“Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives. There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny. This second we can turn the tables on Resistance. This second we can sit down and do our work.” (Steven Pressfield)
Whether or not we recognize it, we all have our unique gifts to share with the world. And when we bury these gifts and don’t use them, we can become despondent, irritable, or depressed. Does this sound familiar?
Maybe you’re a gifted painter, or a natural athlete, or an amazing writer. Perhaps you have a knack for interior design, or you’re blessed with a beautiful singing voice. Or it could be that you’re feeling a strong hunch that it’s time to let go of an addictive behavior, which can often require some significant creativity and self-mastery.
If you feel an energy boost and become absorbed in the moment when you’re engaged in these endeavors, even if some fear is along for the ride, too, this could be a sign that you’re meant to incorporate them into your life on a regular basis or suffer if you don’t.
So, why is it that we so often throw in the towel rather than continue that project that means so much to us?
In his book The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles, Steven Pressfield eloquently, piercingly, and succinctly describes the formidable struggle that all creative souls wage when attempting to pursue their craft. Pressfield divides the book into three sections, with the first section being a definition of the Enemy, which Pressfield terms Resistance.
According to Pressfield, some of Resistance’s prominent qualities include:
Distracting us from our work. This can take the form of that garage that must be cleaned, kitten video that must be watched, or vacation that must be taken. There will always be compelling lures – the key is to see them for what they are and not be swayed from the creative work at hand.
Seeming to come from outside forces (family or “day job” obligations). Yes, your spouse may be getting on your nerves, or your boss is demanding that you work 12-hour days. However, these are not the real problem. Resistance actually originates from within us, and it is between us and Resistance that the war must be waged.
Self-sabotage. Resistance doesn’t have our best interests at heart. This may seem obvious, but let’s call Resistance out on its destructive intentions. Resistance (which Freud termed the “death instinct”) seeks to take us down, to thwart us from following our deeply personal and unique blueprint. As Pressfield states, “To yield to Resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we are and were born to be.”
Universality. We all struggle with Resistance. So, we have plenty of company.
Never going away. The battle to overcome Resistance is a daily and sometimes hourly effort. Per Pressfield, “Henry Fonda was still throwing up before each stage performance, even when he was seventy-five. In other words, 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.”
Becoming strongest when our calling is the most important. Resistance doesn’t show itself when we honestly don’t care about something. “The opposite of love isn’t hate; it’s indifference”, according to Pressfield. If you’re going through the push/pull with a creative project that you cannot seem to let go of, there’s a good chance that this calling is exactly what you’re meant to pursue.
Masquerading as procrastination, addictions, compulsive getting into trouble, creation of unnecessary personal drama, and playing the victim. Anything to distract us from doing the work.
Pressfield continues in section two of the book to illustrate what “turning pro” (combating Resistance) entails, such as:
Showing up for one’s work, even if one is fearful or self-doubting. Simple, but not easy. We naturally want to avoid uncomfortable feelings, but any creative challenge will involve facing and tolerating anxiety. It’s part of the package.
Truly loving one’s calling. Do the work out of love, not with a focus on the potential results, be they riches, fame, or a sense of importance. Stay centered on the moment and on what that moment is asking of you.
Patience. Regardless of those stories you hear about someone writing a hit song or screenplay in a few hours or days, the rule of thumb is that succeeding requires tenacity and a good deal of hard work.
Organization. Get your schedule and your work space in order. Poor time management and visual clutter can be profound obstacles. Give yourself the gift of getting and keeping your ducks in a row, as much as possible.
A focus on mastering technique and the tangible, rather than preoccupation with the “mystery”. It can be tempting to get caught up in musings and philosophical discussions, when one’s energy would be better spent just sitting down and putting in the effort for that day. Spend that hour (or more) writing, practicing the piano, at your easel, or taking that dance class. Don’t worry about the result – focus on the moment and your part. “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”, according to Pressfield.
Accepting no excuses. There will always be a reason not to do your work. Be careful. Waiting until tomorrow can become next week, next year, or never.
Not showing off. The work will eventually speak for itself. Strive for humility.
Recognizing one’s limitations and not being afraid to ask for help. Know what you can and cannot do. Again, have humility.
Being self-validating. Be kind and firm with yourself, rather than looking for others to define the quality of your work. While it’s important to get feedback at times, your primary source of support should be yourself. Leaning on others to support you is akin to a house of cards – it could come tumbling down at any time.
In section three, Pressfield describes how we can stand up to and master Resistance on a daily basis. Through being willing to sit down and put in the time at our craft, we open the door for what Pressfield calls the Muse (or that higher Force for which we are only a channel) to offer inspiration:
“We’re never alone. As soon as we step outside the campfire glow, our Muse lights on our shoulder like a butterfly. The act of courage calls for infallibly that deeper part of ourselves that supports and sustains us.”
Call it what you will – a Muse, Higher Intelligence or Power, God, angel, or ally, it’s essential to believe that not only are there malevolent forces at work (i.e., Resistance) which seek to sabotage you from your creative work and fulfilling your potential, there are even more powerful forces at work on your behalf – if you are willing to turn pro and apply yourself to your art.
Believe that you are not alone. You don’t need to figure out what these benevolent forces are (which could be an exercise in procrastination engineered by Resistance). Just consider that all of the beauty and art in the world came from somewhere – and that this unfathomable Intelligence wants to work through you, too.
You hold victory in your hands at all times. As Pressfield, states, “Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives. There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny. This second we can turn the tables on Resistance. This second we can sit down and do our work.” Let go of yesterday’s foibles, forget about tomorrow. Stay with this moment and refuse to let Resistance get the better of you.
Pursuing our art is the antithesis of selfishness: “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.” (Pressfield) Getting tied up in knots of perfectionism usually leads to procrastination, which often results in paralysis. Don’t fall into that trap. Do your best, whatever that is in the moment.
Surrender to something bigger than you. Consider your creative work as a transcendent. spiritual journey. Pressfield thinks that Our Ego is that part of us that believes we are separate from others, that we are the director of our every action in our daily life. In contract, the Self is all encompassing and includes the Ego as well as our personal unconscious and that Collective Unconscious that mysteriously connects us to others and to all of life. Hunches, gut instincts, dreams, and premonitions all come from the Self, which can also be defined as our Soul or our “deepest being”.
Regard your creative journey as the uncovering of your authentic self. So often we get caught up in what we think we should be, or what we think other people or society think we should be. We can get lost in such ruminations, going round and round, until we forget who we truly are.
Doing our work, whatever we believe that to be, can peel off the false layers, like an onion, as our real self emerges. What more valuable quest could there be?
So, part of our task in tackling (and continuing to tackle) any creative endeavor is to see our work as bigger than us, to do the footwork, and to leave the results to the Powers That Be, however we define them. Our work is an offering to the world.
Stand up to Resistance on a daily basis by showing up and doing the work entailed… you will be amazed at what unfolds.
Reference: Pressfield, S. (2002). The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Creative Battles. New York, NY: Black Irish Entertainment, Inc.