There's an interesting phenomenon that I observed during my healthy lifestyle journey. I name it perceived difficulty. Maybe you also noticed it.
I am here in this conference on Gestalt Organisational Development, and one concept we use in our work is dealing with resistance in organisations. I also work with resistance in my own transformation on becoming healthy. And one feature that I noticed that gets developed during living a healthy lifestyle is the ability to distinguish between difficulty that is really big, and difficulty that is in fact OK.
What is this? Let me explain.
It's raining. Do I want to go out to run? I picture myself being out there, running in the wind and cold, and sounds like a task for a Navy Seal.
I am in the conference room. We have coffee break in a few minutes. I imagine all the cakes and sweets waiting for me. There might be fruits, but how will I be able to resist, and make a healthy choice? Sounds like a willpower-blackbelt task.
Shall I take the stairs, or the elevator? I imagine being tired and sweaty on the stairs, arriving with heavy breathing, and no way I would do that.
And I could go on with this for long.
However, I noticed, that after practice, although it feels so difficult before, actually, when I'm in the course of action, it's not that difficult. Of course, it needs some effort, but somehow it's much less then I imagined before. There is resistance in the system about the difficulty, but way much less then I thought there will be. So, I focus on taking the first step, and see what happens.
Did you ever run in the rain? I did, and although from inside, it looked as it would be a terrible experience. However It was not that cold, it was not that wet, and although it needed some effort, in fact it was fun.
Did you go for fruits at the buffet table? It turned out, that the grapes, apples, and all the other fruits are very tasty at this conference (for sure they come from some Southern country), and when I tasted the cakes in the very last minute of the coffee break, they were nice, but rather felt just the usual sweet stuff.
How was it taking the stairs? Actually, I enjoyed the exercise, and I met some colleagues on the way up, and said a a smiley hello.
Two days ago, in the underground of Stockholm, I met this set up: stairs, and escalator. As you can see, most people take the escalator. I had luggage on me, two bags, and a handbag. I was not in a rush, but I had to be on time. After some hesitation, I took the stairs. I imagined it will be tough with the luggage, and "that's not the easy way".
I knew from my previous experience that this difficulty that I feel big actually is not correct. The stairs are not high, I am fit, my luggage is not that heavy, and there are other people also taking the stairs, so it should be OK. So, I just focused on the first step, which was about choice. Let's start, and see what happens.
But when I was on the stairs, it turned out it's not that difficult at all, and in the end I was up sooner vs. the people on the escalator.
To my personal experience, getting over resistance, through acknowledging a difficulty to be low, although perceived high, needs training, or coaching.
Either I learn trough training myself that what I sense as the amount of difficulty is not correct, and it is lower, and it is OK to go for it, and when it is not OK to, because it is really a big difficulty. Or, I have someone with me, whom I trust, and guides on the way to distinguish between what is in reality little effort, and what is big effort.
I'm learning the POSE method of running, and for this, I follow the advice of my coach, how much is a good distance to run. Last time we had interval training, and I was running 4 K/min. I never run that fast ever in my life. And in fact, it was not difficult at all. However, I thought it would be that difficult, and therefore I never experimented with it. Following his advice on how, and when to do it, I got into it. And now I know, it is something I can do, and even if it seems to be a difficult task, I know this is just my perceived difficulty to it, in fact I can do it. This way, I overcome my own resistance thanks to the experiential learning I had before with his help.
So the other experience I have that trough training, the resistance that was big before, becomes tolerable, or even disappears.
When I started to develop the habit to run, I had to organize techniques to trick myself into running. I did ZERO exercise those times in my life. I started with 10 min per day, and it was quite an effort to make it happen. After 1.5 years of running, I enjoy going out to run, and look forward to it. Gradually trough training myself, I can lower the resistance. However, from the outside, when just starting, this could look like as a hero willpower act. Running for an hour looked like a great hero achievement when I just started. Today, it's fun, and I don't consider it as 'big'.
Now, I use this technique consciously, both for myself, and supporting others. I identify where is my resistance in doing something healthy. Then I check that difficulty, and alter the system, either myself or the environment, to make that difficulty as low that it happens by itself, or that I have experience about the real difficulty vs. my perceived difficulty. This is a good strategy to overcome my resistance.
So, which way do you take? Stairs or escalator?
Update (03 Nov 2012): I changed from "perceived resistance" to "resistance, and real vs. perceived difficulty".