Self-Talk and Self-Sabotage
If you’ve read The War of Art, you know that the thematic core of the book is the concept of Resistance. Resistance with a capital R, which the book defines as “an energy field radiating from a work-in-potential. It’s a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.”
Resistance is what keeps an entrepreneur from making the cold calls he knows he has to, to get his business rolling. It’s the force that keeps an aspiring painter away from her studio, or makes a writer back off from the blank page. Resistance stops us from going to the gym, from meditating, from donating our time to a cause we believe in.
That’s what Resistance is. But how do we experience it? What form does it take? How does Resistance manifest itself in our lives?
Resistance comes as a voice in our heads
The voice tells us not to work today and it gives us a reason. Our daughter’s dance recital starts at seven; this headache is killing us; the boss wants us to organize the Penske file.
This is not self-talk, it’s self-sabotage.
The difference between self-talk and self-sabotage
Self-talk is positive. It’s the coach or best friend in our heads. Self-talk sounds like this:
“Okay, that’s enough screwing around … let’s go! Crank ‘er up, buddy.”
Self-talk is our #1 self psyching up our #2. In movie terms, it’s our producer kicking our writer’s butt. On the football field, it’s forty-five bouncing, helmet-banging maniacs gathering in a circle. shouting, “One, two, three … Dominate!”
Self-talk can be Gandhi, it can be Patton; it can be Julia Child. “A slice of blueberry cheesecake tonight if you finish Act Two.” Self-talk is the opposite of self-sabotage.
Self-talk is an act of the will
Self-talk is consciously generated. Its aim is to overcome inertia, to push through Resistance. Self-talk is an act of will. It costs effort. It hurts.
Self-talk is masculine in the sense that it’s the Act of Thrust seeking to generate a response from the fertile Creative Field.
That field is our lazy-ass selves. “Put down that bottle, turn off that TV, get your sorry butt into that studio.” Self-talk is the starter that gets our engine going.
A definition of sabotage
Sabotage comes from the French word “sabot,” which means wooden shoe. When industrialization began stealing jobs from workers in Europe, the factory hands used to take off their sabots and chuck them into the gears of the machinery.
Resistance is when we, as artists and entrepreneurs, throw our own shoes into our own machinery.
My personal rule of thumb
I hear the same voices in my head that you do. We all hear them. The trick to doing our work is to listen to the good voice and tell the bad voice to go to hell.
In my opinion, the bad voice isn’t even us. It fools us. Because we hear it in our heads, we mistake it for our own legitimate thought. But it’s not. That voice isn’t us. It’s Resistance.
Once we make that critical distinction, we cease being amateurs. We become professionals.
When we can hear the voice in our heads that’s trying to distract us, deter us, derail us, and recognize it as Resistance–then it loses its power over us. We can see through it. We’re not going to believe its bullshit.
What do we do? We dismiss it. We refuse to grant it legitimacy.
That doesn’t mean we don’t go to our daughter’s recital. Hey, we’re not robots. But when we go, we resolve to carve out an extra hour sometime tomorrow or the next day and save those sixty minutes for our work.
Now that’s self-talk.
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