Resistance Yourself!

Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.
Steven Pressfield

Coming to terms with the very ‘resistance’ I have been studying and writing about for the last few years: it is all about the same thing.  It is all about me, myself and I. And that’s bad news for my ego.

Chameleon Law

Earlier I have mentioned the 1944 unfinished novel Mount Analogue by René Daumal. It describes the travel of a company of eight, who set sail in the yacht Impossible to search for Mount Analogue, a solid, a geographical place that “cannot not exist.”

The story of Mount Analogue is about making something happen that all people around you say is impossible and ridiculous.  In this novel about the expedition to a mythical mountain that reaches from earth to heaven, Daumal mentions the chameleon law, which he describes as the inner resonance to influences nearest at hand (“la résonance aux plus proches affimations” if you happen to speak French). As the protagonist of this tale is in the vulnerable starting phase of this expedition, he discovers how he is prone to social pressure and how difficult it is to commit to something before knowing how.


Mount Analogue is about inner doubts and how they prevent us from seeing the other 99% of the possibilities that are at hand in each situation. With rational thinking and conventional ‘common sense’ we easily fall prey to the chameleon law. Scratch off the surface of the chameleon and you will find Fear driving its actions.

The chameleon law as it was coined in 1944 by Daumal didn’t go mainstream until Daniel Goleman – more than 50 years later – published Emotional Intelligence.

All of a sudden the reptile brain – also known as the amygdala – went mainstream. The amygdala  plays a key part in our fight-flight responses to unpleasant sights, sensations, or smells. A great part of our basic instincts such as anger and anxiety are emotions activated by the amygdala.

Lizard Brain

But it is only until recently that the functioning of this reptile part of our brain has been translated in terms of organizational change.

In his latest book Linchpin Seth Godin refers to the chameleon law as the voice in the back of our head telling us to back off, be careful, go slow, compromise. He calls it the lizard brain. It is writer’s block and every project that ever shipped late because people couldn’t stay on the same page long enough to get something out the door.

He uncovers the lizard brain as the motor of mediocrity and the main responsible for late launches, middle of the road products and procrastination. It is the force that causes you to fit in instead of standing out.

Redefining Resistance

Godin got the inspiration for the lizard brain from Steven Pressfield – who refers to it as “the resistance”. Hereby Pressfield radically redefines the term resistance by taking it from a general condition that can easily be diagnosed in other people to the identification of a force we all have to struggle with.

In his book The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles
, Pressfield states:

“Resistance seems to come from outside of ourselves. We locate it in our spouses, jobs, bosses, kids.”

But in truth, as he continues:

“Resistance arises from within. It is self-generated and self-perpetuated. Resistance is the enemy within.”

The Moral for Organizational Change

Organizational change projects are mostly about creating a situation that does not yet exist. A situation, a project or any other expedition is “talked into existence”. With every word you speak, a seed is planted that can give birth to a new reality. Karl Weick refers to this as the process of Enactment to denote that certain phenomena (such as this crazy expedition, or your own project for that matter!) are created by being talked about.

Slowly but surely – if you are persistent enough – your ideas translate to words, your words translate to actions and our actions result into tangible outcomes.
Mount Analogue in change cyle

The lizard-type of resistance is the biggest enemy during organizational change efforts, because you are shaping the path for a future that has no gravity in the present.

As you can see from the drawing, the classic way of managing resistance will only get you half way. The last part of the change curve is about fighting the chameleon law from taking over.

Turning Pro

You have to be crazy enough and stubborn enough to endeavor your objectives against all odds of the chameleon law.

It is the very process of setting one foot in front of another and then: keep on climbing. Steven Pressfield calls this turning pro:

“The amateur believes he must first overcome his fear; then he can do his work. The professional knows that fear can never be overcome. He knows there is no such thing as a fearless warrior or a dread-free artist”

An organizational change project is a mountaineering expedition of the inner mind as much as it is about delivering a project according to a certain methodology. It is as much an organizational process (Managing resistance as we know it) as it is an inner struggle for fueling our own commitment to an expedition with an un-rational (i.e. ‘rationally ‘unreachable’) objective (Managing resistance inside yourself).

But the hardest part of the battle is inside our own heads. It’s the ability to pursue a dream.

  • sethgodin

    This is important stuff, well said!

  • Well done putting this together Luc, what you've written here has been so true of my own journey into competency as an Innovation Program Manager and Change Agent at Intel, and now as an independent Corporate Privateer. Thanks, it's nice to see a fellow traveler that get's it about my work and my life.

  • Luc, something that I would like to add on top of what I've mentioned here. The list below was originally penned by Faith Fuqua-Purvis re: what she picked up from a mutual Change Agent colleague, Ron Leeman, in one of our Change Agent forums on LinkedIn.

    1. A clear mind that is not cluttered with unresolved issues, unexamined motives or pre-conceived ideas.
    2. Eyes that can see beyond today.
    3. Ears that can listen to other points of view.
    4. A nose that can sense opportunities and timing.
    5. A mouth that can speak out with honesty and respect.
    6. A heart that can feel others’ pain and respond to it.
    7. A fire in the belly that provides passion and responsibility and makes you want to get up in the morning.
    8. Skillful hands that can do work as well as strategy.
    9. Light feet that can move swiftly when the timing is right.
    10. The soul of a warrior with a deep sense of honor, perseverance and along with a willingness to act decisively.

    Thought that it might be useful for others reading your post, it helped Faith, and I think it was useful for me to think of myself in that fashion as well.

  • Hi Richard,

    That is indeed a pure and powerful list.

    Reading this list is a good reminder of why I am an organizational change practitioner in the first place and why we sometimes put our ass on the line against all odds.

    There is a deeper cause – and likewise in the context of the “other” resistance: a deeper fear to fight against. Please allow me to take your comment one step further and to suggest that the fear we encounter is of a specific kind, as stated by Marianne Williamson in this quote (one of my favorites):

    “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
    It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?
    You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone.
    And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

    Thank you (and Faith) for sharing!


  • Richard/Luc – I was touched to see my Change Agent Anatomy here. It let me know that it had meaning to someone else and provoked their thinking – which as always, is the the intent of my writing.

    I love your follow-on of the quote from Marianne Williamson. I needed to hear that and today was a good day to reflect upon the message therein.

    The direct and reflected light from our global collection truly can shine bright. Here's to shining together and making the world a brighter place.

    For those of you interested in a little bit more background, here is a link to the Change Agent Anatomy article.

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