The War of Art
Author: Steven Pressfield
Read in July 2020
Five Sentence Summary
The War of Art is a war against Resistance. Resistance’s purpose is to prevent you from becoming who you are meant to be; to prevent you from living up to your potential. You can beat Resistance by becoming even more resolute and implacable than it is. You turn pro. By living like a pro you allow the connection to a higher plane to open and can manifest what you were meant to do.
Resistance is a destructive force that we feel when we consider doing something difficult hat might be good for us or others.
What really matters is consistency. Not the quality of any individual session, nor it's length but that you sit down every day to do the work.
The beginning is more difficult than the work itself.
"Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us."
"Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard, or smelled. But it can be felt. We experiences it as an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential." It wants to prevent us from doing our work.
Resistance will lie, change form and do anything to keep you from doing your work. You can't reason with it. Don't trust anything it says.
That which we most want will elicit the most resistance. As a result, we can use resistance as a compass. "We can navigate by Resistance, letting it guide us to that calling or action that we must follow before all others. Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul's evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it."
Procrastination is fueled by fear. The more we give into fear, the stronger our urge to procrastinate becomes. By mastering our fear we conquer procrastination.
Resistance only obstructs movement and progress toward our higher selves. It wants us to pursue our lower-goals and tendencies.
Resistance is most powerful at the finish line. We should be prepared for this final assault.
When you begin to rise and live better you'll automatically shine a light on the aspects of the lives of other people that they are not improving. You disturb their conscience. It's often the case that those people, being disturbed by your striving toward a better life, will begin to sabotage and criticize you. Not, to help you improve, but to protect their ego, silence their conscience and justify their ongoing failures to themselves. Be ready to say no and resist. Cut them off if necessary.
Procrastination can become a habit. When it does, we put off our lives today, until we are on our deathbed; until it is too late.
You often distract yourself from your work with something cheap and easy like sex, Netflix, porn or video games. You can tell that you've distract yourself from something important by the "measure of hollowness you feel afterward." The more empty you feel, the more certain you can be that you were indulging into these distractions to avoid your work.
Living a troubling life or living a life where you are constantly troubled by others is a form of avoidance. If you truly want something, you won't tolerate trouble in your life for long.
"The acquisition of a condition lends significance to one's existence. An illness, a cross to bear... A victim act is a form of passive aggression. It seeks to achieve gratification not by honest work or a contribution made out of one’s experience or insight or love, but by the manipulation of others through silent (and not-so-silent) threat. The victim compels others to come to his rescue or to behave as he wishes by holding them hostage to the prospect of his own further illness/meltdown/mental dissolution, or simply by threatening to make their lives so miserable that they do what he wants. Casting yourself as a victim is the antithesis of doing your work. Don't do it. If you're doing it, stop."
Don't be a copycat of your partners glowing life. Face your failures to pursue your unlived life and shine in your own light.
Feeling resistance to something often means that it's important to us. Thus, resistance can be used like a compass toward a better life.
Resistance is a self-generated, internal enemy that can't be seen, touched, heard or smelled. But it can be felt.
We often tell us whatever is necessary to keep ourselves from doing our work. Thus, it's helpful to develop a certain skepticism to the reasons, justifications and rationalizations we tell ourselves. They might be excuses.
Most people feel unhappy because they don't work on what's really meaningful to them. They're bored, restless and dissatisfied - they might even hate life. To alleviate this unhappiness they often turn to drugs, video games or binge eating. They might even become aggressive, depressive or dysfunctional.
Consumer culture is acutely aware of the widespread unhappiness of modern people. It tries to exploit their unhappiness by selling them products, drugs and distraction. But what consumer culture overs won't cure your restlessness or unhappiness. It will only perpetuate it.
For millions of years we have evolved to live as members of as a tribe, not as free individuals. Evolutionary, we are not prepared for a life with as much freedom and assaults on our time (distractions, addictions, responsibility for our choices) as we currently have in our modern society. We may not be ready for this amount of freedom. In our modern times we are only free to the extend of our own self-mastery. Who doesn't govern herself finds masters to govern over himself.
The artist is in a position to self-examine himself. He is grounded in freedom and not afraid of it. He is hopeful for the future and believes that humankind is advancing, however imperfectly, towards a better world.
The fundamentalist believes that humanity has fallen from a higher state. He believes that the truth has already been revealed. He cannot find his way into the future so he retreats to the past. He seeks to reconstitute purer world of the past. He does this by acting to destroy his enemies. This becomes his campaign. It becomes his god. Dissent from against his god is a crime, apostasy and heresy. When he wins, the world enters a dark place.
The humanist believes that each individual has the potential to advance the world. Thus, he values human life very highly.
"When we see others beginning to live their authentic selves, it drives us crazy if we have not lived out our own."
When you live your life authentically, you will rarely criticize others.
Like Resistance itself, you can use self-doubt as a compass for what you aspire to. Self-doubt reflects what you dream and desire to do. Ultimately, if you pursue what you truly desire you will be scared to death.
Fear, like self-doubt, is an indicator for what we have to do. Resistance is experienced as fear. The more fear we experience, the stronger Resistance is. The more fear we feel the more important what fear elicits is to us and for our growth.
The more you love, the stronger Resistance is. The more important something is to your unmanifested self, the more gratification you will feel when you finally do it.
"The opposite of love isn't hate; it's indifference."
Resistance loves it, when you lose yourself in grandiose fantasies. But, whatever you dream of comes as a by-product of work. Concentrate on your work and allow rewards to come if and whenever they like.
You think you need to be fully healed until you are ready to do your work. You don't. The more energy we expend healing, the less energy we have to do our work. Don't retreat into healing. The part of us that we create from is not the part that needs healing. We begin healing by doing our work.
We rationalize to protect us from feeling shame. But shame can be a catalyst for change and courage. Rationalization can become especially debilitating when we begin believing our rationalizations and excuses.
"Tolstoy had thirteen kids and wrote War and Peace. Lance Armstrong had cancer and won the Tour de France three years and counting."
The Principle of Priority: " (a) you must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and (b) you must do what’s important first."
Work, even if we don't like it, can be training for the following virtues: showing up every day, showing up no matter what, staying on the job all day, committing over the long haul, mastering the technique of your job, not overidentifying with your job.
Too much love can be a bad thing. The more you love something the more fear you feel toward it. If you love something too much it can paralyze you. Detaching from what you love can be an antidote.
Beware of enthusiasm. It can work against you by leading to overly ambitious projects on unrealistic timelines that require unsustainable levels of intensity thus leading to you crashing and potentially a burnout. Patience is the antidote.
Eliminate chaos from your world, to bring order to your mind.
Don't glorify your work. Otherwise it will paralyze you. Instead, demystify it by seeing it as a craft, not an art. Focus on the technique and tasks at hand.
Don't believe that fear needs to be overcome before you can take action. It will never be overcome. Once you get into the action, fear we'll recede and you'll be ok. Act in the face of fear.
Don't use circumstances, adversity or injustices as excuses.
Master the techniques of your craft to be in "possession of the full arsenal of skills when inspiration does come."
Life-long learning is important because there's always more to learn. Infinite levels of revelations exist for everything - your work, your life, your art.
"Evolution has programmed us to feel rejection in our guts. This is how the tribe enforced obedience, by wielding the threat of expulsion. Fear of rejection isn’t just psychological; it’s biological. It’s in our cells. ... Resistance knows this and uses it against us. It uses fear of rejection to paralyze us and prevent us, if not from doing our work, then from exposing it to public evaluation."
"[THE PROFESSIONAL'S] core is bulletproof. Nothing can touch it unless he lets it."
Don't stake your worth on the validation of your work. If you do, you cede your sovereignty to others and your worth to their response to your work. Don't let the actions of others define your reality. Self-validate.
"The professional learns to recognize envy-driven criticism and to take it for what it is: the supreme compliment. The critic hates most that which he would have done himself if he had had the guts.
Critics can plant a toxic seed in your mind that will undermine your work, self-worth and identity. We do not have to listen. If at all, then in a supremely detached state. It can help to think of yourself as a corporation - Me Inc.
"Don't be to proud or afraid to delegate and to reinforce your weaknesses with the strengths of others."
Seemingly ungodly discipline is no mystery. Often, it's a simple decision to commit to a path of action that is then followed through reliably.
When we create we ascend to loftier planes for brief periods of time and return to share the wonder's we've seen. "Eternity ... has opened a portal into time. And we're it."
"Faced with our imminent extinction, Tom Laughlin believes, all assumptions are called into question. What does our life mean? Have we lived it right? Are there vital acts we’ve left unperformed, crucial words unspoken? Is it too late?" Mori
"The instinct that pulls us toward art is the impulse to evolve, to learn, to heighten and elevate our consciousness."
You fear success, because it reveals your potential. Knowing your potential is terrifying because you may live up to it. Doing so might estranged you from your social circle, family and friends or entail more responsibility than you're willing to bear. Safer to avoid success.
Procrastination feeds on fear.
Your job isn't to shape yourself into some popular ideal you imagine you ought to be. It's to find out who you already are and become it.
You achieve psychological security when you know where you stand and when the world makes sense. By default you use your rank within a social or territorial hierarchy to determine where you stand and for the world to make sense.
Society conditions you to define yourselves hierarchically in comparison to and by the opinions of others. While this form of comparison worked in ancient tribes of 20 to 80 people it fails in modern society, because it's too big and nobody cares anymore. This leaves you overwhelmed, confused and lost.
You define yourself hierarchically. Your mental state primarily relies on your rank inside the hierarchy that you compete in. You defend yourself and compete against others to keep or gain status. The higher your rank, the better you feel.
An artist knows that he is not the source of his creations. He only bring them into being. "We were put here on earth to act as agents of the Infinite, to bring into existence that which is not yet, but which will be, through us."
"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."