What is your big personal – or professional – ambition? What do you dream of doing? Perhaps it’s starting a company, writing a book, coming up with the next big idea or simply creating something from nothing. So what’s holding you back, preventing you from realizing this “unlived life?”
In his first non-fiction work The War of Art, novelist Steven Pressfield (The Legend of Bagger Vance; Gates of Fire; The Warrior Ethos) says it’s most often Resistance with a capital R that blocks the way. To overcome this he says, we need to commit, show up every day, have patience and act in the face of fear.
Pressfield’s 165-page book is a clever and slightly nuanced twist, right down to the title, of Sun Tzu’s classic The Art of War, you know the one that says “know the enemy, know yourself.” Pressfield says he has indeed met the enemy, and somewhat predictably, the enemy is us.
The end result of Resistance, writes Pressfield, is to prevent us from achieving all we are capable of. Resistance wants us to take it easy, to be ordinary, to not take chances, to extinguish the light that burns bright inside all of us. The fight against that, is a “war to the death.”
I like the fact this isn’t some typical Tony Robbins-type self-help book. Pressfield doesn’t spit out standard motivational clichés that you can have it all, do or be anything you want, if you can simply imagine it, follow some magic formula or just work hard enough.
"We are not born with unlimited choices... Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal that we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it."
Rather, he says: "We are not born with unlimited choices... Our job in this lifetime is not to shape ourselves into some ideal that we imagine we ought to be, but to find out who we already are and become it."
Pressfield put together a list, in no particular order he says, of those activities which most commonly elicit Resistance:
The pursuit of any calling in writing, painting, music, film, dance, or any creative art, however marginal or unconventional.
The launching of any entrepreneurial venture or enterprise, for profit or otherwise.
Any diet or health regimen.
Any program of spiritual advancement.
Any activity whose aim is tighter abdominals.
Any course or program designed to overcome an unwholesome habit or addiction.
Education of every kind.
Any act of political, moral or ethical courage, including the decision to change for the better some unworthy pattern of thought or conduct in ourselves.
The undertaking of any enterprise or endeavor whose aim is to help others.
Any act which entails commitment of the heart. The decision to get married, to have a child, to weather a rocky patch in a relationship.
The taking of any principled stand in the face of potential reprisal.
In other words, any act which disdains short-term gratification in favor of long-term growth, health or integrity. Or, expressed another way, any act that derives from our higher nature instead of our lower. Any act of these types will elicit Resistance.
There are two basic tenets of Resistance that Pressfield describes that particularly resonate with me. The first one is that the more something matters to us, the more important it is to us, the more resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.
The more something matters to us, the more important it is to us, the more resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.
The second one is related to the fear that we might actually succeed at this endeavor, so resistance builds as we get progressively closer to the finish line, whatever that may be for each of us.
"At this point, Resistance knows we're about to beat it. It hits the panic button. It marshals one last assault and slams us with everything it's got."
As I work to finish my own 3 Second Selling™ book and work on other ways to boost my business, I often feel that resistance, and find it confusing and confounding.
What invisible forces are working against us and how do we overcome it?
In often simplistic, but still effective fashion, Pressfield identifies the enemy, outlines a battle plan and offers a prescription for how to achieve the greatest success.
One Amazon reviewer of The War of Art says he made a small poster with a quote from the book and placed it prominently above his computer: "There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny.”
"There never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny.”
What do you think of this? Have you read the book perhaps? Does it speak to you?
We know from studies that long-term career satisfaction and happiness requires things such as a sense of autonomy, a feeling we are making a difference, a sense of mastery that we are good at what we do, and connectedness to others.
If that doesn’t describe you in your present circumstance, if you’re not in the place you want to be, feel as if there is something more for life to offer, have big dreams, and think something is holding you back from achieving them, perhaps The War of Art is worth a read.
"Resistance is not out to get you personally. It doesn't know who you are and doesn't care. Resistance is a force of nature. It acts objectively. Though it feels malevolent, Resistance in fact operates with the indifference of rain and transits the heavens by the same laws as the stars. When we marshal our forces to combat Resistance, we must remember this."