The Broke-In Brain: Overcome Resistance, Finish Creative Projects
When I think of a wild horse I see him running free. His mane is whipping in the wind as he gallops across the expansive plains. To “break” a horse means to train it so it can be ridden. This involves modifying its behavior from boundless to behaving within the bounds of human control. Then, it’s called a “broke” horse.
This sounds a lot like our human brain throughout life.
As we grow into adults, we lose our creativity or our “wildness.” Inc.com shares a study that revealed we are 96% less creative as adults due to how we are taught to think in our education system.
Once through education, we enter the world of work. Another system with agreements, norms, and methods in which to conform. It brings about a convergent (definite) way of thinking, as opposed to divergent (infinite).
Let’s say after being an employee for many years, you decide to pursue a passion and create a business (like I did). Doing so will require a different way of thinking, being and showing up. This is a difficult road, and not for the faint of heart. It’s a complete transition. But why?
Breaking a long-standing habit requires repeatedly challenging yourself to stay uncomfortable. It’s going from knowing to not knowing. It’s like re-cultivating the wildness of that untamed horse. And it can feel like banging your head against a wall.
As I reflect on my own path of reinvention, connect with fellow coaches, and work with coaching clients, I’ve noticed a pattern that holds us back. There is an unseen enemy that halts us from being creative, changing our behavior and taking risks. I’ve started to call it the “broke-in brain.”
Turns out, I’m not alone. Several authors are well aware of this phenomenon. They call it the Resistance. In order to create a vision beyond your own previous experiences, such as taking a new professional path or navigating a major disruption, you must conquer the Resistance and reclaim your wild, creative, divergent side.
WHY RESIST WHAT WE WANT?
Have you ever set a goal and then avoided doing it? Even if it’s something you want to do like workout regularly, write a book or pursue a new career. You want it, but when it comes to taking action you procrastinate, rationalize and avoid.
Why do you do that?
After all, you want to be in good physical condition. You want to be an author. You want to be happier at work.
It’s your primitive “lizard brain,” trying to protect you. Benjamin Hardy agrees in his book, Personality isn’t Permanent he writes, “your brain is designed to keep you out of situations of uncertainty.” Creativity requires risk and uncertainty. But your primitive brain works directly against that!
The brain likes sameness. Imagine you’re watching TV at night. You know you need to get a good night’s sleep and head to bed but you can’t seem to peel yourself off the couch. Or when you’re really into your project at the computer and you know you have to go eat lunch, but you just don’t want to stop to take a break even though you feel your effectiveness wane.
The lizard brain is saying, “this is good, you are safe, stay right here, don’t change anything.” As Seth Godin says in Linchpin: Are You Indispensable, “The lizard brain wants you to shut up and sit down and keep your day job.”
THE RESISTANCE HOLDS US BACK FROM CREATING
How many times have you been struck by an “ah-ha” moment, and then later you see someone else has turned that same idea into a reality?
In Steven Pressfield’s book, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, he dedicates half of it to defeating the Resistance! He personifies it with capitalization which sheds light on its power. The Resistance he describes is a formidable enemy.
“The Resistance’s goal is not to wound or disable. Resistance aims to kill. Its target is the epicenter of our being: our genius, our soul, the unique and priceless gift we were put on earth to give and that no one else has but us.” he writes.
This illustrates the battle that every writer, or creator of any kind, has experienced when they know they have something inside of them to share with the world but try as they might – they cannot muster what it takes to get it out of their head. The Resistance, or primitive brain, is winning in this scenario.
RESISTANCE BRINGS SABOTAGE
When we catch a glimpse of inspiration to create something, we must decide with conviction that it can and will be done. It’s the difference in being interested in achieving it versus committed to achieving it.
When I invested in a coaching program to write a book, physical pain arose as my obstacle. One morning, on the heels of deadline, I woke up in bed and I couldn’t move. I physically… could not move. I remember rocking my body back and forth to get enough momentum to get out of bed. My neck was locked up and excruciating pain brought tears along with it. Then I found out I wasn’t alone. My fellow aspiring writers shared their obstacles. One experienced a death of a family member and another shared how her vision was fading away while her fingers were typing her manuscript. She was literally going blind. She kept writing. All of us finished and are now authors. We were committed (not interested) in our goals.
Expect obstacles. They will come from every which way during the creative process. Some of those challenges pop up from inside us and others come from other sources.
Pressfield sums it as, “Resistance by definition is self-sabotage…. A parallel peril… sabotage by others…. The awakening artist must be ruthless, not only with herself but with others.” Despite your loved ones or those around you having the best of intentions, it seems that in the midst of a creative project, suddenly they become needier. The work is to stay committed.
In Resisting Happiness, Matthew Kelly says, “Resistance will tell you that the problems are too many and that you will never make a difference. Ignore it. Resistance is a liar.”
It is a true test of your belief to create.
LEAN INTO RESISTANCE
So, whether you want to write a book, create video, change your career or start a business, you must beat the Resistance. As Seth Godin writes, “far more often the dreams of art are shattered by the Resistance.”
Don’t let it shatter yours.
Have you tried to pursue a new path to no avail? Have you had a run in with the Resistance? If you keep getting stuck you might be wondering, what can I do to overcome it?
Name it. Now you have a name for what is really happening, the Resistance. You know that your lizard brain is trying to “save” you. The good news is… you can tell it to knock it off! I started to get curious about this when I was writing my book. My plan was to speak aloud to myself and say, “I see you Resistance and I’m going to do it anyway!” Various authors agree to lean into it:
- “Resistance loves inaction” and “Resistance hates action,” writes Matthew Kelly in Resisting Happiness.
- “Resistance has no strength of its own. Every ounce of juice it possesses comes from us. We feed it with power by our fear of it. Master that fear and we conquer Resistance,” says Pressfield.
- And in her TedTalk entitled, Your elusive creative genius Elizabeth Gilbert shares her writing process saying, “I’m a mule, and the way that I have to work is I have to get up at the same time every day, and sweat and labor and barrel through it really awkwardly.”
The bottom line… we have to walk through the fire, step into the fear and commit with conviction to our creative dreams. Expect pain, change, obstacles and real work.
If you know you can do it but just keep getting knocked off course, I get feedback all the time that coaching helps people get unstuck, break through and level up. If you'd like to see if it might work for you, or have any questions at all, we just might be able to work out a free 1-Hour Discovery Call (like I used to do for new connections), send me a note here.
This article was also published on Thrive Global.