Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.
Change is never painful, only the resistance to change is painful.
You know the feeling. You’re about to make a big change and do things differently. Let’s say, for example, you decide to get out of debt and start building wealth. You schedule a meeting with a credit counselor, download a budgeting app, sign up for a financial class, and buy a book on investing. Off you go . . . when suddenly, you run smack dab into Resistance.
It may be a voice in your head, a feeling in your gut, or just a knee-jerk reaction, but your brain’s message is unmistakably clear: I don’t want to do this! And you can’t make me! You forget the appointment, ignore the app, lose interest in the book, and sit through class but nothing registers. Eventually you quit trying.
I can’t help but think of a cartoon I saw years ago: a saint stands with his arms outstretched, his gaze toward heaven, the caption reads: “God, give me chastity . . . but not yet.”
This is exactly what resistance feels like. You say you want to create wealth, and you really do . . . but . . . well . . . maybe not right now. This feeling may be more insistent for some than for others. But you will undoubtedly experience a certain degree of resistance the moment you respond differently than you have in the past.
I’ve always compared wealth building to weight loss. We all know how to lose weight. Eat less and exercise more. Simple, right? Yet there’s a billion-dollar diet industry devoted to helping people stay on track. Same with wealth building. There are only three things you need do—spend less, save more, and invest wisely. But, like dieting, people just can’t seem to stick to these steps despite their steadfast desire to do so.
Resistance kicks in the moment you step out of your comfort zone and enter the Gap, the space between where you are now and where you want to be. The Gap is extremely uncomfortable, filled with tension. Your prevailing beliefs collide with your budding desires.
Your frightened Ego is trying its best to bring you back where you belong, while entrenched neuropathways are valiantly fighting for their very life. After all, the third step in the rewire process—Respond Differently—is like kryptonite to existing cognitive circuits. Each time you respond differently, you’re sprouting and strengthening new neuropathways while sounding the death knell to old ones.
As a coach, the biggest challenge I have is getting clients past their resistance. Until that happens, they are neither receptive to learning nor willing to change. Yet I’ve rarely seen this topic addressed in financial courses or books. Until right now.
Two souls, alas, are housed within my breast / And each will wrestle for the mastery there.
—JOHANN WOLFGANG VON GOETHE
There’s a story of two caterpillars who spy a butterfly overhead. One looks up longingly. The other snorts, “You’ll never get me in that contraption.” Resistance, like those caterpillars, is a psychological reaction to an internal conflict. Part of you wants to fly (your Soul). Another part doesn’t (your Ego). Or to put it more scientifically, your rational brain, the cerebral cortex, is duking it out with your amygdala, or fear center, lodged in the limbic system. As long as those parts continue to butt heads, you’ll remain hopelessly deadlocked.
Psychologists use the term cognitive dissonance to describe this phenomenon of holding two conflicting beliefs at the same time. This internal conflict gives rise to enormous anxiety, prompting you to lapse into mind-numbing defense mechanisms like denial, repression, or passive-aggressive behavior. Unless you understand this psychological condition, the effects can be quite disconcerting and destabilizing.
Cognitive dissonance also explains why a popular spiritual principle doesn’t always work. There’s a lot of talk these days about the Law of Attraction, which says you attract whatever you want into your life through your ability to feel good, think positive, and focus only on the desired outcome. But what’s rarely mentioned is the Law of Congruence, which says you get what you want, not what you ask for. How do you know what you want? Look around at what you’ve attracted.
“What you ask for, you receive. But this refers to prayers of the heart, not the words you use in praying,” explains A Course in Miracles. You may say you want wealth, but if you believe money is the root of all evil or rich people are greedy or if you have more, others will have less, then wealth isn’t what you really want. What you really want is to stay safe, be liked, and be seen as a good person.
A big part of training your mind to rewire your brain is discerning between what your Ego says you want and what your Soul truly, genuinely, deeply desires, then making a conscious choice between the two. Resistance work is, in essence, conflict resolution.
Michele Phillips—a financially successful corporate trainer, author, and executive coach we met earlier—joined my program just as she moved to a very chic and well-heeled community, South Hampton, outside New York City. Surrounded by excessive wealth, she felt entirely out of place. When she started describing “all those people with money,” I immediately interrupted her.
“Why are you talking as if there’s two separate groups of people—those with money and you?”
I clearly hit a nerve. “Wait!” she said, somewhat startled. “I’m creating the separation based on my wiring, my old belief system. Aren’t I?”
Michele saw herself as an outsider in her new surroundings because of her parents’ negative attitude toward the affluent. Her poverty consciousness was clashing with her current reality: she and her husband, both financially well-off, were a long way away from scarcity.
“I got so off track,” she admitted. “Now I just need to bridge this belief to rewire. My life is not matching who I think I am, but I can shift it. I can rewire it.” And she did. When I talked to her later, she told me, “I’ve made so many good friends. I feel totally at home here.”
Resistance is the first step to change.
Here’s what I want you to keep in mind. Resistance is not bad, nor does it mean something’s wrong. Resistance is a normal, natural, inevitable reaction to change. In fact, resistance is good. It’s a sign you’re rewiring.
You see, resistance isn’t the problem, it’s a symptom of something deeper. Let’s take a moment to dissect this predictable opposition to change. All resistance comes from fear. At the core of all fear is a belief. At the root of each belief is a decision you made. A decision you came to usually early in life that has little to do with reality, is rarely true, and lies buried below your consciousness. Yet, like an invisible puppeteer pulling your strings, those unconscious decisions will control your behavior until you draw back the curtain and expose the truth.
So, let’s do an exercise called Digging Deeper to help you shed light on unconscious decisions you believe to be true. Remember, you must first see them to reframe them.
Rewire in Action
Complete the following sentences with the first word (or words) that come to mind. Don’t censor what you get or look for the “right” answer. Let yourself go with your very first response. And do it quickly. You can always make changes later.
1. My father felt investing was ______________
2. My mother felt investing was ______________
3. In my family, money caused ______________
4. My earliest memory of money is ______________
5. Wealthy people are ______________
6. My biggest fear of investing is ______________
7. I wish I had more money but ______________
8. My friends feel wealth is ______________
9. Investing equals ______________
10. I’d love to be wealthy but ______________
How did it feel to fill out these statements? Were there any surprises or responses that created new awareness? Did you discover anything that could be influencing your relationship with investing or wealth building today? Make some quick notes in the space below. If nothing came up, that’s OK. Your mind is processing the information. It’s quite common for insights to pop up in the middle of the night or as you’re driving to work.
All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy: for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves: we must die to one life before we can enter another.
How do you know when you’re in resistance? Obviously, whenever you feel stuck, unable to move forward. But be warned, resistance can be quite cunning, making it difficult to spot and easy to attribute to something else. Here are the 13 most common signs you’re in resistance.
1. You’re too busy. (“I have no time.”)
2. You procrastinate. (“I’ll do it later.”)
3. You’re scared into inaction. (“But, what if . . . ?”)
4. You defer decisions. (“You do it, you decide.”)
5. You lose interest. (“This is boring, it’s not my thing.”)
6. You’re forgetful. (“Oh, I meant to, but I forgot.”)
7. You’re disorganized. (“Where did I put that . . . ?”)
8. You fog up, space out. (“What are you talking about?”)
9. You feel paralyzed. (“I just can’t think or get going.”)
10. You find reasons not to act. (“I can’t because . . .”)
11. You’re impatient. (“This is taking way too long.”)
12. You keep taking classes but nothing changes. (“Oh look, another seminar I’ll sign up for . . .”)
13. You continually run into naysayers. (Others constantly say, “You can’t do that” or “That’s not possible.” You’re projecting your own fear onto others.)
You may want to keep this list where you can easily access it. Whenever you’re displaying one of these signs, realize you’re in resistance. But, rest assured, resistance doesn’t need to stop you, at least not for very long, if you know how to work with it. Once you identify resistance, you can start weakening it by employing the four stages of resistance work.
Any change, even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.
There’s a natural tendency, when resistance strikes, to browbeat yourself mercilessly, bulldoze your way forward, or avoid the issue and abandon hope. None of these are helpful in the long run. What you ignore, you empower. What you resist, persists. What you hate, you become. Instead, when you recognize you’re displaying any signs of resistance, remind yourself it’s a positive sign that you’re rewiring, then work with your resistance by engaging in these four stages:
1. Honor your resistance by exploring it.
2. Pinpoint the conflict by reflecting on your past.
3. Proceed incrementally by taking on small, doable tasks.
4. Receive support by reaching out.
Rewire in Action
WHERE AM I IN RESISTANCE?
Before we discuss how to work with resistance, in the space below write down where you are in resistance in your life right now. It need not be about money. It can be about anything.
Where you are experiencing resistance in your life right now?
Now that you know what you need to work on, it’s time to learn what you can do to tackle resistance in your own life right now.
When you experience resistance, you find the lessons that you are meant to learn.
I stumbled on this first stage of resistance a few years after my second divorce. I was ready to meet my PMFM (“Perfect Man for Me.”). But the men I’d been attracting didn’t fit the bill. So I hired a relationship coach. After each session, she’d give me homework, which I’d never do.
During what would be our last appointment, the words unexpectedly, but adamantly, flew out of my mouth: “Look, Janis, I’m in resistance. And I’m going to stay in resistance until I’m not in resistance anymore.”
I hung up feeling great. It was actually a relief to honor my resistance by respecting my truth. I wasn’t avoiding anything. Quite the opposite. I saw my refusal to do the homework as an opportunity to figure out what my resistance was trying to tell me—about my fears, beliefs, and early decisions. I proceeded to do some considerable soul searching by asking the questions in the exercise below and having an inquiry with my resistance.
Rewire in Action
AN INQUIRY WITH RESISTANCE
You can explore your resistance by asking yourself the following questions and writing your responses below:
What am I afraid of? ____________________________
Why am I afraid? ____________________________
What belief is my resistance reflecting? ______________
What decision did I make as a result of my belief? ______________
How is my past experience provoking my resistance? ______________
What is the payoff for staying where I am? ______________
After asking myself these questions, I discovered I harbored a mother lode of anger against men. Staying single, I realized, felt safer, less painful than being in a relationship. I wasn’t surprised anger was the source of my resistance. In my experience, women in general hold a tremendous amount of unexpressed anger, though few realize it. I believe buried anger (along with unhealed trauma) is perhaps our biggest barrier to financial success. I see it with almost every woman I coach. I’ve seen it in myself through the years. Most of us don’t like anger. It doesn’t feel good. It’s not feminine. It’s not “nice.” It’s scary. Historically we’ve been groomed to repress our rage and thus worry that if we lift the lid, even a tiny bit, our wrath will suddenly erupt, engulfing us in a flood of hot lava.
The truth is, anger is a natural human emotion. Healthy when expressed in a timely manner. Toxic when bottled up.
“Holding onto anger,” as Buddha wisely pointed out, “is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned.”1
It takes a lot of energy to stifle emotions. Repressed anger clogs up your thinking, drains your creativity, and weighs you down like a concrete block. Released anger frees you and stimulates action.
In my determination to heal, I did an exercise I’d done in the past—writing an angry letter. I often have clients write angry letters. As one told me after she wrote hers: “At first it was scary. I felt so rageful. But I also felt a release that I’d never felt before.”
I’m convinced that it’s no coincidence that I met my husband shortly after I completed my letter.
Rewire in Action
If you suspect you may have some buried anger, I invite you to write an angry letter. Maybe to your parents or your ex-husband. Perhaps to yourself. Write it by hand, not on a computer. Start the letter with “Dear XX, I am so pissed at you . . .” (using whatever words feel right). Let yourself get into it, liberating your fury, your frustrations. Write until you’re done.
Next fold up the letter and put it away for no more than three days.
Then take it out and reread it. Is there anything you want to add? If so, keep writing. Continue the process until you feel complete.
When you’re finally finished, burn the letter, ritualistically. As it burns, say to your anger: “Thank you. You served me once. I no longer need you. I release you. You are free. I am free.”
You’ll know if you’ve sufficiently discharged your anger if, after you complete your angry letter, you can follow up with a letter of gratitude, acknowledging how those infuriating experiences have made you the incredible woman you are today. If you can’t find the gift that experience has given you, you’ve still got more anger to release.
What if you’ve done anger releasing exercises ad nauseum, and damn it, you’re still angry? Ask yourself: What is my payoff for holding onto anger? Why don’t I want to let it go? Believe me, the anger is giving you something. Often, it’s a false sense of power, invulnerability, or autonomy. But I promise, the so-called benefits are nothing compared to the lightness you’ll feel once your anger’s lifted.
If I get stuck in who I am now, I will never blossom into who I might yet become. I need to practice the gentle art of letting go.
Melissa, a medical editor, signed up for coaching hoping to increase her savings, understand her investments, and find a new career. Freshly out of debt for the second time, she vowed, “It will never happen again.”
Yet she was reluctant to look at her financial statements (“I’m afraid what I’ll see”) or explore another career (“I can’t possibly do something new. I don’t know enough.”). We were both frustrated by her procrastination.
“I feel like a cat hanging by its claws,” she said, vividly describing how exasperating resistance can be.
“What was life like for you as a child?” I asked, hoping to pinpoint her internal conflict. Resistance often indicates a discord between one’s early conditioning and one’s authentic self.
“My parents constantly ridiculed me,” she recalled. “They called my ideas dumb, stupid, ridiculous. I always felt on edge, anxious, fearful. It had a life-death feel to it.”
As Melissa rummaged around her past, she had a stunning revelation. “I just realized I’m deathly afraid of making mistakes because of all the ridicule I suffered growing up.” She clearly saw that the messages she received as a child were “in a great war” with her Soul’s urges. Melissa, like many intelligent women who have inexorable money issues, desperately needed to individuate from her parents.
Individuation is a developmental phase when a child separates from her family of origin, a phase many adults, particularly women, have yet to complete. Individuation insists that you take from your upbringing what serves you and discard what doesn’t, carefully distinguishing what’s true for you from what’s been artificially imposed. This means finding the strength to let go of what no longer fits—all the shoulds, oughts, and musts—that get in the way of who you genuinely are and actually could be.
Failure to individuate when young tends to surface later on as an inexplicable refusal to move forward, not just with money but in other areas of life as well.
Melissa began the individuation process with a seemingly simple but surprisingly painful act. She unfriended her family on Facebook.
“It’s amazing how difficult it was to block my family. I feel so alone, like I’m an orphan. Like there’s a child in me yearning for the love I never had.”
“That is exactly what individuation feels like,” I assured her. “It’s sad. You need to grieve. But it’s ultimately freeing.”
Unfriending her family was a turning point for Melissa. Her ability to set firm boundaries boosted her confidence, ignited her motivation to change, and noticeably diminished her resistance.
I began giving Melissa small assignments.
The mind can deliver incremental gains, not quantum leaps.
If you’ve ever worked out in a gym, you know that you build muscles by lifting progressively heavier weights. It’s aptly called resistance training. You don’t start off doing a chest press with a 100-pound barbell. Instead, you start with two, maybe five pounds and slowly work your way up. It’s the same with building financial muscles. You start with easy activities, like simply skimming Money magazine or scrolling though Investopedia.com. Gradually, you let those steps get a little bit harder, like reading a whole article or taking an online class.
I had Melissa track her spending, which she initially resisted, fearful of what she’d find. “The goal here is not to eliminate fear. Because you can’t,” I informed her. “The goal is to act in spite of it.”
She began writing down all her purchases. “It was eye opening,” she exclaimed. “I found myself resisting but knew I had to. It was really hard during Christmas, but I did it. I wanted to buy gifts for clients. I baked cookies instead.”
As she went through her monthly expenses and income, another assignment, she was delightfully surprised. “I’m doing quite well,” she said, with tears of relief. “I was in debt for so long. My family has been too. This is not a place I ever thought I’d be.”
When I asked what she attributed her success to, she replied, “I learned that small incremental changes add up a lot faster than you think they do. It’s the consistency.”
During this period, Melissa fell in love. “Bob is everything I had on my list.”
That gave me an idea for addressing her work issues. “Why don’t you make a list of everything you want in a career just like you did with a boyfriend?” I assigned her an exercise I relied on, years ago, when I was a career counselor—the Career Finder.
Rewire in Action
THE CAREER FINDER
Take a piece of paper and divide it into 3 columns.
Next, divide your age into thirds and write each third at the top of a separate column. If you’re 30, the first column would be 1–10; the second would be 10–20; and the third, 20–30.
Then think back to achievements you had in each period when you felt powerful, important, skilled, and capable.
Recall something you did that went really well, that you felt extremely proud of, and that made you very happy—anything from learning to tie your shoes, to winning a sailboat race, to writing a story that made someone laugh.
Try to find at least three experiences within each age group. And write them in the appropriate column, leaving a lot of space between each achievement.
Then, alongside each achievement, describe in a few sentences what you did, the skills you used, the interests you displayed, the environments surrounding you.
Do you see any patterns? Pay particular attention to what brought you the most gladness, the things you did really well and enjoyed doing so much that you sometimes take them for granted.
Jot down what you discovered.
As Melissa described each of her most memorable and joyful accomplishments, we made a list of the common themes: touching people deeply; encouraging others; being a good listener; emotional honesty; creating safe space for people to be vulnerable. When I suggested the pattern pointed to psychotherapy or coaching, she was overjoyed.
“For the last 20 years I’ve thought of being a therapist,” she exclaimed. “I’m in a good place now to do it. It’s time.”
We don’t heal in isolation, but in community.
—S. KELLEY HARRELL
“I’ve always known that I wanted to work with people around psychology,” Melissa recalled, admitting she didn’t have the courage to go for it. All that changed when she began reaching out for support.
“You gave me so much encouragement to explore coaching. And Bob has been totally supportive. I also got positive feedback from my therapist, who loved the idea of me coaching, and so did my friends.”
Support is especially critical for women. We are relationship oriented, far more than men. We need people we trust to have our backs, hold us accountable, push us when things gets tough, or high-five us when we finally succeed. Rewiring specifically, and success in general, is not meant and should never be a solo journey, especially when you’re in the Gap, not quite where you want to be.
I also had her reach out to her financial advisor. At first she was reluctant. But when she contacted him, she realized, as with everything she’d been doing, what was initially frightening was becoming progressively less scary and actually enjoyable.
“He was so excited I called him,” she reported back. “He helped get me on their website where all my information is. We’re going to dig deeper into my funds. I know how much I need to retire with $1 million. It feels so doable.”
She was on fire now. “I figured out my net worth. It’s higher than I thought. I got on the Morningstar website and took classes to learn about stocks.”
This was our last session. Two years later, when I interviewed her for this book, Melissa’s resistance was a distant memory. She told me she’d moved in with her boyfriend, re-friended her family on Facebook, and was about to become a certified coach.
As for finances, she observed, “I don’t remember the last time I thought, ‘Oh my God, one small slip and I’m a bag lady on the streets.’ Those thoughts don’t come anymore.” she exclaimed. “I had to reach out and touch the monster, the monster being the money. With my advisor’s help, the more I looked at it, the easier it became. I still talk to him all the time. I’m so much more relaxed, knowing my situation.”
Below is an exercise that will give you get a quick snapshot of your support system. Most women find this very illuminating, often realizing their lack of support was the missing link in their efforts to achieve financial self-efficacy.
Rewire in Action
SACRED WEALTH CIRCLE
The circle below is your Sacred Wealth Circle. Inside the circle, list the names of people you can talk to about wealth building and personal growth. Outside the circle, list those in your life who aren’t interested in the topic or may frown upon your efforts.
What do you notice? Were there more names outside your circle than inside? Would you like to add people to your inner circle? You can never get enough support.
However, you must honor the boundaries of this Sacred Circle. Don’t let anyone inside your circle who doesn’t respect or endorse your effort. No pessimists, naysayers, or worrywarts allowed. Otherwise, it’s too easy to succumb to the siren call of the hardwired neuropathway.
There are many ways to find support.
Find a group. Take a class, join an existing financial group, or form one yourself—say, a book club, a study group, or an investment club. Researchers from Emory University found that “the pleasure and reward centers of a woman’s brain light up if they can work towards their financial goals in collaboration with other women.”
Find a partner. Get a friend, fellow student, colleague, or family member to check in with regularly, share what you’ve accomplished (or didn’t), and commit to what you’ll do next. Once during a Rewire group call, a woman announced she’d just started using a budgeting app called YNAB.com (You Need A Budget) and was wanting help. Another woman on the call who was also new to the app spoke up immediately. “I’d love to be your partner,” she volunteered. The two exchanged email addresses and agreed to contact each other weekly to report their progress, ask questions, and offer suggestions.
Reach out to professionals. In my research with successful women, the ones with the highest net worth didn’t necessarily earn (or inherit) the most money, but each worked, at least at some point, with a team of experts, including an investment advisor, bookkeeper, accountant, and estate attorney.
Get a mentor. Whenever you meet someone who’s financially savvy, enroll them as a mentor. This is what I did when I was trying to educate myself, and it worked like a charm. I didn’t ask anyone outright to mentor me. But I’d say: “If I have any questions about investing, could I ask you?” Or I’d invite them for coffee and pick their brain. I found most people were eager to share their knowledge and actually enjoyed knowing they helped me.
True resistance begins with people confronting pain . . . and wanting to do something to change it.
What if, no matter what you do, you feel trapped in an endless maze with no exit in sight? Persistent, unyielding resistance is usually a sign that unresolved pain is weighing you down, needing to be healed. The remedy can be found in the next chapter, where you’ll pick up another Power Tool—Reparenting, a potent antidote for unremitting resistance.