How Do You Deal With Resistance?

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An important part of my journey towards doing more meaningful work is reading books that inspire and challenge me. I am shooting for a book a month. And I have decided to share my thoughts about the books that have a direct impact on doing work that matters, escaping the corporate treadmill, earning money in your own business, lifestyle businesses, etc.

The process of starting something meaningful and profitable can seem both exciting and daunting at the same time. I often wonder if it’s normal to feel inspired one moment and feel like quitting the next. What is it that causes this huge fluctuation in emotion and the ability to stay focused on the task at hand? I have found the answer in Steven Pressfield’s classic read, ‘The War of Art’.

Someone once said, “The enemy is a very good teacher.” According to Pressfield, the enemy is Resistance. Resistance is felt by everyone and it rears its ugly head most vociferously during activities endeavored in pursuit of a higher calling and during which you are certain to experience challenges, setbacks, and delayed gratification. In other words: anything worth doing! These can include, according to Pressfield: “the pursuit of any creative art, however marginal or unconventional; the launching of any entrepreneurial venture; any program designed to overcome an unwholesome habit or addiction; any activity whose aim is tighter abdominals.”

Pressfield makes his living as a writer, primarily of fiction (his best known work is ‘The Legend of Bagger Vance’), who must sit down at his computer and contend with Resistance every day. He personifies Resistance vividly throughout the book, referring to it as “a bully” and “Santa’s evil twin.” In ‘The War of Art’ he encourages the reader, whatever his or her motives or goals, to look Resistance in the eye and tell it to f*** off.

Key Themes

Everyone experiences Resistance every single day. Be prepared that you, yes you, qualify as “everyone”. Resistance takes many forms, most notably procrastination. It can manifest itself in ways that distract us from doing our most important work including: TV, drugs, shopping, web-surfing, email addiction, gossip, sugar, chronic lateness, compulsive screwing-up, self-created drama, self-medication and/or feeling sorry for yourself (plus many more). Do any of these sound familiar? If so, you are battling with Resistance.

The way to defeat Resistance, according to Pressfield, is to become a Professional. Pressfield writes, “Resistance hates it when we turn pro.” Turning pro doesn’t mean getting included in membership of a professional association or earning a degree; it means doing the work every day. He tells us, “There’s no mystery to turning pro. It’s a decision brought about by an act of will. We make up our mind to view ourselves as pros and we do it. Simple as that.”

If you are looking for a clear course of action, you will be disappointed. Pressfield implores you to do the work, do the work, do the work. Master your craft, endure the inevitable adversity, dedicate your life to your work, arm yourself with patience and commit to the long haul. Do not over-identify with your craft! Resistance loves when you over-identify with your work: it knows you will never complete the work when you are over-invested because you are too afraid to fail. Instead be mission-focused and regard your work with a cool detachment to keep you from freezing up. And, yes: do the work.

At 165 pages, ‘The War of Art’ is a quick read. Pressfield’s style of writing is aggressive, funny, passionate and inspiring. This book will appeal to anyone that reads this blog, especially career-changers, life hackers, aspiring entrepreneurs, experienced entrepreneurs who are in a holding pattern, self-proclaimed creative types and anyone who would benefit from a little kick-in-the-ass inspiration. This is the kind of book you can pick up, flip through to a random page, and find a few choice words to put a bit of fire in your belly. Then get on with it and do the work.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

Resistance is the enemy of creativity

“What does Resistance feel like? First, unhappiness.  We feel like hell. A low-grade misery pervades everything. We’re bored, we’re restless. We can’t get no satisfaction. There’s guilt but we can’t put our finger on the source. We want to go back to bed; we want to get up and party. We feel unloved and unlovable. We’re disgusted. We hate our lives. We hate ourselves.”

“Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it’s the easiest to rationalize.  We don’t tell ourselves, “I’m never going to write my symphony.” Instead we say, “I am going to write my symphony; I’m just going to start tomorrow.”

“Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives. There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the poser to alter our destiny. This second, we can turn the tables on Resistance. This second, we can sit down and do our work.”

Fear and self-doubt are part of the creative process

“Fear doesn’t go away. The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day.”

“If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are. The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”

“Resistance feeds on fear… Fear of failure. Fear of being ridiculous. Fear of throwing away the education, the training, the preparation that those we love have sacrificed so much for, that we ourselves have worked our butts off for.  Fear of launching into the void, of hurtling too far out there; fear of passing some point of no return.”

“The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell, whether he knows it or not. He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation.”

“We fear discovering that we are more than we think we are. More than our parents/children/teachers think we are. We fear that we actually possess the talent that our still, small voice tells us. That we actually have the guts, the perseverance, the capacity. We fear that we truly can steer our ship, plant our flag, reach our Promised Land. We fear this because, if it’s true, then we become estranged from all we know.”

“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.”

If you don’t love it, don’t waste your time.

“We must do our work for its own sake, not for fortune or attention or applause.”

“The professional, though he accepts money, does his work out of love. He has to love it. Otherwise he wouldn’t devote his life to it of his own free will.”

“To labor in the arts for any reason other than love is prostitution.”

“The professional loves her work. She is invested in it wholeheartedly. But she does not forget that the work is not her. Her artistic self contains many works and many performances. Already the next is percolating inside her. The next will be better, and the one after that better still.”

“It’s better to be in the arena, getting stomped by the bull, than to be up in the stands or out in the parking lot.”

“If we were the last person on earth, would we still show up at the studio, the rehearsal hall, the laboratory?”

“The professional loves her work.  She is invested in it wholeheartedly.  But she does not forget that the work is not her.  Her artistic self contains many works and many performances.  Already the next is percolating inside her.  The next will be better, and the one after that better still.”

Just because its art doesn’t mean that it will be easy.

“The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.”

“This is the other secret that real artists know and wannabe writers don’t. When we sit down each day and do our work, power concentrates around us. The Muse takes note of our dedication. She approves. We have earned favor in her sight. When we sit down and work, we become like a magnetized rod that attracts iron filings. Ideas come. Insight accrete.”

“The professional dedicates himself to mastering technique not because he believes technique is a substitute for inspiration but because he wants to be in possession of the full arsenal of skills when inspiration does come.  The professional is sly.  He knows that by toiling beside the front door of technique, he leaves room for genius to enter by the back.”

Success is becoming what you already are

“The professional has learned that success, like happiness, comes as a by-product of work. The professional concentrates on the work and allows rewards to come or not come, whatever they like.”

“Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it.”

“That’s why an artist must be a warrior and, like all warriors, artists over time acquire modesty and humility. They may, some of them, conduct themselves flamboyantly in public. But alone with the work they are chaste and humble. They know they are not the source of the creations they bring into being. They only facilitate. They carry. They are the willing and skilled instruments of the gods and goddesses they serve.”

“Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.”

What do you think about ‘The War of Art’?

  • Do you think Steven Pressfield is right when he says that what holds us back is not our level of talent, but our ability to overcome our own fears and self-doubt?
  • Do you agree that when it comes to becoming successful, we are often our own worst enemy?
  • What types of “Resistance” do you find yourself dealing with on a daily basis? How do you overcome it?

Share a thought or two about your creative journey! 

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