak of days with no ice cream doesn’t really matter. I tell myself that I’ve been healthy all day and deserve a treat. I perpetuate the craving when it arises even after I tell myself I don’t want sweets. I shame myself after I indulge. I’m unwilling to feel the feelings of frustration when I limit myself. And so on.

CLG has a similar (and fun) exercise they call Teach The Class which asks you to “teach a class in creating a given issue in your life that causes you suffering.”

When we see how we’re being complicit we can see how we’re resisting change and blocking what we say we want.

Affirmative Statements – The Artist’s Way

There's a potent exercise in The Artist's Way where you write down a “creative affirmation” statement about what you want and how you want to see yourself. An example is, “My creativity always leads me to truth and love.” Author Julia Cameron suggests writing the affirmation ten times, and as you're writing you also write down, in the margin, the "blurts" that come up—the things you say in your mind that are all about resisting the affirmation.

The purpose of this exercise is to help you identify and challenge the limiting beliefs or negative self-talk that may be holding you back from fully embracing and expressing your creativity. By consistently repeating the creative affirmation and acknowledging the blurts, you can begin to shift your mindset and adopt a more positive and empowering perspective on your creative abilities. This, in turn, can help you tap into your full creative potential and bring more meaning and fulfillment to your life and work.

I have found this exercise to be SHOCKING and helpful for letting our resistor and resisting narrative come out. It doesn’t just need to be the affirmations that Cameron provides in the book. It can be really any affirmation about yourself including goals, qualities of being, and more.

Face Your Fears

Facing your fears is an effective way to uncover your resistor parts and get to know what might really be holding you back. By actively confronting the things that make us feel uncomfortable or uncertain, we can gain insight into our own thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors, and better understand what is driving our fear and resistance.

There are two powerful and illuminating questions from The 15 Commitments of Conscious Leadership that I come back to time and time again:

  • If I changed, what am I afraid would happen?
  • What’s at risk if I stop being the way I’ve been or doing what I’ve been doing?

Asking myself these questions has helped me to identify and confront the fears and doubts that hold me back from making desired changes in my life. The first question helps us to identify the underlying fears and worries that may be preventing us from making a change. For example, before I devoted myself to writing, I was afraid that no one would read my work, I’d be criticized publicly, and I’d be wasting my time. The second question helps us consider the potential consequences of staying the same. For example, by not writing I’d have to live with the disappointment, heartbreak and regret of not fully expressing myself and honoring what I want.

By answering these questions honestly, we can gain a deeper understanding of what is driving our resistance and take steps to move beyond it. These questions have been a powerful tool for me in my own personal growth and development, and I highly recommend them with all of my clients.

Honoring Resistance and Yourself

In the coming weeks when you begin to take action on your New Year’s resolutions and your goals for 2023, I encourage you to consciously tune into all of your parts that resist change and spend time getting to know them. How are they trying to help you? What do they want? What are they afraid of? What are they protecting?  

When we identify, understand and appreciate our resistor parts, we can access what Richard Schwartz calls the “Self.” This is who we are at our core—wise, centered, and authentic. When a part is accepted and integrated, it can access more of the Self and all of its positive qualities—compassion, curiosity, calm, clarity, courage, connectedness, confidence, and creativity. According to Schwartz, the goal of this work “is not to fuse all of these smaller personalities into a single big one. It is instead to restore leadership, balance and harmony, so that each part can take its preferred, valuable role.”

When we’re able to access Self, we can call specific parts forward and ask others to step back. We can resolve conflicts between parts. We can repurpose them for different roles. We can discover compassion for them. In other words, only by honoring all our parts are we able to lead ourselves. We have far more agency and freedom to choose how to move forward. And with a better, deeper relationship with ourselves, we’ll be more sure of the direction to take.

Befriending and honoring your resistor parts, you begin to let go of self-judgment and criticism, and approach current struggles and past experiences with more compassion and understanding. This shift in perspective can help you approach the change process with a more open and accepting mindset, which radically increases your chances of success. You also begin to discover who you are on a deeper level, and learn to recognize old behavior patterns that might no longer serve you. This priceless knowledge helps you take a brave step forward with eyes wide open out of deep alignment and inner knowing.

And along the way you might discover, as I have, that what you initially wanted to change isn’t what you need or want after all. Knowing and appreciating our resistors leads to unexpected and profound changes, as we integrate parts of ourselves that were offline for decades. When we do this, we actually become more of ourselves, and in doing so, may realize that deep down we crave self-acceptance far more than self-improvement.


Steve Schlafman Twitter

Exec coach. Writer. Student of Change.


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#012: The Year of No Decisions

“Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.” –Lao Tzu Season’s greetings from New York City. It’s hard to believe 2022 is coming to an end. Tomorrow my family and I head upstate to unplug and celebrate the holidays, hopefully this time without COVID infiltrating our home. I

#012: The Year of No Decisions
Members Public

#011: Acceptance as Change

Hello from the Catskills. I wasn’t expecting to write this issue from upstate New York, but I was thrown several curve balls the past two weeks. A few days before Thanksgiving, my eldest daughter, Faye, tested positive for COVID, and the two of us separated from my wife and

#011: Acceptance as Change