When we set out to pursue a creative passion, our own self-doubt and fears thwart us, most often. Steven Pressfield’s The War Of Art addresses these self-limiting creative battles and examines the negative forces of resistance that keep us from realizing our dreams and full potential.
In the context of our abilities to realise our full potential and fulfill dreams, resistance is the negative force that opposes creativity. It is that feeling of inhibition that prevents one from achieving success in the pursuit of their goals.
Resistance accompanies anything that is a deviation from one habitual routine. It is a negative, opposing force against anything new. For example, if a person wishes to start a new venture, the voice of resistance will tell him that the new venture is a risk and that he is safe in their current job. Resistance makes one procrastinate when one wishes to start a new diet and refrain from junk food.
Feeling resistance is normal. It affects everyone and is impersonal and universal in nature. Additionally, resistance doesn’t discriminate between interests, for example, a person will naturally feel resistance whether they want to start a new venture, go on a diet, or even help in charity. Resistance, in fact, also affects experienced people and isn’t a personal target.
For example, Henry Fonda the actor, even at a later age, would feel like throwing up before a theatre performance. His fear and resistance was present even when he was an accomplished actor.
Resistance manifests in a number of ways including procrastination, fear of failure, or self-doubt. Everyone can overcome resistance. Commitment to one’s craft, refocusing on one’s dreams and acceptance of the presence of resistance are ways one can overcome resistance. Additionally, challenging it is necessary and is a natural part of one’s journey.
Using Resistance To One’s Advantage
The one greatest passion that is soul-satisfying that everyone experiences are called ‘one’s calling’.
Everyone leads two different lives – their ‘lived’ lives, and their ‘unlived’ lives. While the ‘lived’ lives are the ones that people live day-in and day-out, their ‘unlived’ lives consist of unrealized, unfulfilled dreams.
What thus, makes a person wait to follow their unfulfilled dreams?
Resistance is the main culprit here. All the feelings of self-doubt, procrastination, etc. that prevent one from fulfilling dreams and desires are a product of resistance. For example, one’s unfulfilled dream in life of becoming a novelist could be thwarted by fear of failing to meet expectations of self and of reader, or of rejection from publishers. Such fears may even stop a person from writing at all.
However, one should keep in mind that fear isn’t bad. It shows how passionately one feels about their dream, and can be an indicator of the fact that the dream is worth pursuing. Resistance should be used to one’s advantage. As mentioned above, even those who are accomplished in their professional fields feel fear and thus resistance.
The host of Inside the Actor’s Studio often askes Hollywood actors that appear as guests as to why they choose certain roles. Many have answered that they choose the roles that they are afraid to do. their fear thus shows passion and acknowledges the fact that those roles are worth pursuing.
Similarly, everyone can use fear and resistance to motivate themselves and to orient themselves towards fulfilling dreams that they are passionate about.
Fighting Resistance – Be A Professional
Pursuing a dream is like doing a full-time job. Working on a dream for a few spaced-out hours doesn’t work. One has to be creative while deciding how to utilize their time while planning and pursuing their dream.
For example, Quentin Tarantino used to direct small projects in his free time during his regular job at a small video rental store. He never attended film school. Once, one of his projects got destroyed in a fire. Rather than thinking he failed, he considered that project as a learning experience, even though he couldn’t finish the film.
Such dedication amounts to professionalism. Not giving up despite a setback proves commitment to craft.
Another way to fight resistance is to transfer skills from one’s regular job to one’s dream, even if there are stark differences between the two. For example, the skills of self-discipline that one hone during a regular job can be applied to one’s dream too. For example, a person can work for a set amount of time daily on their dream, or keep working even when there are distractions and do the best to avoid them. A dream is after all a passion. And its pursuit amounts to pleasure and fulfillment. Therefore, when one can push oneself to work full-time for a day job that isn’t fun, powering oneself to work on dreams shouldn’t be as difficult.
Somerset Maugham, the writer, when asked if he followed a schedule, replied that he only writes when inspiration strikes and that fortunately, it strikes every morning at nine. Therefore, it is proof that professionals, rather than waiting for inspiration to strive to realize their dreams, work hard to achieve them.
Fighting Resistance – Knowing Oneself And The Craft
Feeling self-doubt and fear is normal. Thus, one must learn to fight them in order to eliminate them. And in order to eliminate these negative feelings, it is essential to know oneself and to know one’s calling.
Furthermore, one has to learn what their limitations are. Without knowing limitations, one tends to expect too much from oneself, often expect that one can do everything by oneself. This is when a person fails to seek help from others, especially when they need it. One should surround oneself with other like-minded professionals who will be able to help.
Famous director, Terry Gilliam, works on solo projects, as well as collaborates with others as a member of Monty Python. He once advised Tarantino (an upcoming filmmaker then) that being a good director means knowing when to delegate rather than doing everything on one’s own. It means knowing that others – actors, directors of photography, producers, etc. – are talented enough to be trusted with work. A great director knows limits and also knows that these areas of limitations can be eliminated with the contributions of others.
Additionally, a professional never shies away from seeking guidance and help. Recognizing the need for, and accepting guidance can help one develop one’s craft. This is the reason why Tiger Woods, even at the peak of his professional career, still had a trainer.
Finally, one has to keep the process of learning one’s craft ongoing even when one reach the heights of their career. True professionals master the process of learning constantly. Madonna, for instance, has had a successful career in pop music for decades because, despite her success, she has kept reinventing herself and constantly learning to ensure that her music, songs, or performances are never predictable and boring.
Organization, Patience, And Facing Adversity
Resistance in many ways remains a constant. In fact, at times, it can even increase as one tries to fight it. For example, a person who wishes to be a novelist has successfully managed to develop self-discipline in writing daily. Yet the feelings of resistance don’t go or diminish.
Thus for the novelist, the trick to weaken resistance would mean to be organized, patient, and persistent. John Updike the author embodied this concept in his writing process. He would write daily, while pacing his writing evenly through the process, without setting unrealistic goals.
Therefore, as Updike did, one must be able to have patience and focus on the process rather than the end result or try to achieve it quickly. Such focus will help weaken resistance and patience will deliver good results.
One must also accept the fact that one could have to face some adversity on the path of realizing one’s dream. Challenges, thus, should be perceived as steps that need to be overcome in order to reach goals.
At the start of her career, very few believed that a black woman, Oprah Winfrey, could successfully host a talk show and gain a following. When the show started, it was a white-male-dominated field, and delving into the personal lives of guests was uncommon. She, however, remained dedicated to her dream and vision and ended up creating the most-watched morning talk show in America, within a few months. She also helped bring issues such as bullying and obesity into the limelight, which were not openly discussed issues.
Oprah used the criticisms that she faced into motivation to keep persevering and work harder.
Counteracting Resistance – Positive Mental Forces
Fortunately, along with the negative resistance, one also has certain positive forces that help one achieve dreams. A muse is one form of positive force. Homer’s The Odyssey discusses nine muses that are goddesses that inspire creativity within artists.
These muses present dedicated artists with creative ideas and help them fight resistance. Homer himself called upon these muses to guide him to tell Odysseus’ struggle.
Thus, one has to be able to invoke their muses to help counteract resistance. Dedication and hard work are the only ways to achieve it. Another positive force is described by Plato as the ‘madness’ that grips a craftsman or an artist to create. Such forces are outside one’s control and yet help in defeating resistance. This ‘madness’ is one’s super-charged creativity that shakes an artist loose from the hold of daily routine, makes one get possessed by the object of one’s creation, and helps counteract resistance.
Counteracting Resistance – The Battle Against Hierarchy
Hierarchy is deeply woven into the social structure, whether it is in school, Hollywood, or workplace, etc. Hierarchy is always opposed to change and dictates a fixed position for those within it. Hierarchies define people and people define themselves within the hierarchies in their lives. Thus, hierarchies are also restrictive.
For example, organizations restricting creative freedoms to employees often see these employees struggling to find meaning or enjoyment in their work.
Hierarchy forces people to stick within roles and censor actions. Hierarchies also force people to place success within their set rules. People who conform to hierarchies often view others within the hierarchy as means to achieving goals, rather than as individuals.
Professionals do not conform to or get defined by hierarchies. Contrarily, they battle it and stay true to their creativity and craft. Such individuals work for the love of their craft and not for others.
For example, Steve Jobs, who was a thorough professional, a perfectionist, and a staunch believer of his vision, insisted on making the decisions about everything, right from the design of his products, to how customers would interact with them. Apple was thus born out of his dedication to his vision.
Professionals thus should work to please themselves and aim to be proud of their own work. Only then will they excel at it.
Commitment To A Territory
All true professionals have their own territories to work. Arnold Schwarzenegger, former Mr. Universe, actor, bodybuilder, and politician, has his gym as his territory.
A territory is where a professional feels sustenance, satisfaction, and challenge as he/she works. Schwarzenegger would feel extremely satisfied and accomplished after his gym routine. Additionally, it is the space and place to which one lays their claim through hard work, as Schwarzenegger claimed his gym as his territory for hard work. It is an endless resource for professionals, wherein only the amount of effort one puts in defines the limit of how much one’s territory gives back.
Woody Allen, unlike Schwarzenegger, claimed the realm of film as his territory. His movies and his creative input defined his territory and his territory defined his ability to create, work hard and expand.
Professionals who define their territory thus, also have the ability to change the larger field they work in. For example, Steve Jobs and BillGates, who made computing their territory in the early days of computers, were able to change the world.
Negative forces like resistance to pursuing dreams are present in everyone’s life. Overcoming forces of resistance such as self-doubt and fear is essential to be able to achieve goals and successfully realize dreams. One can overthrow resistance by learning to use it as an advantage, by learning first to be a professional, to know one’s own abilities and the craft they wish to pursue, and countering resistance by using positive mental forces.
Finally, it is imperative that one realizes and accepts that resistance is a natural process and that one has to face it. Being organized and having patience will help fight resistance and succeed in achieving personal goals.