3 Indirect Strategies to Get Yourself Moving

“I’d like to exercise, but I feel like doing [anything else] instead. Therefore, I need to get amped up (motivated) or suck it up (use willpower) to exercise.”

This is the typical thought when facing resistance to an activity, a direct battle of resistance vs will. You can win this way, but it’s not always the best strategy. We so often engage in direct battles because we fail to see the many other options at our disposal. One of my favorite historical figures is war general Sun Tzu, because he was a master strategist, and all the way back in the BC era, he spoke on the importance and power of indirect attack.

“In all fighting, the direct method may be used for joining battle, but indirect methods will be needed in order to secure victory. In battle, there are not more than two methods of attack – the direct and the indirect; yet these two in combination give rise to an endless series of maneuvers. The direct and the indirect lead on to each other in turn. It is like moving in a circle – you never come to an end. Who can exhaust the possibilities of their combination?”

– Sun Tzu

In war, one of the most effective strategies is flanking the enemy. Instead of attacking them head on, you can attack them from the side or back where they’re less prepared and more vulnerable. There’s only one way to fight resistance directly (and sometimes you’ll win that fight). But if you add indirect strategies to your arsenal, your means of attack (and rate of success) will go up significantly.

While the direct fight of your will against your subconscious preferences is the default and expected battle, you will have greater success by adding indirect techniques. Here are my favorite three.

Indirect Techniques to Overcome Resistance and Incite Action

1. Start With the End in Mind (Remember the Benefits)

Often, when we face resistance, it’s like a massive wall in front of us—we can’t see around it or over it. But on the other side of that wall are the various benefits we will reap if we are to engage in the positive behavior.

Even though I have a very strong and consistent exercise habit now, I still resist it at times because it’s still work. Every time after I exercise, however, I feel great. I have the satisfaction from doing something good for my health and the endorphins from the exercise itself. I find if I start the battle here instead of the point of resistance, it weakens my resistance by changing my focus. By remembering how satisfied I feel when completing this action, I can often walk right around the resistance and into action.

Think of the end result of doing (or not doing) this behavior. Instead of looking at the way you feel right now, look ahead to the way you will feel in an hour or two when you’ve either done or not done the behavior. This indirect approach can shatter even significant resistance because it changes your focal point from the difficulty of the behavior to the reward that you seek.

To compound the effectiveness of this technique, I try to be very mindful after I exercise—I’ll notice my improved mood, that I feel stronger, that I feel proud of my effort. The next time I resist, I can remember that moment. The more you can remember the end reward of good behaviors, the more you’ll be able to benefit from this technique.

2. Break It Down Into Steps

The Mini Habits technique is an indirect strategy. Instead of looking at your task as a giant brick wall of intimidation, you view the tasks’ individual bricks, which aren’t so scary by themselves. You conquer brick by brick, until you’ve conquered the entire wall.

Any task that gives you resistance can be broken down into smaller components. Your ultimate goal is the same (win), but your strategy is to chip away at the goal until you know you can get the direct win. In war, this would be like archers picking off enemies with arrows from afar before the soldiers attack directly.

3. Feign Defeat (The Trojan Horse Strategy)

In the Trojan war, the Greeks pretended to leave Troy. Before they left, however, they gave the Trojans a massive wooden horse as “an offering to Athena, the goddess of war.” The horse, of course, was full of Greek men, who, now inside the city walls, opened up the gates for the rest of the Greek army to invade and conquer the city. They feigned defeat to give themselves an overwhelming edge.

This is a well-known story, but you might be wondering how it applies to overcoming resistance to action. The answer lies in one of the most common sources of resistance—perfectionism. I wrote an entire book about perfectionism, and while many people think of “neat freaks” and “control freaks” as perfectionists, far more common symptoms of perfectionism are laziness, inaction, and fear. Perfect action is impossible, which is why perfectionists prefer not to take action.

If a perfectionist is tired, they know their workout would be terrible, and that’s why they don’t go. And if uninspired, why would they even attempt to create something? If they don’t have much time, reading a few pages surely isn’t even worth considering. This is perfectionist thinking, it’s the enemy of progress and success, and the Trojan Horse Strategy can defeat it.

Everyone has some perfectionistic tendencies. If you find your perfectionism has built up a wall of resistance, the only way to defeat it is to give up. You won’t convince yourself of perfect action, so you have to go the other way, under the wall.

Say, “Fine. I give up. My workout is going to be terrible today, but I’ll go anyway.” Accept the nonideal circumstances and failure to meet your ideal standard, and show up anyway. Then, once you arrive at the gym (or whatever your action is), you can burst out of your Trojan horse and dominate your workout. This is just like what Tzu said, “The direct and the indirect lead on to each other in turn.” The indirect method gets you to the gym, where you can then attack your goal directly.

The problem with perfectionists is their flawed definition of failure. They see less-than-perfect as absolute failure—87% looks like 5% to a perfectionist. But below perfection, we find things like mastery and excellence. 87% every day for years is a recipe for incredible success.

To beat perfectionism, you need to lean into the flawed idea that drives it and take action under that premise.

Yes, brain, circumstances are terrible for action right now. This might be be a complete and total failure, but I’m okay with that. I’m going anyway.

– A Thought That Leads to Action

I’ve used the Trojan Horse Strategy so many times to great success! And sometimes, you know what? The result will be pitiful, and that’s okay, too. I’ve had disappointing workouts, blank-minded writing sessions, and the like. Regardless, the more I show up, the more success I have. 


It can be difficult to weave healthy behaviors into our lives because life rarely makes it easy for us. In addition, our brains can lean towards the less-healthy behaviors for their instant rewards. That makes good decisions a daily battle. But with a combination of direct and indirect techniques like the ones listed here, we can win more battles than we lose, which will ultimately win us the war.

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