Steven Pressfield created a mini-course derived from his book War of Art (available here), where he explores the wrecked landscape of unfulfilled dreams, half-finished novels, and projects that never start – why many of us fail when attempting great things in life — and what we can do about it.
I originally summarized the War of Art for later reference for myself but some of you have asked for my notes, and here they are. These were taken on the fly and presented with only minor editing. None of this is meant to steal Mr. Pressfield’s juju, rather perhaps steer folks to his work. They were originally meant for an audience of one, which was me. If any of his ideas appeal to you, please take a deeper dive into his original material.
With that preamble here we go.
The main subject of the War of Art is the concept of RESISTANCE – how it sabotages us and how we overcome it. Defeating Resistance is the most vital thing to accomplish anything great in life. Failure to defeat Resistance, according to Pressfield, accounts for the vast number of abandoned projects, failed dreams, and shipwrecked artists.
WHAT IS RESISTANCE
Resistance is the power that constantly conspires against creative endeavor. Pressfield views resistance as a force of nature, as universal as gravity. It is ever-present, ever-negative, ever-changing, lethal, devilish and intelligent. It does not discriminate and preys on everyone. It never goes away. And to be successful any creative endeavor must find a method to conquer it or fail. Resistance tries not just to hinder us. It tries to kill us. The battle against it is constant. Every morning the monster must be slayed yet again. And while there is no magic elixir, over time, and after doing it enough, our growing confidence tells us that it is possible to defeat it one more time.
TYPES OF RESISTANCE
The two most insidious forms of Resistance are
- evil voices within us
Both are equally diabolical.
The first involves those internal voices that suggest we are dumb, too slow, unworthy, incapable. That we will probably lose. These voices tell us our dream is trite, not worth pursing, that there is too much competition, or that it’s been done a thousand times before, and what’s worse – done better. These voices undermine faith in ourselves.
The second aspect of Resistance are distractions. These conspire to keep us from sitting down and tackling the task at hand. These temptations are varied and myriad. Television, drugs, alcohol, Internet memes, emails, social media, parties.
Pressfield assures us that the more important a project to the growth of our souls, the more Resistance we feel when starting it, and that we feel this resistance most acutely just before embarking on such a project.
TECHNIQUE TO OVERCOME RESISTANCE
Two words, turn pro.
Pressfield argues that those who succumb to resistance invariably approach their work as amateurs, dilettantes, less than serious — one day committed, the next day less so, and it is only when –- if — a mental shift occurs in which we tell ourselves, “I am not an amateur. I am a professional and will act as such,” that the tide turns. Most people never make this shift.
While Pressfield suggests the solution is as simple as deciding to no longer operate as an amateur, the cost is anything but, often involving loss of hobbies, lovers, friends, and accompanied by emotional and mental turmoil. In exchange, pros find their true power. They find their voice. They find their self-respect. They create great art, establish solid businesses, they change the world.
TRAITS OF A PRO
A pro sits down, gets to work, stays at work. She suits up and shows up every day. Amateurs wiffle-waffle, flake out and are inconsistent.
A pro approaches work seriously, constantly studies, improves. Amateurs go with the flow, operate by the seat of their pants and perhaps think much of what it took Beethoven to compose the “Moonlight Sonata” was inspiration on a moonlit night. The amateurs are consistently wrong.
And therein lies the first trait of the pro: professional habits.
Pros = pro habits. Amateurs = amateur habits.
If you want to write, don’t fret, don’t daydream, don’t wait for inspiration or moonlit nights, shut up and get to your desk to write.
Pressfield says, “Remember, where the body goes, the spirit follows. Once your physical body is standing before the canvas, your heart and mind will follow. If you want to write, plant your backside in front of the typewriter. Don’t get up from the chair, no matter how many brilliant reasons your Resistance churning brain offers you. Sooner or later your fingers will settle onto the keys. Not long after, I promise, the muse will slip invisibly but powerfully into the room. That’s the trick. There’s nothing more to it. It’s not a habit, it’s your life.”
This line of thinking harkens back to Jocko Willink’s notion that discipline equals freedom or to Kendra Kinnison’s idea of “The Daily March” or to Sam Altman’s contention that what separates all successful ventures is focus (The most impactful 10-minute read on success you’ll likely to ever read is over at Sam’s blog titled “How To Be Successful.”
The second pro trait Pressfield discusses is mental toughness, which combined with professional habits wins the day.
So, in turning pro you recognize the only way to do the task at hand is to sit down and do the damned task. As simple as that. And you develop this “get-to-itness” through habit or more specifically professional habits, such as showing up every day. Pressfield writes about choreographer Twyla Tharp as an example of professional habits (See here) where Tharp admonishes all would-be creatives to establish decisive patterns of behavior (habits), especially at the beginning of any endeavor when we are all most in danger of retreating. Tharp’s notion of her daily gym workouts not being the habit but rather the daily cab ride to the gym being the habit, highlights her approach to being at the top of her creative game.
What carries you through, and the strongest ally of professional habits is the development of mental toughness, the internal assertion that adversity is not going to get you. It is the cultivating of a warrior attitude for the war against Resistance.
So habit says, “I show up,” mental toughness says “I keep plugging on.”
I show up to write every day. I keep writing even as the rejections slip pile up.
Resistance constantly thwarts great endeavors and creative work. It is implacable.
Two of its main forms are evil voices within us and distractions.
Resistance affects everyone – it is universal – and if not dealt with will derail any worthwhile project. The greater the project the greater the resistance. It is the source of all unfinished novels and unfulfilled dreams.
The secret of defeating resistance is to turn pro.
The pro is distinguished from everyone else by his habits and mental toughness.
Shutting up, getting to work consistently, and recognizing that you have to slog through it and not quit, are characteristics of all pros and the secret to battling Resistance, which must be conquered time and time again.
Here’s to your fight against Resistance.
Contact: carl At carlkruse DOT org
Main blog site: https://carlkruse.at
Check out my notes on the chat between Pomp and Talyor Lorenz at Talking Internet Culture.