September 22, 2014
Every life is a story, and every story has a hero. In The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, the hero is your genius, a special unique talent that belongs to you alone. But like all good stories, your genius has a rival, someone who seeks to undermine your creativity and highest aspirations. Guess what? You are this rival. You are your own biggest obstacle, your own worst foe.
Resistance isn’t futile
In his book, Pressfield explores the ways we sabotage ourselves, undermining our creativity and our highest purpose through procrastination, rationalization, fear of failure, a lack of humility, a lack of discipline, and other self-inflicted wounds. Pressfield labels this “Resistance,” his all-encompassing term for the “inside” game we play against ourselves when confronted with life’s challenges.
Because we are the source of our own Resistance, we’re also the key to overcoming Resistance and staying focused on our most important work in the world.
“Never forget: This very moment, we can change our lives,” writes Pressfield. “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 table on Resistance. This second, we can sit down and do our work.”
One of the things I admire most in Pressfield’s book is the reminder that it’s within our control to shift our attention from white noise and petty concerns and refocus on our highest purpose in life. Admittedly, it’s not always easy to summon this strength of will. But the power of choice is always there, just waiting to be made, and there’s great reassurance in that.
Resistance and community
In addition to control and purpose, Pressfield identifies the role of social connection in the struggle against Resistance.
“If you find yourself criticizing others,” he says, “you are probably doing it out of Resistance…. Individuals who are realized in their own lives almost never criticize others. If they speak at all, it is to offer encouragement. Watch yourself. Of all of the manifestations of Resistance, most only harm ourselves. Criticism and cruelty harm others as well.”
Although Pressfield discusses Resistance at an individual level, I also believe that Resistance can affect entire groups. For instance, a leader—a CEO, a politician, an educator, a parent, and so on—whose struggle with Resistance leads to poor decision-making and actions can result in widespread cruelty and unnecessary suffering. This is one of the reasons why I’m so interested in developing tools and practices that help leaders stay on purpose and engaged with curiosity and compassion in their work.
If there were only one thing to know about Resistance, it’s this—Resistance does everything in its power to foul you up and keep you from your work.
“It will perjure, fabricate, falsify, seduce, bully, cajole,” according to Pressfiled. “Resistance is protean. It will assume any form if that’s what it takes to deceive you… If you take Resistance at its word, you deserve everything you get. Resistance is always lying and always full of shit.”
Ritual and Routine
To combat this persistent foe, Pressfield urges us to focus on routine, discipline, and avoiding unnecessary drama in one’s life. I often find myself thinking about Pressfield’s advice in protecting my own highest aspirations. Even simple tasks, like folding the laundry and making the bed in the morning, help create a sense of order and place.
His advice has also helped me prioritize daily exercise, which is so critical for my health and well-being. These small actions matter. They contribute to a spirit of discipline and control that helps me manage my energy and focus on my most important goals in life.