"Are you a writer who doesn’t write, a painter who doesn’t paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what Resistance is."
Question for you – Is there something you’ve been meaning to create? Have you been yearning to start a business, write a book, learn to play the violin, develop the next hit app, start an innovative charity organization or push into a new market? You feel you have something significant to contribute or a burning desire to create… but you haven’t done it “yet”.
Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art is a book about that thing that stops you from doing what you are yearning to do; about that force that stops you from achieving something you always wanted. It’s a book about The Resistance.
“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’” (page 21).
What is conspicuously honest about The War of Art (compared to others I have read) is that Pressfield does not mislead us, telling us that the Resistance is an illusion or something that’s easy to overcome. Perhaps the title gives this away, but this is a book about how to fight, how to win over an enemy to our progress.
This book is not a “magic formula” or step-by-step how-to manual, it is instead an insightful friend and ally – one you can turn to again and again when, overcome by Resistance, you waver on your path towards your grand goal.
So what is the Resistance? So glad you asked…
Identifying the Lethal Enemy Within
"Resistance is the most toxic force on the planet. It is the root of more unhappiness than poverty, disease, and erectile dysfunction. To yield to Resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we are and were born to be."
The Resistance kicks in every time you attempt to start on a goal. It manifests in our brains and can take the form of seeking trouble, seeking drama (or melodrama – viewing your life as a soap opera), victimhood, self-doubt, fear or isolation, just to mention a few. Whatever the ingredients of the Resistance in your case, The War of Art helps you identify this invisible, lethal enemy within. So for the first time, you are prepared to stare it in the face – and move through it.
The Resistance is the biggest barrier to our own success, according to author Steven Pressfield, and the following two Insights offer ways to combat it.
"The most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying."
So now that you have identified the enemy (you!), what is holding you back – how can you defeat it?
The author does not offer a magic bullet, a pill or set of exercises, but instead offers (repeated in home-hitting eloquence and in many different ways), the fact that defeating the resistance is an act of will to pursue your goal. Or, turning Pro, as Pressfield calls it.
Who is a “Pro”? Someone who plays for the love of the game, dedicates his life to it and commits full-time; someone who does not wait for inspiration to inspire action, but rather commands inspiration to come, by starting the action.
On the face of it, this may sound hard, but the author offers that we are already “pros” at our current jobs – so we have the traits, but we need to consciously cultivate them and apply them to our higher calling and aspirations.
An example of how to turn Pro is to clear your schedule for 3 hours, sit down and do one thing. No interruptions, no planning, just sit down and start on the task. e.g. Put some brushstrokes on a canvas, write some words of a book (from the middle, beginning or end), make a phone call, write the first part of a business plan… The point is you do not allow yourself to do anything else before you have devoted this time to this task and have truly tried to work on it.
“The professional keeps his eye on the doughnut and not on the hole. He reminds himself 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” (page 90).
Retain Your Identity
"Ah, but when we begin. When we make a start. When we conceive an enterprise and commit to it in the face of our fears, something wonderful happens. A crack appears in the membrane."
In the third part of The War of Art, Pressfield delves into the rewards of unleashing your inspiration; of the “mysterious” forces that come to your aid and the serendipity that reinforces your purpose, once you have turned Pro.
His interpretation of these forces, he calls muses and angels – but you can replace these with your unconscious talent if, like me, you are less mystically-inclined.
The point is, it is sweet on the other side of starting the work. The more you work with dedication on your goals, the easier it becomes to effectively work on them – it may even start feeling effortless, “automatic”.
Clearing your schedule for 3 hours as already mentioned is one starting point. Follow this by writing down how you felt, what you produced, what further steps you can now take based on the work you’ve done already. It is likely you’ll be surprised to find that your creativity is “flowing”, you accomplished a lot more than you expected and that ideas for subsequent actions come to you more readily.
So go back to those saved up ideas, passions and grand goals. Start something. It doesn’t matter so much where it’s going or what it might turn into, just start. No excuses, no procrastination. Don’t let the Resistance win.
This book is very easy and quick to read. Use the book’s powerful insights into why and how you are stopping yourself from getting on with your dreams. After all, as the author correctly points out, if you don’t, you are withholding your greatness from the world.
“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” (page 165).