As a psychologist, I took great interest in the question of demand resistance, a fairly common psychological concept that isn’t always identified. In simple terms, it is an unconscious chronic negative response to demands, real or perceived, internal or external. (“I really should clean up this room.” “Why should I clean to please other people?”)

I remember early on in my marriage of 21 years, we had a tiff and I said to my husband, “You’re so stubborn!” He replied that I’d only perceive him as stubborn if I were being just as stubborn. Wow. That really made a lot of sense. We couldn’t be at a tug of war if I wasn’t also pulling on that rope. So whenever I can, I drop the rope and ask myself if there’s another approach I can take.

When you find you’re in a “tug of war” with yourself or others – you’re not reaching your goals or going at the pace that you’d like – my first recommendation would be to stop the resistance and “let go of the rope.”

Pondering how demand resistance leads to your “stuckness” (its sources, the causes), can be intriguing and fascinating, but unfortunately, it won’t help you get “unstuck.” When you’re in quicksand, you don’t have the luxury of taking time and energy to remember how you got there. Acknowledge that many patterns are longstanding, based on habits developed as children (“You’re not the boss of me!”), but also have compassion for yourself and recognize that you’re human and doing the best you can. Then, get out of the quicksand and onto a safe, peaceful shore.

In our private practice of Solution-Focused psychology, we feel it is more helpful to ask “What’s right with you?” instead of, “What’s wrong with you?” I draw a great deal of hope and inspiration from more positive psychology approaches that are present- and future-focused and foster resiliency. Working from the assumption that everyone has natural healing abilities, we help connect you to your strengths and resources, and bypass demand resistance altogether.


1. Recognize that you can change your behaviors before you change your thoughts and feelings. This may seem backward, yet it can work. You don’t need to wait until the moment feels right to get started. Often once you get started, your motivation will kick in and create momentum for additional work.

2. Sit down with a sheet of paper and think of a time in your life you’ve been productive, accomplished some goal or overcome an obstacle. Identify the approach you took to handle this task, asking yourself these questions:

Write down as much as you can about this situation and use this memory as a roadmap for inspiration and guidance.

3. Make a difficult or tedious task more pleasant by enhancing your surroundings. Turn on some lively music, open the blinds to let in sunshine, wear your comfortable clothes, make yourself a big pot of coffee or tea.

4. After accomplishing a small goal, reward yourself with frequent fun breaks (check your e-mail, pet your dog, work on a crossword puzzle, phone a friend, play a video game, have a snack). Make sure you set a specific amount of time for work and breaks so you don’t get off track. For example, de-clutter a space for 25 minutes and then take a 15-minute break. Enjoy those breaks. . . . you’re working hard and deserve that downtime to re-charge!

5. Hire a professional organizer to guide you, keep you on task, and provide you with ongoing support. They often have very good systems and strategies for sorting through your belongings, so take advantage of their expertise.

6. Seek out a therapist to help you get and stay on track. A therapist can help you set reasonable goals, believe in yourself, manage your stress, and overcome setbacks so you can be productive and feel good about yourself.

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