The War of Art is one of the greatest self-help books of all-time. In it, Steven Pressfield characterizes the force within us that doesn’t want to get things done, the force that holds us back from reaching our potential, and gives it a name: Resistance. In Part One, Pressfield makes it his mission to explain just how deadly Resistance can be. Part Two elaborates on how we can defeat it. Part Three attempts to motivate us but gets far too spiritual and religious for my tastes. Nonetheless, despite my distaste for the final third of it, The War of Art’s first two parts contain so much motivational precision that it still ranks among the all-time great self-help books in my eyes.
Note: page citations are from the digital copy of the book.
“Most have two lives. The life we live and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.” (16)
The enemy is a very good teacher.
-The Dalai Lama
Any act that delays immediate gratification in favour of long-term prosperity will elicit Resistance.
Resistance does not come from outside factors, it is generated and perpetrated from within.
“Resistance will tell you anything to keep you from doing your work. It will perjure, fabricate, falsify; seduce, bully, cajole. Resistance is protean. It will assume any form, it that’s what it takes to deceive you. It will reason with you like a lawyer or jam a nine-millimeter in your face like a stickup man. Resistance has no conscience. It will pledge anything to get a deal, then double-cross you as soon as your back is turned. If you take Resistance at its word, you deserve everything you get. Resistance is always lying and always full of shit.” (26)
The more important an action is to our personal progression and evolution, the more Resistance it will elicit. This is not entirely bad – we can use Resistance as a compass towards what truly matters.
Resistance obstructs movement only from a lower sphere to a higher sphere. So if you’re working with the Mother Teresa Foundation but you decide you want to become a telemarketer, Resistance will be nowhere to be found.
Resistance is most powerful at the finish line. The danger is greatest once we approach the end. Knowing that we’re about to beat it, Resistance hits the panic button and hits us with everything it has a desperate last effort.
When you start to overcome resistance, it will recruit allies – other people’s Resistances. These other people will try to sabotage you because your success becomes a reproach to them. (m3taphysics: They have no interest in being inspired because that would force them to face reality, which means facing their own shortcomings.)
“The best and only thing that one artist can do for another is to serve as an example and an inspiration.” (37)
Resistance distracts us with cheap, easy fixes like sex (sometimes manifesting as a preoccupation with sex). The barometer is how hollow you feel afterwards; the more empty you feel, the more likely it is that your real motivation was Resistance rather than love or even lust.
“Creating soap opera drama in our lives is a symptom of Resistance.” (42)
“Sometimes entire families participate unconsciously in a culture of self-dramatization. The kids fuel the tanks, the grown-ups arm the phasers. It’s more fun than a movie. And it works: Nobody gets a damn thing done.”
“Sometimes, if we’re not conscious of our Resistance, we’ll pick as a mate someone who has or is successfully overcoming Resistance.” (46)
“If it meant nothing to us, there’d be no Resistance.” (57)
“Grandiose fantasies are a symptom of Resistance. They’re the sign of an amateur. The professional has learned that success, like happiness, comes a by-product of work. The professional concentrates on the work and allows rewards to come or not come, whatever they like.” (60)
“Any support we get from persons of flesh and blood is like Monopoly money; it’s not legal tender in that sphere where we have to do our work. In fact, the more energy we spend stoking up on support from colleagues and loved ones, the weaker we become and the less capable of handling our business.” (68)
“Seeking support from friends and family is like having people gathered around your deathbed.”
“(When you have a powerful, inspiring dream or you experience any sort of motivational epiphany), don’t talk about it. Don’t dilute its power. The dream is for you. It’s between you and your muse. Shut up and use it.” (69)
Resistance’s greatest weapon is rationalization.
“But rationalization has its own sidekick. It’s the part of us that actually believes what rationalization is telling us.” (71)
It’s one thing to lie to ourselves. It’s another thing to believe it.
However, if Resistance couldn’t be beaten, there would be no great symphonies, no great plays such as Romeo and Juliet, and no great works of architecture like the Golden Gate Bridge.