Resistance Is Futile, Or, The War Of Art
Stuck in procrastination hell? Feeling the resistance? Read this…
One of the best books I’ve read on how to beat resistance and procrastination is The War Of Art by Steven Pressfield.
He’s a fiction author (he wrote The Legend of Bagger Vance, among many other books)… and he’s also become known as an expert in busting through resistance and improving creativity. He’s done this partly through the books he’s written on the subject, demonstrating beautifully that if you want to be seen as an expert in something, writing a book will help you along.
Anyway, I wanted to recommend this book to you.
It’s an easy read and it’s structured in such a way that you can read it all in one go or dip in and out.
He starts with a list of activities that “most commonly elicit resistance” (I’m paraphrasing here):
- Writing, painting, music, film, dance, or any creative art.
- Launching any entrepreneurial venture for profit or not.
- Any diet or health regimen.
- Any programme of spiritual advancement.
- Any activity with the aim of tighter abdominals.
- Any course designed to overcome an unwholesome habit or addiction.
- Education of every kind.
- Any act of political, moral, or ethical courage including deciding to change for the better some unworthy pattern of thought or behaviour in ourselves.
- Undertaking anything whose aim is to help others.
- Anything that entails a commitment of the heart: get married, have a baby, work through a rocky relationship patch.
- Taking any principled stand in the face of adversity.
Anything, in other words, that’s difficult and important to us. If you’ve ever made a decision to change in some way, you’ll understand. No matter how much you want it, somehow it’s bloody difficult.
It’s easy to say, ‘I want to do this thing’ or ‘become this person’. It’s much more difficult to actually do the things we need to do to get there.
The War Of Art is filled with wisdom and advice from someone who battles resistance every day — and usually wins. His success is a testament to that.
So here are my top takeaways from reading The War Of Art, illustrated beautifully by Rob Middleton of Everyone Loves Cartoons.
Resistance Is Like The Terminator
Pressfield treats resistance as a monster, a thing outside of himself, like the Alien or the Terminator. It has one objective: to prevent us from doing the work that matters to us. It cannot be reasoned with; it is single-minded in its pursuit of sabotage.
I understand that. Sometimes it does feel like I’m fighting the inside of my own head. Like there are two voices in there, one quietly trying to do the right thing — and the other banging pots and pans and screeching like an attention-starved toddler.
Sometimes I manage to create a vast, quiet ocean between us; other times, the toddler (which I call my Inner Dickhead) hops on a jetski (because he’s that kind of wanker) and gets in my face.
If you’ve never thought of your resistance as an outside being before, give it a go. It becomes less like beating yourself up, which is never helpful, and more like fighting the good fight against a common enemy.
Do The Work
As the smart man says, the most important thing about art — any art, including engineer, garden design, computer programming — is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down and trying.
Even if you only write 100 words today, and those 100 words are gibberish — you’re winning. You’re beating your Inner Dickhead because your Inner Dickhead doesn’t want you to write any words at all.
Sit down and try. That’s all you can do.
A Professional Seeks Order
As creative people, it can be tempting to believe we thrive in chaos. That we can’t be constrained, maaaaaaan. That we should be allowed to float free and create when the muse imbues us.
Well, as a creative professional, I call bullshit on that.
I’m at my most creative when I’m in a calm, orderly place at a time scheduled just for this — and so are all the successful non-starving artists I know.
My desk might become messy as the session goes on (all things tend to entropy, after all) but I start with a calm, clear desk and a calm, clear mind. Or I achieve nothing.
That creative faffery is just another face of your Inner Dickhead. It’s just another way to stop you doing the work. If you float around and wait for inspiration to strike, you’ll die of old age before you do anything worthwhile.
Want to write a book or compose a symphony or solve a tricky problem? Carve out time, schedule it in, clear your workspace and your headspace — and do the work.
Decide Who You Are Every Day
Pressfield says, ‘Turning pro is like kicking a drug habit or stopping drinking. It’s a decision to which we must recommit every day.’
This is about who you are, not what you’re doing. I am a writer, and writers write. Every day. Every day, I wake up and remind myself who I am. Then it becomes easier to do what I need to do.
I’m a writer, and writers write, therefore I must write today.
Decide who you want to be, then commit to it — today and every day. Even if writing isn’t your main profession, if you want to write a book you are a writer. That’s part of your identity. Own it.
Don’t Betray Yourself
“Ambition is the most primal and sacred fundament of our being. Not to act upon that ambition is to turn our backs on ourselves and our reason for existence.”
I don’t believe we’re all put on this planet for one thing and one thing only. I think we get a choice, and sometimes we get to do more than one thing.
But I do believe that if we think deeply and do work that matters, we wake up one day and realise what we’re meant to do. What we want to do, more than anything else. I know I did. I know I’m here to help people write books. To help people get their messages out so they can make the world a better place in a small way.
Pressfield’s quote reminds me of one my favourite quotes from Mark Twain, which I have stuck on my office wall: “The two most important days of your life are the day you’re born and the day you find out why.”
Why do you believe you’re here? What work do you need to do? To allow your resistance, your Inner Dickhead, to sabotage you is a tragedy. We only get one life so live it to the full.
The War Of Art is just one of a long line of books we’ve read in my free book club, Bookaholics Anonymous. We meet once a month to talk about the book we’ve just read, and how we’re going to use it to help us grow our lives and our businesses.