The War of Art Mini-Course, Part 2
Shawn Coyne: Welcome to Part Two of The War of Art Mini-Course. My name is Shawn Coyne and I am the publisher of The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. In the last episode, Steve and I discussed the concept of Resistance and of how it plagues all creative enterprise. Now let’s explore the idea even further. As the Dalai Lama says,”The enemy is a great teacher.” So this is Episode Two of The War of Art Mini-Course, “Defining the enemy.”
So, Steve, in the last episode we talked about the concept of Resistance just sort of universally, and the question I have for this episode is, “What kind of forms does Resistance actually take in real life?
Steven Pressfield: Let me give you two.
Shawn Coyne: Okay.
Steven Pressfield: We almost always experience Resistance as a voice inside our heads and that voice tells us that we’re worthless, we’re bums, we’re losers, we’re too old, we’re too young, we’re too fat, we’re too skinny. The voice tells us that our idea for our book or whatever it is, is just not worth pursuing. It’s been done a million times before. Thousands of other writers have done it. They’ve all done it better than we will. We’ll never be able to stand out. In other words, it’s a voice in our heads that is undermining our belief in ourselves and our faith in the book, or the movie, or the project, or the dream that we aspire to bring into being. That’s number one.
The second form that Resistance takes —and both of these are absolutely diabolical—is it tempts us with distractions. Remember before I was talking about the keyboard and that repelling force that says let’s go out and party, let’s smoke a joint, you know, let’s get on Twitter, let’s watch TV. I mean for me, in my crazy world, my own voice said, let’s get in our car and get on the road—and I would like drive 3000 miles, you know, just trying to get away. But there are many other, many other distractions. “Let’s get hurt. Let’s hurt ourselves. Let’s get in an accident. Let’s produce . . . ” The bottom line is the distractions are all designed by Resistance to produce incapacity. That’s what Resistance wants. It wants to knock us out of the game. Stop us from doing it, you know, “Lets become alcoholics, drug abusers, wife beaters, whatever” … anything that will stop us from sitting down and doing our work.
Shawn Coyne: Okay. Okay. So those are the forms it takes. What about laws of Resistance? Does it have these certain principles? Can we, can we learn different things to fight Resistance in a better way?
Steven Pressfield: I said before that Resistance is a force of nature. It’s an objective force just like gravity. And as such, you’re right Shawn, it follows certain rules. I’m going to give you three of them right here. These are just laws of Resistance.
The first one is, The more important a project is to the evolution—the healthy evolution of your soul—the more Resistance you will feel to starting. Let’s say it’s a novel that you have in mind. The more important that novel is for you going forward as an evolved human being to realize yourself, the more Resistance you will feel for it. If you’re going to sit down and write a grocery list, you won’t feel any Resistance at all, but if you’re going to sit down and write Moby Dick, you’re going to feel the monumental Resistance. Now, here’s the good news for that. The good news is we can use the level of Resistance that we feel in our heart and in our . . . And you know, as we’re, as our heart is palpitating, when we think of this, of our next book or whatever it is, to tell us what we should do, we just need to ask. Let’s say we have 10 ideas that we’re thinking about. We ask ourselves, “Which one am I most afraid of?” Whatever that is, that’s the one you have to do. So that’s a principle of Resistance that’s absolutely true. The more important an activity is to the evolution of our soul, the more Resistance we will feel to it. Here’s a separate one.
Shawn Coyne: That’s number one.
Steven Pressfield: That’s number one. The second one, principle of Resistance is that Resistance appears at very predictable moments in the course of any project that we’re working on. Let’s say that, let’s say we have a screenplay, a novel, a new business, whatever it is, some giant project that we’re dying to do. Resistance will . . . I’ll just cite a few examples. There are a lot more than these. Resistance will appear first at the absolute outset before we’ve even started. It will be that same voice in our head that I was just describing. That restaurant you want to open? “That’s a terrible idea. Who’s going to come and eat that crappy food? Who said you can cook anyway?” You know? You’re a loser. You’re a bum. Give up that idea. Okay? That’s number one.
Then sometimes we will plunge in to a project. Let’s say it’s a novel and we write like the first 50 pages in just a rush of inspiration. Then Resistance is going to hit us at that point and it’s going to say—it’s sort of like if we were in a ship and we’ve just sailed out of sight of shore and suddenly we get struck with terror, we look back going, “Oh my God, what happened? Where, where’s the land? You know, where are, where are we, why have we started to do this? We should never have done this. It’s a terrible mistake, and so on and so forth.” There are certain predictable points in every project. The famous, you know, “second act blues” with a drama about where they just get stuck in the second act. That’s a predictable Resistance point. Now how can we also at the very end and then after—after we finished this there’s another one—but let me . . . Let me give you an example here of how we can use this in a positive way. If you think about running a marathon, there’s a concept of “hitting the wall.”
Shawn Coyne: Right.
Steven Pressfield: It means . . . What is it? Twenty-two miles or something like that?
Shawn Coyne: Yeah.
Steven Pressfield: Completely predictable, right? Because what happens, I guess, is the body’s glycogen supplies run out at 22 miles for whatever reason and the body has to shift to start burning fat. And so what, what happens if you’re running, you’re in the Boston Marathon or whatever, all of a sudden the bottom drops out of your energy and you just feel like you’re ready to collapse. But again, this is a predictable Resistance point. If we know that in advance, when you hit the wall, you say to yourself, as you feel this terrible pain in your body starts freezing up, you say to yourself, “Oh, I see what’s happening. I’ve just hit the wall. I think that my glycogen reserves are depleted.” And so you can rally from that and keep going. So that’s the same thing with a predictable Resistance points I was talking about. The more we know about Resistance, the better we can combat it, the more we understand its rules and principles.
Shawn Coyne: So every time you get the . . . Every time you get the urge to get in your car and drive to New York, you know, it’s Resistance, right? So you don’t actually get in the car anymore.
Steven Pressfield: That’s exactly it. In fact I have a rule of thumb, which is:
“When in doubt it’s Resistance.”
In other words, if you think, Gee, maybe it’s really a good idea for meet again in my car and drive through New York right now. I mean I get da da da da da, right? And I asked myself, is that Resistance or is that reality? Well, it’s Resistance 99.9%. Here’s the, here’s the third principle of Resistance. If we’re not running too long, which we probably are.
Shawn Coyne: Keep going, keep going.
Steven Pressfield: Resistance always appears second. Now, what do I mean by that? Resistance . . . Let’s imagine a meadow and we suddenly make a sunlit meadow and we suddenly make a tree, a beautiful oak tree appear in the middle of that meadow. The instant that that tree appears, its shadow’s going to appear, too.
The tree is our dream. The shadow is Resistance. But, the shadow never appears unless there’s a tree. So if we are suddenly overwhelmed by fear, self-sabotage, the desire to procrastinate, to distract ourselves, etc., any of the symptoms of Resistance about a project . . . Again, this is the good news. The good news is this project that we’re so terrified of is vitally important to the evolution of our soul and we have to do it. So we’re onto something. In other words, we’ve struck gold and if we feel this huge Resistance to it, it’s a good sign because now all we have to do is confront that project and do the work.
Shawn Coyne: I get it. I get it. Now, I know we’re a little bit long here, but I do want to talk about . . . Like Resistance . . . What I like about the concept of it is that you anthropomorphize this bad negative energy that we all can relate to and so I like to think of Resistance as sort of like a being, a monster. And if you were to take it . . .
Steven Pressfield: I do to.
Shawn Coyne: If you took that tack, what would be sort of the character? What would it be? What would it look like? What would be the characteristics of Resistance if it were an anthropomorphized monster?
Steven Pressfield: Okay. Number one, it’s invisible. We can’t see it. We can’t touch it. We can’t measure it. There’s no way we can put a machine on it and say, “There it is.” But we can feel it. That’s for sure.
Resistance is internal. It’s a voice inside our heads. It’s impulses inside ourselves.
Resistance is insidious. It is highly intelligent, highly creative. It will morph itself into all kinds of forms. It’ll seduce us, it’ll terrify us. It’s diabolical and different ways that it can present itself to us. Another aspect of it, it’s implacable. Resistance is truly not out just to stop us from doing our work. It’s out to kill us. This is, it is. I mean, when you look at people that succumbed to drug abuse, to booze, to domestic violence, to any vice or even crimes that people come up with, you can a lot of times trace it to the fact that they were not facing the dream that they had. They didn’t know … or have the tools to be able to do that. So it’s . . . Resistance is implacable. It is Evil with a capital “E.”
Resistance is also impersonal. It feels like when we hear that voice in our head that says, you’re a loser, you’re a bum, and it’s very specific to us. You know, you’re a Catholic, you’re a Jew, you’re a black guy, or whatever it is. Right? But it’s absolutely impersonal. Again, it’s just like gravity. It doesn’t know who you are. It doesn’t care. It just wants to destroy you. That’s all there is to it. And Resistance is also, as I—this is one of the principles I talked about before—it’s an infallible in the sense that it will always operate according to its principles. So when you feel enormous Resistance to a project, that’s an infallible sign that that project is super important to you.
And the last point I want to make is, I think I said this before, Resistance is universal. So . . . Everybody, everybody has it. When you hear that monster voice inside you, and when you feel paralyzed with fear, when you’re compelled to self-destruct, remember you’re not alone. You know, Einstein experienced it, Tolstoy experienced it, da Vinci experienced it. You’re not a bad person, you’re not a weak person, for experiencing what you feel. We all feel it. I feel it. You feel it, Shawn. Resistance is universal. It’s a law of nature.