I took an evening last saturday, after some yard work, to read through Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. It was a practice in and of itself, of giving myself the time to really sit and enjoy the book, sitting on my lawn, a great view of Seattle and the mountains and the sun.
The book hit me like a ton of bricks. So be warned, kind of like the high school student who reads Gibran’s The Prophet for the first time (or, I think nowadays, it’s Coelho’s The Alchemist), if you get into a conversation with me, I may end up suddenly going off on these weird tangents about angels and muses and fighting the Resistance (yup, capital R) and how lucky I am to be a former grunt who learned to be miserable.
But I will try to limit it to some extent. Especially since I’ve yet to read the follow-up volume, Turning Pro. No promises, though, once that happens.
The idea of the Resistance, simply put, is the big bundle of habits, excuses, and methods that we use to keep ourselves from actually doing That Thing that each of us is really capable of doing. As Steven puts it, there are several activities that “most commonly elicit Resistance.” These include:
- the pursuit of any creative art (writing, dance, music, etc)
- starting a business
- diet or exercise
- spiritual practice
- “Any activity whose aim is tighter abdominals”
The deadly part about Pressfield’s idea of “the Resistance” is that it is somewhat circular. Like the concept of “privilege”, if you deny it, the answer is “Oh, well, that’s just part of the resistance talking.” Unfortunately, while you can walk away from someone who pulls “privilege” into arguments, the “Resistance” idea lodged in my brain so thoroughly that I found myself resisting finishing the War of Art because it was keeping me from writing/podcasting/sculpting a scale model of Notre Dame out of recycled coffee filters.
But wait, reading about How to Find Your Higher Purpose is also a good thing, so sitting and finishing it is also work, right? Or wait, maybe that’s just an excuse not to do the real work, and that makes it part of the Resistance…it’s enough to drive one mad.
Instead, it drove me to do a few little things that resisted the Resistance. I finished the book and sent off email messages to my four daughters, just telling them how much I love them. I finished up and uploaded a podcast for a friend. I recorded another audio message for a loved one, and then set up WriteOrDie for a quick 35 minute 1000+ word contribution to my novel.
Then I figured I’d “earned” a break, so I watched Dr. Who before bed. Because overcoming Resistance can, like any habit, become a bit much. But damn, there was so much productivity in the few hours after reading that book! It is definitely a Resistance-killer on its own. The question is: can you make it last?
Missing the Foot
Moderation in everything, including moderation, as the saying goes*. There’s also Babauta’s oft-repeated caution against trying to do too much at one time. So while that burst of productivity is admirable, it’s not necessarily sustainable.
Instead, I’ve found that there are moments when I win tiny battles against my own Resistance. For example, this blog, which has quietly gotten past its 100th post and survived one hacker attack, is a successful campaign against the Resistance against my own voice having something to say. The resistance against the Haiku Project has been even more mighty, and the Resistance wins more days than it doesn’t. At the same time, every victory I have reveals something.
But it’s a cascading process. For example, I was capturing some video for my day job shortly before writing this entry. Normally I sit and read twitter or my RSS feed when the video is capturing, but I realized that was a bit of resistance…so I pulled out my moleskine, and started writing notes for this entry.
Two lines into the notes I realized that even the process of writing notes was a bit of Resistance, because I had the last line of my recent Haiku already created, and the picture in mind, and I really was wasting time by making an “outline” when I could just compose the verse then and there.
So off to the side, I wrote the last line. And then I wrote the five syllables of the first line, and the seven of the middle, found the picture on my phone that I wanted to use, and BOOM haiku was done. Multiple layers of Resistance cut through.
But I shouldn’t crow the victory, because it really wasn’t that hard. In fact, it’s often astonishing how it takes a huge media juggernaut like Netflix or a million-dollar movie to actually keep me from doing my Work. On the other hand, when I’m in the groove, writing what I want to write, what is actually coming from my authentic self – a couple of thousand words an hour. Seriously, it’s easy to overcome the Resistance.
The more battles I win, through the clearing smoke of my own desires and habits and self-sabotage, the true shape of the Resistance begins to come clear. The real image of the things that are keeping me from the things I want to accomplish, the person I want to be, the Work I want to do.
That image looks remarkably like myself. I suspect, eventually, as I become more accustomed to winning, through exercises such as this blog, the habit of self-sabotage will get harder to maintain. I’ll start missing my foot more often when I try to shoot myself.
That’s my tiny, tiny practice that I’m going to pass on today. Just try and win, a little, against the Resistance. And read Steven Pressfield; he’s got some awesome strategies, regardless of the Work.
*Then again, there’s Heinlein’s response: Everything in excess! To enjoy the flavor of life, take big bites. Moderation is for monks.