Book Jam: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

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Episode 48  Thursday, July 22nd The War of Art

You have a real passion and desire to do something, right? There are things you want out of life, things you want to achieve before you die. So why is it so hard? Why do there seem to be so many roadblocks? And why do you constantly waste time and make excuses? There is an answer to this, and there a force, inside or outside of us that doesn’t want you to succeed. Let’s dig into Steven Pressfield’s book The War of Art, and I’ll tell you 7 things – 3 things I learned, 3 things I’ll change in my life as a result of reading the book, and the 1 most important passage in the book. Let’s do this thing in 5-4-3-2-1

In previous episodes of my show, I’ve talked about the Base. The Base is the lowest form of life. It’s what we would become if we strived for nothing. And it’s the negative that is constantly pulling against us. Gravity. The Normal Negative. In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield calls this force The Resistance. He says, “The Resistance cannot be see, touched, heard, or smelled. But it can be felt. We experience it as a negative 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.

I stray from Pressfield in that I believe that the Resitance CAN be heard – I think we hear it in the little voice in our head telling us that our dreams won’t come true, telling us to put it off because we will feel better about things later, making hundreds of excuses why we shouldn’t do something that is good for us, and excuses why we should do something that’s bad for us. So it’s the detrimental voice in our head keeping us from growth. 

This is one of my favorite books – I read it every year. It reads like a series of proverbs, with each sentence being helpful and thought-provoking. It could have been called The Bible for People Who Want To Get Things Done. 

Three things I learned:

1.     The resistance is fertile and ingenious – it will throw stuff at you that you’ve never seen before – In a good way, once I learned this I could not unlearn it. That voice in my head making excuses to procrastinate – If you do battle with it, it will keep coming up with more and more excuses from any angle – it’s like the Resistance floats around in your brain all day scanning for ideas that it can use as ammunition to keep you from doing your best. If you’re not on guard and committed to your goals, you may not even recognize the resistance until it’s already too late. Stay on guard to listen and look for all of the negative beliefs being created that are in opposition to what you really want. 

2.     “When we sit down day after day and keep grinding, something mysterious starts to happen. A process is set into motion by which, inevitably and infallibly, [something] comes to our aid. Unseen forces enlist in our cause; serendipity reinforces our purpose.” There is a magic to momentum that is bigger than just establishing the habit to work. When you commit to the process of getting things done, and decide that it’s going to happen, and believe in your own effort to keep going – things seem to get smoother for you. You can get to a point where you can easily ignore the resistance. It’s momentum that gives you this power. 

3.     “The artist committing himself to his calling has volunteered for hell, whether he knows it or not. He will be dining for the duration on a diet of isolation, rejection, self-doubt, despair, ridicule, contempt, and humiliation.” When we commit to a process, the resistance is going to come – internal and external adversity are certainly going to be a part of your life, just like it’s part of the lives of everyone who is trying to add something to the world. It is the commitment itself that brings this about. An uncommitted person adding a couple pages a year to their book is not going to get stopped by the resistance, because the resistance doesn’t see that as anything that need stopped. But dedication is the enemy of resistance, so resistance is going to fight. But no matter what, facing this challenge is far better than the regret you will face when you don’t at least attempt to live out your calling. 

Three things I will change in my life as a result of reading this book:

1.     I will set clear goals for myself. Fuzzy, incomplete goals and tasks are just bait for the resistance to come in and attack whatever parts are not clear, and to create confusion that will hold me back. Clarity aids dedication – when I know exactly what I want to do, and the steps I will take to do it, I can commit to the process – and have a light to look at when the resistance tries to make everything dark. 

2.     I will be vigilant of my thoughts, and how they are influencing my actions. I have to realize that I am not a slave to my thoughts, especially if they are brought to me by the resistance. I don’t have to listen and obey every thought that pops into my mind. I will ruthlessly fight off any ideas that confuse or muddy my purpose by telling me to procrastinate, or that I might embarrass myself if I try to achieve it. 

3.     Here’s a great thought exercise I got from this book, and I’ve added it to my nightly reflection: “Of any activity that you do, ask yourself: If I were the last person on earth, would I still do this?” The question doesn’t work for every activity, but it’s a good way to extract your deeper thoughts about each activity that you do, and it adds conviction to your purpose. 

The most important passage in the book: “Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got. “

I highly recommend The War of Art by Steven Pressfield – he makes it clear that it’s not just a book for artists, but anyone trying to achieve anything. In fact, I’ll go on record and tell you that if I do a summary of any book, I’m going to recommend it. I’m not reviewing anything, I’m putting into the spotlight the books that have changed my life. 

What excuses is the resistance coming up with in your life that you’ve been listening to? Write them down and consider how you will deal with each one. Every time an excuse pops up as to why you can’t do something that you really want to do – write that excuse in your journal, label it as “An excuse brought to you by the resistance.” We can continue this conversation in the Ideas and Concepts facebook group, the link is in the show notes. I will be here every Monday and Thursday until I can look at my feet and think they are attractive. 

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