Steven Pressfield on How to Overcome Resistance
You could live a life far greater than the one you currently live. What keeps you from living it is Resistance.
Resistance is a destructive force. It arises when you reject immediate gratification in favor of doing something good that lasts. Its sole purpose is to prevent you from doing your work. Your work is what’s most important to you. Resistance will tell you whatever is necessary for you to give up and pursue your lower-tendencies instead.
As Steven Pressfield writes in his book The War of Art:
“Resistance cannot be seen, touched, heard, or smelled. But it can be felt.”
It’s a repelling force that radiates from work-in-potential. It feels like a lousy misery pervading everything, unhappiness, boredom, restlessness, or hell.
Now you might ask “why don’t we overcome Resistance?” It’s because Resistance has nefarious allies.
One ally is procrastination which is easy to rationalize. But, if you habitually delay what’s most important to you, one day it will be too late to do it. You’ll die full of regrets. Another ally is distractions. It provides cheap and easy forms of consumption and indulgence that we can use to avoid our work. Examples include Netflix, porn, video games, social media, or binge-eating. We know that we’ve used them to distract ourselves when we feel hollow or empty afterward. Another ally of Resistance are other people. When they become aware that you try to overcome Resistance many will try to sabotage us. Grandios fantasies, an endless search for healing, and the need to be ready before doing your work are all allies of Resistance. The same is true for tolerating trouble, criticizing others, self-dramatization, and victimhood used to avoid your work.
But, Resistance’s greatest ally is rationalization. Rationalization offers seemingly logical, plausible, and rational justifications for why you can’t do your work right now. Once these rationalizations become part of our identity they will be almost impossible to overcome. Of course, they don’t have to. Pressfield writes: “Tolstoy had thirteen kids and wrote War and Peace. Lance Armstrong had cancer and won the Tour de France three years and counting.”
Unalleviated Resistance grows until it becomes unendurable. Then, we try to avoid it by distracting ourselves. But, if it remains unaddressed we can become aggressive and even depressive or dysfunctional.
Modern consumer culture exploits our unhappiness by selling us products, drugs, and distractions. But, they won’t cure our unhappiness. Using them will only perpetuate it. The longer we avoid our work, the more fear and self-doubt we create that keep us from doing it.
Resistance feeds on fear and self-doubt. The less we address them, the stronger Resistance becomes. But, fear and self-doubt can also be our allies. The more fear or self-doubt we feel towards something, the more important it is to us. What we fear most reflects what we dream and desire to do. In this way, we can use fear and self-doubt as a compass towards what we must do.
But, knowing what we must do and doing it are two different things.
Here’s are the good news: we can overcome Resistance.
We overcome Resistance by turning pro.
To understand how you turn pro, we first need to look at the behavior of an amateur.
The amateur is a weekend warrior. He works on what’s urgent, instead of what’s important. He doesn’t show up every day and isn’t committed over the long haul. He uses adversity, injustice, and bad luck to justify his lack of work. He accepts rationalizations and excuses to avoid his work. He glorifies and overidentifies with his work. He doesn’t get paid for his work and avoids judgment from the real world. He doesn’t have a sense of humor about his failures and is unprepared for Resistance.
Contrast this to the behavior of a pro:
A pro works full-time seven days a week on what’s important instead of what’s urgent. He shows up every day no matter what. He is committed over the long haul. He doesn’t accept excuses and doesn’t use adversity, injustice, or bad luck to avoid his work. He keeps going even if he feels miserable. He accepts payment for his labor and doesn’t over-identify with his art. He receives praise or blame in the real world and has a sense of humor about his failures. He is focused on mastering the techniques of his craft and is prepared to face Resistance anew every day.
A pro beats Resistance at its own game. He is even more resolute than Resistance. He is prepared to fight Resistance anew every day because he knows that most obstacles yield to relentless work.
If you want to beat Resistance, here’s what you have to do:
Decide to turn pro. Then, live like a pro.