In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield discusses resistance. His intent is to name his enemy when it comes to the negative force that prevents him from sitting down to do his creative work. It is pernicious, duplicitous, and dishonest. It speaks awful things, such as telling him he’s not good enough, that the work won’t last, that this writing session isn’t worthwhile anyway. It basically does anything it can do to tell him what he’s working on isn’t worth it, to shut him down for the day, for the week, for the month. Why bother? Resistance is a ridiculously negative force in a creative’s life that the creator must do everything in his power to shut down or shut out or otherwise minimize. Because unfortunately resistance will continuously rear its ugly head again and again unless you weaponize against it.
Resistance will keep you in bed, away from your computer during writing time. It will do its best to keep you out of the gym, during the scheduled exercise hour. Of course, it will suggest and surround you with sugar-laced foods to tempt your resolve and willpower. In fact, that is exactly what resistance is best at: tempting your resolve and willpower in an effort to not get you to do your work, the thing that you feel you were put here on this planet to do. It will try its best to push you away from your discipline, to push you away from the thing you were put on this planet to do, to create. Again, resistance is pernicious.
Resistance loves the status quo, the way things are, especially if things are mediocre. It also loves living in the past, dwelling on failures and times where things did not work out. Resistance harps on these times and tries to remind us of them often, especially when we try something new or take on a large endeavor. This negative force is keen on us when we try a new weight loss and exercise program, or when we attempt to create something new from scratch. Resistance will remind us of the negative aspects of the work, the past failed attempts, and who do you think you are, anyway, to try this new thing?
Resistance is duplicitous because it comes disguised as a friend, seeking to “help” when all it wants is to keep you off your game. This “friend” doesn’t want what’s best for you. This not-so-friendly force wants to keep you mediocre, non-creative, and stuck in the past. It will shy the creative away from any worthwhile and long-lasting work. It doesn’t want what’s best for your creativity and your legacy. It wants what’s best for you years ago, far off in some distant past for resistance’s legacy is living there. The only present is the negative past for resistance, incessant in reminders of lost or wasted time.
We begin to defeat resistance when we wake up and do our work. We have our schedule for creative time and we stick to it. We have our morning discipline and we stick to that, at all costs, no matter what. We arrange travel around our discipline as to not interrupt it unnecessarily. We still wake up and get after it because that is what the discipline requires. As Pressfield reminds us, resistance hates it when we’re disciplined and simply sit down to do our work. By beginning, we’re minimizing resistance’s hold over us. By facing the blank page and starting, we’re mitigating its negative force because we know that the creative ideas flow once we start. Great things grow from there, the humble start.
There is great power in deciding to sit down to do our work, no matter what happens. So many of us are wracked with procrastination and the sea of distraction. It’s a wonder we get any of our work done at all. But the focused artist will either take this sea of distraction and swim right through it or avoid it all together. He won’t allow the distraction to keep him from his true, creative work of the day. He has too much to contribute and pull from the Ether to have it be any other way. What if what he were to create today helped five people through a difficult problem, letting them know that there are others like them facing these same difficulties and that they are not alone?
Resistance doesn’t like our confidence in our abilities. It also doesn’t like it when we remind ourselves of our past successes. We’ve been here before. We’ve already performed well. We have a good track record. We believe in our abilities to figure things out. We know that creativity is a self-evident value: you have it if you think you do. We also know that creativity is an abundant well-spring that never runs out. This, too, fuels our confidence in our creative abilities. We know we can engage it if we simply choose to engage it in a disciplined fashion. If resistance wins in a creative session, we did not sit down to do our work. We were overcome by distraction. Resistance loves distraction. In fact, it specializes in it. However, if we exercise discipline and say, “I am doing this, and I don’t care what happens — I’m sitting down to do my creative work now,” we win the day. We decide to engage creativity through discipline. Nothing could upset or silence resistance more than this. As our daily creative wins stack up, resistance’s voice shrinks further.
Resistance hates it when we live in and focus on the present, because resistance is always trying to make us live in the past. It tries to remind us of those times we failed, of those tried-it-but-didn’t-work-for-me instances. It does this to deflate us, to keep us small, to hold us back. By being present-focused and goal-oriented, we keep the past where it belongs — behind us, barely registering in our minds. It doesn’t like it when we realize that we only have this present moment to present, to create, to contribute, to make our difference. So, we better get after it right now.