What’s stopping you from fulfilling your dreams? Is it time, family, motivation, fear, or one of several distractions you face on a regular basis? In The War of Art, Steven Pressfield says it’s all of these things and places them under one umbrella—resistance. Although the book mostly discusses resistance surrounding creative pursuits, the book speaks to anyone trying to attain personal growth and satisfaction in their life by following their heart’s desire.
Pressfield breaks down the enemy within that holds you back from reaching your potential, how to reframe your pursuits for success, and how to tap into your creative power. Understanding resistance and how to push past it is important not only to honor the genius you were born with, but also to ensure you don’t spiral into a state of dissatisfaction with yourself and life.
Resistance is an internal sensation that is more powerful than any external force in stopping you from achieving your goals. It’s the little voice in your head that says you aren’t good enough, strong enough, or motivated enough to start your creative journey. It is a faceless, formless, and heartless energy with the sole purpose of ensuring you never start the work that will lead to your true nature. Whether you’re an artist, inventor, or scientist, resistance flares up each time you start or think about starting the work you were born to do. If left unchecked, resistance will lead you down a road of psychological instability.
Resistance is activated by fear and gains strength every time you give in to that fear. Resistance takes on many forms: procrastination; a fixation with self-soothing or instantly gratifying behaviors, such as drug and alcohol use or entertainment; or a gravitation toward trouble or drama in your life, since they help distract your mind from the important work. Resistance manipulates you by providing what you need to continue avoiding the work you know you must do.
You only feel resistance when you pursue work or behaviors that will enrich your soul and help you rise to your true calling. The unique talents and desires inherent inside you make up your genius, which is Latin for “inner-guiding spirit.” If something inside of you says you were born to be a writer, an entrepreneur, an advocate for social justice, or the person who will cure cancer, that voice is your genius calling to you. When you hear that call, resistance joins the chorus. Resistance is like a compass needle—it always points due north toward your most important work.
The following are examples of the type of work resistance wishes to thwart:
Resistance targets these pursuits because they mean something to you. They speak to your larger being and purpose in life, so your heart and identity are wrapped up in them. In contrast, resistance doesn’t care about lowly pursuits, such as those explicitly pursued for money or power, because you don’t care about them. Lowly pursuits are ego-driven and embedded in the external world. They do nothing to lift you into a higher plane of existence.
A good rule of thumb—if your heart is not on the line, the work is not the work you were meant to pursue.
An imposter doesn’t think twice about their work. They believe they have everything figured out, and they don’t question whether they are good enough. They also don’t put in the work to master the skills required in their endeavor. They assume the persona of a master and move forward like a bull in a china shop. If this is how you feel about your personal pursuits, you’re headed in the wrong path.
Self-doubt, love, and fear are important indicators that your work encompasses your inner genius. When you question whether you have what it takes to be an artist, you signify your passion for the work. True artists have everything to lose, and your self-doubt is the embodiment of that emotional sensation. When you feel doubt, you know you're getting close to your genius.
Love is the same way. When you love the work you’re doing, you know you’re doing the right work. Loving something with all your heart is terrifying. The risk of losing it makes you feel vulnerable, which is uncomfortable. Resistance will use this to keep you from starting or following through on the work. But you can use this love to bolster you. When you feel love for the work, keep working. That is the only way to overcome resistance.
Fear is tricky because, as stated, fear is what triggers resistance and gives it power. You can use that fear to your advantage, but you must understand what it is you fear. Common fears include loss of freedom, loss of community, loss of stability, and loss of the certainty you feel about your calling. If you fail, you will have to accept that you’re not who you thought you were.
However, the biggest fear is fear of success. Why would anyone fear success? Because if you follow your calling and reach your potential, you will have to do the work to maintain that life. The pressure is on to live up to the success. And you may worry that success will change the comfortable life you are accustomed to.
These fears tell you that what you’re doing or want to do is significant for your life. You can feel the pendulum starting to swing toward your authentic self, and it scares you. That is why fear can be your friend. You will...
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We all have a part of ourselves that is unrealized—a dream or calling that encompasses our true selves. But many of us struggle to live those authentic lives. What stops us is something called resistance. Resistance is the enemy of achievement. Artists who don’t create art, innovators who don’t innovate, and healthy people who live unhealthy lives are all losing their battles with resistance.
Resistance is a toxic force and the cause of many negative psychological issues. When you lose the battle with resistance, you likely experience some form of depression, discontent, and unhappiness as a result.
Like everyone else, you have genius inside you. Genius is Latin for “inner-guiding spirit.” Your spirit is the force that encompasses your truest self. **It is the voice inside that tells...
Resistance is hard to overcome because it is sneaky, clever, and unflappable. But you can alleviate the power of resistance by understanding what it is, which behaviors it attacks, and how it does so.
The following principles regarding resistance will help you understand what it is and where it comes from. When you understand these principles, you can learn to push past resistance.
Principle 1: Resistance has no form.
Principle 2: Resistance is not an external force.
Principle 3: Resistance is cunning.
Fear is a powerful emotion capable of stopping you in your tracks. Now that you know how this fear works, how does that change the way you see its role in your life?
Name one thing you wanted to do that you didn’t out of fear.
You’ve learned about what resistance is and how to recognize it in your life. You’ve also learned the consequences of allowing resistance to guide your behaviors. But there are other ways in which resistance influences you. The following section provides a more comprehensive understanding of how resistance shows up in your life.
As opposed to the behavior symptoms presented in the above section, these symptoms all present as attitudes founded in emotion.
When you criticize others, it’s a good indication that resistance is strong in your life. You may feel envious of people who are living their dreams and attempt to tear them down. This behavior only masks how scared you are to begin your own journey. Resistance is a personal sensation, but it can cause you to harm other people. Be careful of moments when you feel the need to criticize others. Likely, the problem is with you, not them.
If you are working within the power of your true spirit, you have no reason to feel threatened or offended by another’s success. You understand how hard it is to push past resistance and follow your dreams, so you provide encouragement,...
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Your thoughts are excellent guides regarding your relationship with your true calling. What do your emotions say about your calling and the work you put into it?
In what ways are you critical of other people? Can you list one example of a time when you criticized a successful person?
The previous chapters make resistance sound like a scary monster lurking around every corner. You may be feeling overwhelmed and ill-equipped to manage it. But remember, everyone pursuing their calling experiences resistance. If it couldn’t be beaten, there’d be no art, no novels, no vaccines, and no Internet. When the journey to defeating resistance seems impossible, just remind yourself that people have been defeating it since the beginning of time. Here’s how to become one of them.
Artists who fold under the pressure of resistance have one thing in common: they’re amateurs. You might say, “Well, I don’t get paid to make art, so I’m an amateur by definition.” In the world of sports, that distinction is true. In the world of artists, the distinction between amateur and professional falls under different categories.
When you’re an amateur, you dabble in your art. You venture into the foray of art when the mood suits you or to have fun. Art is your hobby or a part-time commitment. You may love to create art, but the love doesn’t come from the depths of your soul. It’s a fair-weather love that fades at the first sign of fear....
You likely have an unrealized dream you don’t know how to achieve. Now that you have an understanding of what is required of you, how does this change your approach to fulfilling that dream?
What is one calling you feel and wish you could pursue? What is stopping you from fulfilling that dream?
Making the shift from amateur to professional artist is not only about having a committed attitude. Professionals encompass several traits that help them maintain their commitment, sanity, and power over resistance. When you’re a professional, you are the following:
Patient—You understand that real work takes time. You know that rushing to finish a project or being overambitious will cause you to flame out. You make time for your muse to inspire you and the stars to align. You know that slow and steady wins the race and that your job is to keep working. The finish line will appear when it’s ready to appear.
Organized—You like for things to be in order. Disorder creates chaos, and you don’t want a chaotic environment to create a chaotic mind. You keep your workspace tidy so your muse can move about freely.
Focused on craft—You know your job is to focus on craft and leave the art to the muse. You don’t wait for inspiration to start working. You study technique and practice your craft so you are ready to perform to the highest standard when inspiration eventually comes. You don’t concern yourself or others with the mysticism behind the art. You keep your head...
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(Shortform note: The author suggests that the muse is the Lord’s helper and bestows God’s work unto you. However, in the foreword, Robert McKee states that his interpretation is that the muse represents biological talent. The concepts of the muse are applicable to your work regardless of which form you choose to give it. Therefore, we’ll discuss the muse as a psychic force without distinction between science and religion.)
If resistance is the force working against you, then the muse is the force working in your favor. Access to your muse is another aspect of what makes working like a professional so important. Something mysterious happens when you come to your art every day. The forces of your artistic power accumulate around you. The muse sees your work and commitment and rewards you with inspiration.
Some refer to professionalism as the “artist’s code” because they know the artist works in service of the art without arrogance. Others call it the “warrior’s way” because, like warriors, you must slay dragons and fight the enemy daily to win the battle for your work. The muse is what enhances your power during the battle and helps you find your way to the gates of your...
The mysterious forces at play in your creative space are not always easy to identify. The information in this chapter can help you become more aware of the powers conspiring in your favor.
Name one time you’ve experienced the sensation of timelessness when working on a project. For instance, you sat down to work then suddenly looked up to realize that three hours had passed without you noticing.
Identity is a vital part of who we are. We all have a need to know where we fit in within society because we want psychological stability. You define yourself based on your connections to others, which inform how you act. There are two main forms of connection in society: those based on hierarchy and those based on territory. Hierarchy defines you based on your position along a certain social ladder. Territory connects you to certain environments or activities. You must understand the difference to learn which truly supports you as an artist.
It’s easy to define yourself based on hierarchy. You’ve been doing it since childhood. As a kid, you found a band of friends, and everyone knew who the leader, the mediators, or the followers were. You knew your place in this group and defined yourself by it. You grew up to be a leader, a mediator, or a follower. Cues from the social and public spheres reinforced this identity with the message that others’ opinions mattered.
The problem is that hierarchy only works in small clusters. High school is a small pond, so rankings abound, and everyone knows where they stand, from quarterback to the head of the math club. But...
Now that you understand the difference between amateurs and professionals, which identity fits you best?
What type of activities fill your soul?
Only you know what your true calling is—what you were born to do. And only you can decide what to do with the genius you’ve been given. You can do the work or not do the work, it’s up to you. But if you choose not to write a novel, paint a mural, cure cancer, or develop the Internet, realize you are hurting yourself and everyone else that may benefit from your gift.
Using your gift to create your art is typically an isolated enterprise, but it is not a selfish one. You’re following through on the life bestowed to you. You are using your unique spirit to create the work you were meant to create. This gift wasn’t given to you by mistake. If you feel it, you’re meant to use it. A muse waits in your divine space to provide you with the many blessings they have to offer. All you have to do is call upon them and be grateful.
You can’t predict...
This book helps you name the enemy that works to hold you back from your dreams. It also provides information to help you succeed. How will this book change your life?
How has reading this book changed how you approach creativity in your life?