Some recent work with clients and students and several personal experiences have me thinking about the opposing forces of resistance and motivation that we feel when we're on the brink of a meaningful decision. The tension between these forces can result in uncertainly and paralysis--we don't know whether to heed our resistance and hit the brakes or tap into our motivation and step on the gas, so we drift along and let things happen.
When we're stuck this way, it can be helpful to explore the underlying sources of our resistance and motivation and assess their utility: Are these factors useful to us or not? And in this process it's critical to recognize that resistance and motivation both have "shadow sides," unhelpful dimensions that are likely to lead us astray and need to be challenged.
Useful sources of resistance include healthy prudence, trusted intuition, satisfaction with our present situation and a need for rest or calm. Unhelpful sources of resistance include simple lethargy or inertia, a lack of confidence or resilience, and excessive caution or risk-aversion. All these factors tend to slow us down and encourage us to opt out and say no.
Useful sources of motivation include healthy ambition, aspirational goals, a drive to overcome obstacles and a sense of determined "grit." (For more on grit, see research by Penn's Angela Duckworth.) Unhelpful sources of motivation include unchecked drives, unchallenged beliefs that tell us we "must" do something, compulsions and social pressure. All these factors tend to speed us up and encourage us to opt in and say yes.
I'm not suggesting that there's a simple or foolproof way to locate the "utility threshold" and readily distinguish between the helpful and unhelpful forms of resistance and motivation; it's a complex and subjective process. But a good starting point is simply stepping back and reminding ourselves that these forces come in both flavors, and sometimes we need to tap into and unleash our motivation--step on the gas--while at other times we need to respect and heed our resistance--hit the brakes.