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Lowering resistance: Percieved difficulty and the stairs of Stockholm

Saturday, November 03, 2012

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".
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    I'm glad Kaliswalker pointed me to your blog! Right now I'm at the point of needing to rekindle that inner spark into a flame before it dies, and reading experiences like yours helps. Thanks! And, like Zellazm, I walk up the escalator, and woe to the unwary tourist who does not heed the unwritten rule to stand on the right. :-D
    1934 days ago
  • CHARITY1973
    I like your thinking, Oliver! I have the same experience with perceived versus real difficulty. I will give you an unusual example. I am divorced. It took me 1.5 years to actually make the decision to leave. It was exactly like looking out into the rain and thinking it would be difficult to run in that weather. I looked at divorce and I thought I couldn't do it. I thought I was trapped by difficulty. But those people whom I trust most of all said things to me about how strong I was, that it wasn't impossible, that it wouldn't be as bad as it seemed. They said to trust myself and give it a go. And when I made the decision, it was not that hard. It required planning and perseverance but not in the way my mind had pictured it. I am still amazed that I could say, "I'm leaving" to my ex-husband but I did. I am still amazed that I could return to the house and continue living there until I could move out. Yet each time I got past the internal resistance, the imagination of horribleness, I found I was more capable than I knew. And that has allowed me so much more freedom in myself. It has helped to create self-trust, self-care, and more internal peace.

    And I run like you. I run faster than I ever imagined. I run further than I ever imagined. My body is changing in ways I never imagined. And I enjoy certain foods (brown rice!) I never imagined. I believe that it is the 'trying' that breaks the spell that my internal resistance creates. Nothing is ever as bad as I imagine. And those truly terrible thing that happen in life, I have never actually imagined before they happen so, my not just give it a go!!

    Since you are a techy, how do you rate the Garmin910? My partner wants to buy one for our trail running in the mountains.

    I'm so glad I found your page on SP.

    I hope you get some movement in your day.
    1939 days ago
    emoticon emoticon
    1951 days ago
  • POPSY190
    emoticon blog. It's all in the mind!
    1952 days ago
    Where we have escalators, there are no stairs. But where we have elevators, I usually opt for the stairs.

    Great blog! emoticon
    1953 days ago
    Oliver I really enjoyed your blog and read it a few times.

    'So, I just focused on the first step, which was about choice. Let's start, and see what happens.' I really need to make that my first thought about trying new exercises and being more active.

    I hope you have good weather this weekend wherever you are.


    1953 days ago
    Well said!!
    1959 days ago
    Stairs instead of escalator, because I am impatient and it's faster to walk up the stairs than to wait on the escalator. It would be faster to take the escalator and walk up as well, but in an airport setting I can count on being stuck behind someone who doesn't want to walk.
    1960 days ago
    I'll take the stairs, thank you! I take them because I want to conquer them, because I want to keep my middle-aged muscles working and strong, because I want to show that young people that middle-aged people can be strong and fit and - by the way - beat them to the top of the escalator. I only take the escalator or elevator when I'm truly ill. Period.

    1960 days ago
    I take the stairs up to 4-5 floors, and elevators if I go higher.
    In my previous exercise-less years I usually took the elevator because I felt tired.
    My perceived resistance decreased : )

    A strange example of resistance is the one I often feel against going to bed early...
    I stay up late, surfing and tapping on my laptop, even if I know I need the sleep - and what is easier and less heroic than going to bed.

    And running in the rain is fun really... I never regretted it : )
    1961 days ago
    Excellent blog! and I do also love running in the rain
    1961 days ago
    good blog - we've been talking about this, as well, just how much harder it seems to get out to run (or even walk) when it is gray, dreary, and rainy out than when bright sunshine seems to invite you to tie on your running shoes. but once we get out, it is never as bad. though somehow, when shopping, we always look for the closest parking place - even though we count every mile we walk toward the goal, we seem to forget that when out in the car! enjoy stockholm!
    1961 days ago
    I usually take the escalator to save time but walk on the way up!
    1961 days ago
    Stairs, of course! I never use escalators or lifts unless I'm injured or sick.
    But, to get to the point of your blog, I perfectly agree with training perceived resistance. It needs constant focus and trying but it really helps with making the right choices. The more we try, the more the resistance is reduced and the will-power gets stronger. It's not that some people have will-power and some don't. We all have it and the more we train it, the stronger it becomes. Just like a muscle!
    Well said!
    1961 days ago
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