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The Rhythm of Refraining v Resisting

by Madison Asher

Refraining v. resisting, what's the difference? I like to think of it this way: We refrain from indulging in an immediate gratification for the sake of a future one. We resist immediate discomfort at the expense of a future joy. Or said another way, we refrain from immediate positive to experience future positive and prevent future negative; we resist immediate negative even when we know there’s future positive to be gained. Refraining is a form of discipline while resistance is a form of seduction. Take the example of food or alcohol or technology. We refrain from overeating even as it tastes good right now (a positive), which allows us to avoid the feeling of physical discomfort or shame (negative) the next morning. Refraining from drinking too much or indulging in feel-good drugs now (positive) allows us to avoid the hangover of the next day (negative). We can refrain from touching our phones in every empty moment -- receiving a quick dopamine hit because god forbid we experience a moment of boredom -- to avoid tech addiction. To refrain is to invest in the compounded benefits of a prolonged practice of discipline.

Resistance is the seductive twin of refraining. Resistance to effort now is never going to reap the benefits that we actually desire. We may resist exercise now even as we know it supports our future ability to feel strong or perform better on the field. We resist getting out of bed because it feels so damn good to stay sleeping, even as we know that getting out of bed now will allow us to engage in a more energized and focused day. We may resist the urge to talk to a stranger who we find attractive because it’s more comfortable to remain anonymous now. The scenarios here are to be weathered and endured on behalf of a desire we truly have. That’s how we engage with resistance. The tricky thing is each example of refraining can in fact be a form of resistance and vice versa. We may believe we’re refraining as a form of self-discipline when in fact we’re resisting an important effort. Refraining from staying in bed, for example, may be a form of resisting your body's need for rest. So how do we discern the difference as we make decision after decision in our day to day lives? Well, I don’t have the answer for you, but I can offer you this:

Refrain from the seductive thought that there is some distant future when we will have everything under control and there will be no more uncertainty about our choices. Then notice when you resist even believing that.

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