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Why We Find It Hard to Do Things That Are Good for Us

“Have respect for yourself, and patience and compassion. With these, you can handle anything.” ~Jack Kornfield

I find it hard to do things I know are good for me, harder than anything else in my day-to-day life.

Yoga, meditation, journaling: these have all been invaluable tools during my personal journey, yet I have to will, sometimes fight myself in order to do them.

It’s not that the activities themselves are hard (although yoga can be intense). It’s the motivation, the internal debate that starts up every day that I struggle with. Afterward, I feel great, more in touch with myself and far more at peace. But to get there, it’s a psychological mission.

I used to think it was just me—that everyone else sat down to these activities with an eager mind and an open heart, especially people who write about these things, like I do, and practice them daily, like I want to.

The fact that I was less skipping joyfully to and from these activities and more dragging myself with gritted teeth left me feeling like a fraud, which meant I wanted to do these things even less.

Over time, I learned more about self-acceptance. I learned to accept that this was me, the way I am, and that perhaps I will always find it difficult to sit down and do these things, whether it makes sense or not. Yet, I still felt alone with my struggles and, therefore, afraid to really talk about them with anyone else.

Last week, I was talking to a friend of mine about challenges he was having with a course I run. He was saying he felt resistance, he didn’t know why, and that it seemed like everyone else found sitting down and doing the work a walk in the park. They could just do it, whereas for him it was a daily battle.

That sounded familiar…

And as soon as I wasn’t trying to hide the resistance, as soon as I let myself talk about it openly, I could think more clearly about why I felt that way, and what was behind that resistance. And out of all those reasons came the realization: the resistance is on my side; sometimes it’s just misguided.

Resistance to Things Changing

When we engage in practices like journaling, meditation, or even exercising, we might feel resistance to change.

This resistance might conflict with a desire for healthy change—the desire that prompted us to start up that activity in the first place—but it has a very healthy grounding behind it: change can be scary. Change is about going into the unknown, while what we have right now is familiar and comfortable, even if we’re not 100% happy with it.

Resistance to What We Might Find

Sometimes self-knowledge can be like charting new, undiscovered land. You think you’ve explored it all, then you turn a corner and there are miles and miles of untouched terrain still to go. You have no idea what might be lurking under the rocks out there, and sometimes it feels safer to just leave it untouched.

When we engage in activities that are good for our well-being, self-acceptance, and self-knowledge, we risk relaxing our defenses and potentially finding out things about ourselves that we might not like. The most important part of self-growth, though, is learning to acknowledge and accept those things for what they are, even to feel compassion for them.

Resistance to Being Nice to Ourselves

This can be a tricky one, as often it’s an unconscious core belief: that we don’t deserve to spend time on and be nice to ourselves. As an abstract concept, it’s a no-brainer: of course people deserve to be nice to themselves.

But when was the last time you consciously did this? Taking time to nourish our emotional and spiritual well-being, taking time to get to know ourselves in more depth can be a real challenge, even if we think other people deserve that.

If we were brought up in particularly critical households, if a lot of value was placed on our achievements over our happiness when we were younger, or if we grew up in environments where these practices were frowned upon or ridiculed, we might feel a lot of resistance to being nice to ourselves.

It might conflict with the messages we received as children, which we felt we needed to obey at the time to be loved. As adults, these messages are translated into core beliefs about ourselves, even if we don’t apply them to other people.

But again, they are there to protect us, and, although they might now be obsolete, they are still working to make us loveable to the people we used to depend on.

Resistance to Trusting a Process

Resistance might come from doubting an activity’s ability to really do us any good. I certainly have a mini-cynic who lives in my head and scoffs at my yoga, scorns my journaling practice and says “Really, aren’t you above this hippy nonsense?”

I keep telling that voice that no, I’m not above this hippy nonsense, but it still pipes up to have its say.

Trusting a process—especially a slow process that might not contain any obvious light-bulb moments and requires time and patience—is difficult.

We might not feel like we are in control; it could seem like we’re putting our all in and getting very little in return. I don’t think I’ve ever had any major epiphanies in my personal development; instead of a cascade, I’ve experienced steady, slow drips.

I can’t think of any major changes that happened day-to-day, but when I look back on a few years ago, the difference is enormous.

Resistance to Our Own Humanity

Recently I started regular “morning pages” style journaling (writing 3 pages stream-of-consciousness every morning) after a few months off. I was shocked to find that, although I started off my journaling session feeling very virtuous for having overcome my resistance, I became increasingly anxious while writing.

I couldn’t understand how, after years of practice, I could still be feeling anxious about journaling. “I should be past this,” and “I should be self-accepting enough to not feel anxious when I journal,” were the dominant thoughts that fed my anxiety further and created resistance to opening up my laptop the next day.

When we’ve been doing something for a certain amount of time, we can build up expectations around our “performance.” We expect ourselves to be self-acceptance ninjas, spreading peace and serenity to all we come into contact with. We expect those emotions on the “negative” end of the spectrum to disappear.

But of course it’s not like that. I get anxious, I feel resistance, and that’s part of what it means to be me. It’s part of what it means to be human.

An important part of my journey is learning to accept that those things might never change, and to have respect for my resistance and the many ways it is trying to protect me. Our resistance can be infuriating, frustrating, and downright inconvenient, but it’s developed for very good reasons.

When we have respect for ourselves, with patience and compassion, we can handle anything—especially resistance.

Photo by Ashley Campbell Photography

About Hannah Braime

Hannah Braime is a coach and writer who believes the world is a richer place when we have the courage to be fully self-expressed. She shares practical psychology-based articles, tools and resources on living a full and meaningful life over at Becoming Who You Are. Get free access to workbooks, audios and much more when you join the community.

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  • Vaishaks89

    A really wonderful article. Thank you so much for writing this. It now makes sense why one has a lot of resistance to do things. Makes sense that one shouldn’t blame himself for falling to resistance.
    But importantly the thoughts you had presented had a lot of details and supporting examples. It makes it easier for a newbie like me to understand.

  • Resistance to be nice to ourselves… Why is that so hard for me to think its okay to do anything for myself… I dont understand how I got there

  • Aurora Tejeida

    Sometimes its hard to realize that the best things in the long run require effort and persistence, we live in a world were people expect instant gratification and immediate results to their efforts, but it doesn’t work that way.

  • This is exactly what I needed to read & similar to something I was discussing yesterday in my blog. Thanks!

  • Allison

    Thank you for this, Hannah! I remember a time probably a year or so ago when I said those exact words to my therapist: “Why is it so hard to do what I know is good for me?” And after much self-exploration, I found my reasons were much the same as yours. I still struggle with the resistance on a day-to-day basis like you do, but knowing that I’m not the only one who struggles (indeed, it’s universal!) makes it a little easier to be compassionate with myself and trust the process. Thank you for this great reminder of a lesson I had temporarily forgotten. I needed it today!

  • I do all three of those things as part of my morning practice, meditation, journalling and yoga. Some days it’s easier than others. I also let myself “not” do this stuff on the weekend. Having a break sometimes helps.

  • Thank you for this, Hannah.
    What’s interesting for me is to consider the fact that about the only thing I NEVER resist is finding another flavor of resistance! I can whip up 1000 new recipes for resistance much more readily than I can just hold in my hand the single, pure, good-for-me ingredient: the good green apple–and just take a bite. I’m so much better with offering the good apple to someone else–a stranger!–but myself, I deprive. I agree with you–being nice to ourselves seems indulgent (especially if you were raised in one of those critical households you mentioned), but I am trying to practice really latching onto the idea that what’s inherently good for me is actually good for the planet, too. I still need the altruism piece, at this point. Training wheels.
    I also had to change my morning journalling/meditation routine. When I noticed that I was circling my chair and my journal anxiously, like a big cat in a cage, EXPECTING something to happen on the page, my own friendly anxiety had me take a break.
    [I will say that another challenge for me is NOT to get too identified with my anxiety. If I start saying “that’s just me” too much, there is a delicate line between who I really am at the core, and my behaviors–between off the hook and hooked into my anxiety as my identity–but I see what you mean].
    Also, I was noticing that the best writing I was doing, and most insightful, was occurring on post-its or on the fridge in wipe-off marker, or even as little cryptic shorthanded notes in the flour on the countertop with one finger.
    I might be ready for the morning pages idea again, so thank you for this idea.
    PS:
    I just loved “self-acceptance ninjas”–HUGE potential as a visual cue. I’m doodling it now! Might be a great black, masked journal cover…

  • Aquarius Company

    Great points!  I also believe our resistance is sometimes because we secretly long for someone else to take care of us … we often resist the responsibility of caring for ourselves because we’re still waiting for someone else to give us the love/acceptance we crave.  Once we begin doing this for ourselves, we often encounter grief over love/caring we didn’t receive as a child …   <3  Sometimes, that is the true depth of emotion we're resisting by feeling anxious or nervous, instead — when we allow ourselves to fully feel and release the sadness (for childhood neglect, or simply un-met childhood expectations …) we can – many times – move forward into full self-reliance and take responsibility for our own happiness and well-being.  <3  Beautiful, beautiful article – thank you!

  • Katje

    There must be something in the air… a previous poster also was talking about this, and I had a great response yesterday to a Facebook wail about the exact same thing (and a friend pointed me to this essay in response). Yes, it is universal, and no, there aren’t any easy ways to get past it. 

  • Patricia Brown

    Just loved this thank you x

  • Imaybeluddite

    I love technology, and pens and paper too. Sometimes writing or designing on a lap top feels less than a private experience to me, and it’s own electrical life force, its AI, is blending or competing with my own.
    A strange thing to have floating around in my head when I bare my soul to myself and purge my yuk.
    So I resist it.
    And use pen and paper.

  • Hi Vaishaks89, I’m glad the article helped you gain some clarity on resistance and shift your perspective a little. I’ve found it really hard not to blame myself, and I’ve also found it helpful to hear about others’ experiences. Good luck on your journey! 🙂

  • That’s great to hear Wendi – in my experience it’s something most people (if not everyone) struggles with at some point, and I’m glad you found the article helpful.

  • Thanks for sharing your experience Allison. I’ve had exactly that conversation in therapy in the past too! If we’re hard-wired to think of other people over ourselves, it takes a long time for the self-care process to become second nature – writing this article was a great way for me to remind myself of this lesson so I’m really glad to hear it was helpful reading it as well!

  • That’s a great point Lori – it’s important to give yourself permission to *not* do these things too when it feels like they’re becoming a chore or counter-productive.

  • Thanks for sharing your experience Stacia, I love the metaphor of whipping up recipes for resistance! It definitely feels that way sometimes 🙂 What I’m hearing from your comment is that the parts of us that create the resistance are very adaptive, and so find new and creative ways to do what they perceive as their “job”.  That really resonates with my experience, and it sounds really positive that the parts of you that want to do these activities have also become adaptive and found a creative way for you to get your best writing down. Good luck! 🙂

  • Very true Katje, I’ve heard from multiple people that they all felt like they were the only ones feeling resistance, when actually it is something that most people – if not all – experience. Hopefully the more people share their experiences, the less isolated we’ll feel 🙂

  • Thanks Patricia, I’m happy to hear that 🙂

  • That’s a great point, thanks for raising it. The technology vs. pen and paper question is something I still don’t feel like I’ve answered. I’ve had the same experience with computers – that it doesn’t feel as personal – so have probably used pen and paper more. On the other hand, I do like having my journalling notes in Macjournal, as I can quickly review and cross-reference entries. It’s a tricky one – I definitely feel more connected to myself when I write by hand, probably because my handwriting is unique to me, whereas fonts are less personal. I’m glad to hear you’ve found a medium that works for you 🙂

  • We hear so much about how being selfish is bad when we’re younger, that it makes sense we might find it hard to do things for our well-being when we’re older. Spending time on ourselves doing things like journalling, meditation, yoga, that are only benefitting ourselves, can bring up a lot of uncomfortable feelings around self-indulgence, etc. I’m not sure if that’s something that ever goes away, but in my experience it does get better over time 🙂 Give yourself permission to take care of yourself x

  • Great point Aurora, this is definitely something that I struggle with! It’s important to remember that we all start from the beginning.

  • Wow, I’m really struck by your insightful comment! Resisting responsibility for taking care of ourselves is also something I’ve experienced – it’s very painful to acknowledge that we’re waiting for something that will never come from someone else (and part of the resistance might be resistance to feeling that pain and depth of emotion), and I agree that it’s only by experiencing it that we can move forward. Thanks for highlighting this aspect of resistance 🙂

  • Awesome post! I can relate to so much… And I’m so glad to know I’m not the only one who faces resistance to what’s good for me. I, too, get anxiety when I write morning pages – I thought it was just me! And my meditation practice is one that is pretty often a struggle. It used to really bother me, but I guess you’re right – why be so hard on ourselves? It may just be a part of who we are, or part of our journey. We’ve gotta accept all of it, even the annoying parts. 😉  Thanks for a great, relateable post!

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  • This is a great article! A lot of what you said really struck home. Faced with resistance, my reactions are always to let it fester and snowball or to shove it away, but I will now try accepting it and seeing where its coming from. Its really good to know that resistance is a normal part of the process.

  • Ju

    Thank you for this article, I love how honest it is despite the topic, and so very helpful.

  • Sarah Fertig

    I know I resisted a big project in my life for a long time, almost 3 years.  When my Dad died, my sister and I had to put all his stuff in a storage unit.  For the first couple years, the storage unit was almost an emotional substitute for him, and I felt like if I got rid of his stuff, I’d be getting rid of my love and memories.  Fortunately, now I’m ready to move forward, and I’ve found that cleaning out the storage unit leaves more room for humor, levity and love.

  • I stumbled onto your site by accident….You mean other people do this too???
    I have fought this all my life. If you need to somewhere miles I will take you..But I will not cross the street for myself…It makes self care almost impossible for me…Thank Buddha I am not alone

  • wow – i started the morning pages these days as well. i keep getting confused about whether it should be something creativity or if it’s ok that it’s like my journal since I already keep a diary… 
    but i keep putting it off 🙁
    Noch Noch

  • RachalT

    This article was well written to cover all facets I have faced in my own journey. I appreciate your transparency and ability to encourage others to love themselves knowing they aren’t alone. I enjoyed reading this!!

  • Andrew

    I struggle with this aswell, on a regular basis. Think its partly due to fear of rejection, and putting effort in for something, but getting little or nothing in return for those efforts.

  • Stefan J

    you wrote too long and I didnt find any real solution to this problem xD

    I think this thing is not curable, it’s simply human weakness and cant be cure with psychology or motivational advice….we need chemical drug to make us efficient like robot, coz robot brain is more logical , our brain is too stupid and lazy,

    “it doesnt matter what you know, our decision sometimes not based on what we know is good, we choose something that we like eventhough it might be bad for us”

  • Blah

    I tried doing morning pages. After day five I was sick of writing about how I had nothing to write about, how bored I was, and that there was nothing I wanted to do. Blah. Just get up, go to work, come home, read online, go to bed. Weekends have added chores. Really, what do you write about when you don’t want anything and there’s nothing you want to do? Nothing I do makes me happy.

  • Johhny Mike Loco

    BLABLABLABLABLABLAA. Announcement: Tired of feeling stuck? Learn to let go of the past and create a life you love with the Tiny Buddha course!

    Why We Find It Hard to Do Things That Are Good for Us

    By Hannah Braime

    “Have respect for yourself, and patience and compassion. With these, you can handle anything.” ~Jack Kornfield

    I find it hard to do things I know are good for me, harder than anything else in my day-to-day life.

    Yoga, meditation, journaling: these have all been invaluable tools during my personal journey, yet I have to will, sometimes fight myself in order to do them.

    It’s not that the activities themselves are hard (although yoga can be intense). It’s the motivation, the internal debate that starts up every day that I struggle with. Afterward, I feel great, more in touch with myself and far more at peace. But to get there, it’s a psychological mission.

    I used to think it was just me—that everyone else sat down to these activities with an eager mind and an open heart, especially people who write about these things, like I do, and practice them daily, like I want to.

    The fact that I was less skipping joyfully to and from these activities and more dragging myself with gritted teeth left me feeling like a fraud, which meant I wanted to do these things even less.

    Over time, I learned more about self-acceptance. I learned to accept that this was me, the way I am, and that perhaps I will always find it difficult to sit down and do these things, whether it makes sense or not. Yet, I still felt alone with my struggles and, therefore, afraid to really talk about them with anyone else.

    Last week, I was talking to a friend of mine about challenges he was having with a course I run. He was saying he felt resistance, he didn’t know why, and that it seemed like everyone else found sitting down and doing the work a walk in the park. They could just do it, whereas for him it was a daily battle.

    That sounded familiar…

    And as soon as I wasn’t trying to hide the resistance, as soon as I let myself talk about it openly, I could think more clearly about why I felt that way, and what was behind that resistance. And out of all those reasons came the realization: the resistance is on my side; sometimes it’s just misguided.

    Resistance to Things Changing

    When we engage in practices like journaling, meditation, or even exercising, we might feel resistance to change.

    This resistance might conflict with a desire for healthy change—the desire that prompted us to start up that activity in the first place—but it has a very healthy grounding behind it: change can be scary. Change is about going into the unknown, while what we have right now is familiar and comfortable, even if we’re not 100% happy with it.

    Resistance to What We Might Find

    Sometimes self-knowledge can be like charting new, undiscovered land. You think you’ve explored it all, then you turn a corner and there are miles and miles of untouched terrain still to go. You have no idea what might be lurking under the rocks out there, and sometimes it feels safer to just leave it untouched.

    When we engage in activities that are good for our well-being, self-acceptance, and self-knowledge, we risk relaxing our defenses and potentially finding out things about ourselves that we might not like. The most important part of self-growth, though, is learning to acknowledge and accept those things for what they are, even to feel compassion for them.

    Resistance to Being Nice to Ourselves

    This can be a tricky one, as often it’s an unconscious core belief: that we don’t deserve to spend time on and be nice to ourselves. As an abstract concept, it’s a no-brainer: of course people deserve to be nice to themselves.

    But when was the last time you consciously did this? Taking time to nourish our emotional and spiritual well-being, taking time to get to know ourselves in more depth can be a real challenge, even if we think other people deserve that.

    If we were brought up in particularly critical households, if a lot of value was placed on our achievements over our happiness when we were younger, or if we grew up in environments where these practices were frowned upon or ridiculed, we might feel a lot of resistance to being nice to ourselves.

    It might conflict with the messages we received as children, which we felt we needed to obey at the time to be loved. As adults, these messages are translated into core beliefs about ourselves, even if we don’t apply them to other people.

    But again, they are there to protect us, and, although they might now be obsolete, they are still working to make us loveable to the people we used to depend on.

    Resistance to Trusting a Process

    Resistance might come from doubting an activity’s ability to really do us any good. I certainly have a mini-cynic who lives in my head and scoffs at my yoga, scorns my journaling practice and says “Really, aren’t you above this hippy nonsense?”

    I keep telling that voice that no, I’m not above this hippy nonsense, but it still pipes up to have its say.

    Trusting a process—especially a slow process that might not contain any obvious light-bulb moments and requires time and patience—is difficult.

    We might not feel like we are in control; it could seem like we’re putting our all in and getting very little in return. I don’t think I’ve ever had any major epiphanies in my personal development; instead of a cascade, I’ve experienced steady, slow drips.

    I can’t think of any major changes that happened day-to-day, but when I look back on a few years ago, the difference is enormous.

    Resistance to Our Own Humanity

    Recently I started regular “morning pages” style journaling (writing 3 pages stream-of-consciousness every morning) after a few months off. I was shocked to find that, although I started off my journaling session feeling very virtuous for having overcome my resistance, I became increasingly anxious while writing.

    I couldn’t understand how, after years of practice, I could still be feeling anxious about journaling. “I should be past this,” and “I should be self-accepting enough to not feel anxious when I journal,” were the dominant thoughts that fed my anxiety further and created resistance to opening up my laptop the next day.

    When we’ve been doing something for a certain amount of time, we can build up expectations around our “performance.” We expect ourselves to be self-acceptance ninjas, spreading peace and serenity to all we come into contact with. We expect those emotions on the “negative” end of the spectrum to disappear.

    But of course it’s not like that. I get anxious, I feel resistance, and that’s part of what it means to be me. It’s part of what it means to be human.

    An important part of my journey is learning to accept that those things might never change, and to have respect for my resistance and the many ways it is trying to protect me. Our resistance can be infuriating, frustrating, and downright inconvenient, but it’s developed for very good reasons.

    When we have respect for ourselves, with patience and compassion, we can handle anything—especially resistance.

    Photo by Ashley Campbell Photography BLABLA BLABLA. WHY ARE PEOPLE SO FUCKING INSECURE SADCUNTS OMG. BLABLABLA WHY ”IN YOUR OPINION SADCUNT FEMALE” ”WE” FIND IT ”HARD” TO DO THINGS THAT ARE GOOD FOR US. STFU. SHIT ARTICLE. GET SOME DAMN CONFIDENCE PEOPLE AND GET OUT OF UR MENTAL DISORDER BS

  • Anonymous

    I never got the point of morning pages. After a week or two I ran out of anything new to write about. Writing about anything became boring…what’s the point? Your life is 95% routine, so your morning pages will be 95% writing about the same things over and over. That sounds pretty boring.
    I’ve forgotten most of my life already, because fundamentaly very little changes throughout most of our lives. I couldn’t tell you the difference between last month and last year.