Your Resistance and Mine
This is the fourth post in our series called “The Professional Mindset.” Let’s pause here and flash back to what this stuff is all about.
It’s about Resistance.
We adopt the Professional Mindset for one reason only: to combat our own internal self-sabotage.
The professional mindset is a weapon against Resistance, like AA is a weapon against alcoholism.
Don’t laugh. The analogy is exact.
Have you, the writer, ever woken up metaphorically face-down in the gutter at five in the morning with an empty bottle beside you?
Have you ever said to yourself, “I am powerless against this force that is destroying me from inside?”
Have you ever said to yourself, “I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I’m going to turn my life around, starting right here and right now.”
Some people might call that moment “hitting bottom.”
I call it “turning pro.”
I call it switching to the Professional Mindset.
In Twelve Step programs the first action you take is to admit you are beaten. You acknowledge that a certain internally-generated negative force has power over you. It has defeated you over and over in the past, and it’s going to destroy you completely if you can’t get a handle somehow on facing it and containing it.
As writers and artists, we wake up with that negative force every morning.
It never goes away.
It never gets any easier.
We are exactly like recovering alcoholics.
Our booze is Resistance.
It tempts us every day, every hour. It’s seductive, it’s diabolical, it’s indefatigable.
In Twelve Step programs, the individual’s mantra is “One Day at a Time.”
That’s my mantra too.
I don’t go to meetings like individuals in AA or Al-Anon or other Twelve Step programs.
These blog posts are my meetings.
I reinforce myself with them. I screw up my courage by sharing my losses and victories on the page, on the web.
The principles involved are the same.
Acceptance of vulnerability.
Resolve to prevail.
The Professional Mindset, in whatever form you or I adopt it, is the most powerful weapon I’ve ever heard of in the battle against Resistance and self-sabotage.
We spoke last week (the post was titled “You, Inc.”) about thinking of ourselves not as individuals but as enterprises. That’s a mind trick. It’s a head game. But it works, just like Twelve Step programs work.
To think of ourselves as professionals (as opposed to amateurs) eliminates self-judgment and self-condemnation, both of which are weapons that our own Resistance uses against us.
There’s nothing wrong with you if you wake up every morning with that dragon in your head.
Sappho woke up that way.
Dostoevsky woke up that way.
Shakespeare woke up that way.
They all experienced a moment when they said to themselves, “I accept this as my internal reality. From this day forward, I will organize my inner resources not to yield to this negative force but to face it and overcome it.”
Repeat after me:
“My name is ____________ and I have been defeated by Resistance.”
Now we can begin.
Not unlike tossing out the alcohol, just getting it gone, physically out of reach, cleaning out old obligations is a healthy practice. That’s the one I’m doing now. Last week I resigned my seat on a board I’d held for decades because it represented too much resistance. You’re definitely the one who’s opened my eyes to Resistance in its many disguises, Steve. So glad to have you to thank and blame!
It has taken me countless years to understand that humility is actually strength. The wasted years, money, opportunities, and pain this misunderstanding (arrogance) has caused is frightening.
Thank you again.
I have relapsed; emotionally and physically…worked my butt off healing the physically body; because of life’s stuff. I was doing great – then a car hit my golf cart that threw me out of the cart. Hit the ground on the side of my body I was healing. Thankfully no new physical damages to the areas; but need to start all over again to get where I was before the accident. So I have written: My name is Gwen and I have been defeated by Resistance. OK now I can begin to start all over again. Probably no different than a writer needs to do, as well.
How did you know when to send this to my mailbox?
He sent it to mine at the right time too!
yes. well acquainted with resistance; the thief who comes only to steal, kill and destroy
and became quite fond of the idea, the spiritual teaching that
the frequency and intensity of the attack(s)is a direct indicator of how much a threat you are to
resistance; the enemy
so, the greater your potential creative and loving destiny is; the stronger the attacks will be..
but, he came..
he came, so that we can have life! and have it abundantly
It IS a daily battle, and you keep us right in front of the fight, and for that (and so much else) I thank you!
Fabulous – nailed it, once again! Thank you
Wow! Really powerful and heartfelt post. Thank you. It is so energizing and like a strong blast of fresh air to hear your deepest truth. And so helpful.
My name is Bev and I struggle with Resistance. All the time. Just naming it is such a relief.
I struggle with resistance. And it has become the Monster That Lives Under My Bed. It’s paralyzed me to the point where trying to finish my current novel has been nearly impossible. I freeze when I try to write anything on it. Editing it is easy, of course. But new words? Harder to drudge up than my memories as a toddler.
Thank goodness there are people who understand and name it. Thank you, Steven. I first discovered your book, The War of Art, several years ago. I am thinking I need to re-read it. 🙂
Very helpful. However, I think I am going to modify that last line:
“My name is Jack and Resistance has really kicked my ass. Today, I am going to kick back.”
I even resist reading Pressfield blogs on bad days but as I am off the couch again, I took the time and this one spoke to me. AA works because shame and love are the only two transformative human emotions. Maybe I could be ashamed of my months of depression after my months of mania and push trough resistance to professionalism. I have always seen clients during a depression, but writing has been back burner. We’ll see if this works.
Julia Cameron says a similar thing…
“Many of us believe that ‘real artists’ do not experience self-doubt. In truth, artists are people who have learned to live with doubt and do the work anyway.”
Kick Resistance in the nuts today.
A little unknown fact is that AA (as well as other recovery programs) fail at about a 95% rate.
It seems that the 5% that make it have something others don’t. I’m not sure what that something is…
A decision? A special gene? The right mix of geopolitical and sociological luck?
I have been studying screen writing stuff to help with my dialogue and I read about this guy who made it in Hollywood. He was an attorney who woke up at 3am and wrote until 6am. Then spent time with this family, went to his office and worked all day as a lawyer…
After a few years of writing he sold a few scripts and became a full time writer after that.
I cannot imagine this. It would be like saying “I’m going to try to get into the NBA…”
I don’t get it how someone can succeed like this, it’s like they are a different kind of human being than me.
I’m not complaining here, although it might sound that way, just acknowledging that some people have this ability to be superhuman. How do you work all day as a lawyer, have a family, and still write?
I struggle with trying to understand this, believing that I must be like a blind man trying to make the Olympic shooting team.
But, I am dedicated to moving forward with my blindness and deafness and the million other handicaps…
Do the work.
I get it.
Sometimes I feel, however, like I’m being encouraged to run the mile even though I have no legs.
Can I overcome this?
I hope so. I’ve staked my life on it.
I totally get this. I feel like I’m missing that superhuman gene, too, because I can barely work a full-time job, deal with a chronic illness (rheumatoid arthritis) and be a mom, nevermind cramming in time to write. I always think I’m extraordinarily lazy, and perhaps I am after all.
“There’s more than one way to skin a cat!”
Resistance. Such a chameleon. Lately I’ve been watching You Tube videos on attachment trauma and buying several books on Amazon under the same theme…and not writing as much. The proof, as they say, is in the pudding.
“These blog posts are my meetings.”
It makes me feel better to avail myself of your generosity now that I know it helps you, too!
So strange that I received this in my mail box today.
How honest and humble, and determined and strong.
I first realized I had a drinking problem almost a decade ago: I wasn’t drinking a lot by the standards of alcoholics, but I was drinking a lot by the standards of normal people.
I was drinking a 4 drinks a day, pretty much every day, and I knew it was a problem because I kept telling myself I’d just have 1 or 2 and I kept going for a couple more.
I craved it in a way that I never used to (and don’t anymore.)
One of the problems was: I did my best creative writing under the influence of alcohol.
It was more stylish, audacious, and succinct. It put me in better touch with my instincts and impulses. I not only wrote more freely: I wrote faster. I could write 100+won.
Oh, I did some good writing in the morning too, on a different kind of buzz: caffeine from my coffee. But my writing was more formal and…just not as good. And it was slower. 80wpm tops. It was harder to stay out of my own way — I coudn’t outrun my fears so well.
Many years later, I’ve quit several times, from periods from one month to six months, and although I haven’t felt the cravings of addiction since 2010 or so, it still causes me problems on occasion. In part because I’m the way I am: sensitive to the stuff.
But in part, I think, because I tried AA the first time and I just hated it. I’m not saying it’s a bad program. In fact it’s a good program for some people. And it’s certainly good in comparison to holing up along and drinking too much. Or going out and drinking too much. I got something out of going. And it’s possible that I’ll go back.
But I doubt it. I found it very difficult to deal with behind judged by some stranger who didn’t learn the difference between right and wrong until he was in his 40s. Too often, I felt like someone was pushing me to think of myself as a bad person if I drank and a good person if I didn’t. That is just crazy, and that will happen on occasion in AA meetings. Some of those people need a shrink and maybe a good church in addition to meetings.
But the bottom line is: people who work their program diligently are COMMITTED to doing the best they can every day. They’re a lot to be said for that.
I have a script I’m going to try my best to sell in May. I haven’t been working on it.
Fears that it won’t be good enough, won’t sell unless I make it a TV script, that I won’t be allowed to direct it if I sell it, or even co-produce it I sell it, etc etc.
I’ve just lost my writing work ethic somewhere along the line.
It ceased to be fun without alcohol, and I didn’t want it to feel like a boring day job.
Plus, I did go back to film school after my longest stint of sobriety, and I now just see writing as one part of the process. But it’s the most important part until it’s done.
So in the end, all of my fears, legitimate or not, are just excuses.
A couple of days ago, funds dwindling, May deadline approaching rapidly, I promised myself I wasn’t going to drink until my new script was done, and I was going to write it sober, and if it sucks, I’ll work to make it better. Because I can’t improve what I don’t write.
Oh, and I hired a personal trainer, too. I used to think it was silly to hire one — I had a wonderful work ethic when I was on the job or in the gym dating back to my military days, but “use it or lose it” I now look like any other middle-aged civilian man. And that’s ok. Ish.
But I can do a lot better. And I will. At the very least, I am going to try my hardest.
Thank you for writing this column: it’s a good one.
I bought your book “The War of Art” at the advice of Tom Shadyac, btw.
This post has reached the essence, the reality of what is it – thanks for saying, for defining, for dividing!
I am Noemi and I have been defeated by resistance. Every day.
I’ve also met my group here.
I’ve already been following “The War of Art” as a guide . Truly.
These posts, oh my God, how good they are!
Like the bread crumbs of Hansel and Gretel, path finder and sustenance.
I am Al-anon, so you’ve touched my soul and lit the way ahead.
From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
A lamp turned on in my mind, changed her, changed the battle, redefined the strategy, saved lifes.
Hi, my name is Miri and I am being defeated by resistance. This morning I wanted to roll over and go back to bed immersed in self loathing and criticism. Instead I read this blog post. Cheers. To facing resistance together.
“The sword master stepping onto the fighting floor knows he will be facing powerful opponents. Not the physical adversaries whom he will fight (though those indeed serve as stand-ins for the enemy). The real enemy is inside himself.”