This is a piece written for and about coaching, covering the incredibly powerful topic of Resistance. Resistance is a part of almost all the work I do with clients, and for me personally almost all the work I do to build my business.
The first year of anything is an incredibly rich learning opportunity.
When I reflect now on my first year as a coach, there are so many lessons I learnt. But above all - above the importance of working with great coaches who have my back, above having a supportive community around me, above learning more and more about business development and enrolling clients - was the importance of dancing with my Resistance.
I'm struck, day by day, that my work stands on the shoulders of so many giants. I have a vision board with pictures of many of them, and one of the huge privileges of the modern world is the easy access to the books, videos, podcasts and blogs of so many people of great wisdom. And on the topic of Resistance, I feel particularly privileged.
For my birthday, not long before I first started training as a coach, but before I knew I was going to train, my brother gave me two books, and those books have had a huge impact on my coaching and my coaching business, dealing as they do with the ever-present challenge of our Resistance.
What is Resistance?
Steven Pressfield, as my brother, Ewan Townhead, a writer and coach, poetically puts in his own writing on the subject, is St George in the battle with the dragon of Resistance. In his book, The War of Art, Pressfield dissects and exposes Resistance in all its glory, including – near the beginning – these wonderful sentences:
'There's a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don't and the secret is this: it's not the writing part that's hard. What's hard is sitting down to write.
What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.'
'Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.'
Resistance is everything that stops you taking those steps towards the life you really want to live. It's the little instinct that takes you to Facebook instead of the work you know you should be doing; it's what leaves the gym membership unused, the paint set in the cupboard and the guitar unplayed; it's what keeps the idea for a new business in your head and not out in the world. It's those words, which you tell yourself, which can stop you doing pretty much anything: "I'm not ready."
I'm getting some Resistance right now, as I write this piece. Here's what it's saying 'Have you planned this piece enough? Is it really going to be useful to other coaches? Are you sure it's not just a vanity exercise for you? Shouldn't you change it more so it gets you more clients? You aren't going to finish it before you need to leave for your meeting, so you might as well stop now.' You see, Resistance is devious. It knows exactly what to say and do to get you to stop. It will tie you in knots to prevent you from taking the steps you need to take, the steps towards the unlived life within you.
Resistance for coaches
In the War of Art there is a list of Resistance's Greatest Hits (you can read it on Steven Pressfield's website in an excerpt from the book). I read a list of the topics that I, and I believe other coaches, are faced with from our clients in every session. But I also read it like a list of the challenges that are faced by coaches themselves: 'the pursuit of a calling', 'the launching of any entrepreneurial venture or enterprise', 'any program of spiritual enhancement', 'education of every kind', 'an enterprise or endeavor whose aim is to help others', 'the taking of any principled stand'. These are all on the list, and from my experience apply to any coach starting their practice. And the chapter ends with this quote:
'In other words, any act which disdains short-term gratification in favor of long-term growth, health or integrity. Or, expressed another way, any act that derives from our higher nature instead of our lower. Any act of these types will elicit Resistance.'
Whether you like it or not, Resistance is on my journey with me, and will be with you, too, on your journey to the unlived life you want.
So what can we do about it?
The first step is awareness. I regularly share the online excerpt from the War of Art with clients as a way to bring the language of Resistance into our sessions: this gets it out in the open, it names it. Resistance is there, or at least it is if you are trying to do any of the things on Pressfield's list (and pretty much all clients and all coaches are). And, as marketing guru, general font of wisdom and big Pressfield fan Seth Godin says (his book, The Icarus Deception, was the second book Ewan gave me), Resistance will always be there. As Seth puts beautifully, if you can't get rid of it, you just have to learn to dance with it.
Dancing with Resistance
You may be thinking – perhaps this is your Resistance – 'If it's not going away, and it's trying to stop me getting the things I deeply want, then surely everything is hopeless.' Luckily, everything is not hopeless. More Pressfield:
'Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul's evolution, the more Resistance we will feel towards pursuing it.'
You can use your Resistance, your fear, as Seth Godin also says, as a compass. You can follow it to what you really want. And if you're feeling it - maybe it's doing its self-doubt bit, 'Am I really a writer?' 'Am I really a coach?' - you're on the right track. So, how does the dance go?
As any professional dancer knows, it starts with discipline, with practice. Pressfield calls this 'turning pro'. We already know how to be a professional, we've all done it at some point or other. It's how we behaved in the jobs we didn't like, the ones which weren't our calling or our heart's desire. We turned up, whatever, and we stayed all day. We don't take it too lightly, but we don't take it too seriously. We get better at it. We have a sense of humour. We accept payment.
And most importantly, any dance involves steps. In the dance with Resistance, these are small steps, but – as with dancing – at some point you have to start. Here's one last beautiful quote from Steven Pressfield:
'Our inspiration is always there, but it's at the moment when we commit to something and make the start that we let inspiration in.'
It feels impossible: procrastinating all day, scared, miserable. And yet. And yet. Finally taking that step, no matter how small, you get that feeling. Everyone reading will recognise it. If you're a coach, it's the little buzz of sending the scary email requesting a referral, or updating your LinkedIn profile to say 'coach' for the first time, or actually approaching the building where you will meet your first paid client. If you aren't, you'll know it from submitting an application for the job you want, emailing the person you want to have coffee with to talk about something that's important to you. Or getting the paint set out of the cupboard and finally putting brush to canvas.
That's inspiration. But it’s not done. Another step needs to be taken. It can be as small as you like, as long as you take it. And after that, take another. And another.
Resistance for Coaches and my tips for dancing with it...
Here is the voice of Resistance, speaking to Robbie the Coach, and to the lovely and wonderful coaches I know.
“I haven't done enough coaching to work with clients.”
“I need to finish my website before I start talking to people about my coaching.”
“I need to learn more about coaching before I'm ready to charge.”
“Who would pay me to coach them? I've only coached people for free so far.”
“I'm not ready to talk about my coaching business until I've worked out my niche.”
“I can't coach this person, what do I know about their work?”
“No one will ever pay me for this. It's rude to even ask.”
“I'm not worth this.”
“It will never work.”
“I'm really scared.”
Read them back, look for the ones that resonate with you, or the ones which you've heard people you know say. Or the similar sentences that your Resistance is saying to you. Look out for the language of Resistance, words like 'enough', 'not ready', 'when it's finished', 'more'.
We all have that voice. Coaching, for most people, is a calling and a dream. It is getting paid to work with people, making a difference, using all those skills which you took for granted but you have found out are special in you. Changing lives, and changing your life. And as a calling and a dream it is so vulnerable to Resistance.
Here are my top three tips to help guide you through the minefield of Resistance as you grow your coaching business. There are plenty more, and I'd love to hear from anyone who has great tips, or great struggles with Resistance.
- Become aware of Resistance. Maybe this article is all you need. Maybe you also need to read my brother's blog, or the pages on Steven Pressfield's website, or maybe you need to buy yourself The War of Art and The Icarus Deception (or get a family member to give them to you for a forthcoming birthday!). But whatever it takes, make sure you're aware. Make sure you're looking for it.
- Get a coach. When you're talking about coaching to people, it's almost certain you say something like 'the thing that sets it apart from mentoring, and counselling, and therapy, is that it's always forward looking'. And in that forward momentum is the next small step, which lets the inspiration in. Whoever your coach is, they will help you take those steps, and in those steps you will start to beat Resistance. I've been lucky to work with two amazing coaches, Mike Toller and Joel Monk, and both have guided me wonderfully through my Resistance.
- Launch early. Nothing is ever ready. Ever. Steve Chandler and Rich Litvin say, in their awesome book, The Prosperous Coach: 'Don't wait for 100% readiness. It will never come. When you are 80% ready, go for it.' But 80% is too much. Launch as soon as you can. You can tweak your website tomorrow if you see a problem, or add another page next week, but get it online today. You can tweak your invitation email next time you send it, but send it to someone today. You can coach your next client after you've been on that training course, but you can make a difference to this client right now. And if you aren't, you're not just damaging yourself and your business, you're not helping everyone you could be helping. You can do it. And once you take those steps, maybe the website doesn't need proof reading a fourteenth time, and maybe the email doesn't need to be perfected again, and maybe you will change the life of this person, right here, right now.
Go on. Start. Go out there. Take some steps. Change some lives.
First published, and adapted for the good coach, on Linkedin.
To connect with Robbie Swale
I am a career and leadership coach. I work with clients to help them to find their path and be extraordinary as they walk it. I have led a varied career in the private, public and charity sectors, including five years of working in arts and culture, as a venue manager and then subsequently in training, career and leadership development. Alongside my coaching work - for my coaching business and for other organisations like Coachingpartner and the Coaching School - I write a regular blog on LinkedIn and occasional longer posts.
The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield
The Icarus Deception: How High Will You Fly? by Seth Godin
The Prosperous Coach: Increase Income and Impact for You and Your Clients by Steve Chandler and Rich Litvin