The War of Art | Steven Pressfield


Published: 2002

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This is Pressfield’s guide on how to break through the blocks and win your inner creative battles. The core term in this book is “Resistance”, described as an invisible restraining force. Resistance exists within each of us, and often takes its expression in the form of procrastination. If we can master the Resistance, we can overcome the power, otherwise we make it stronger. Most people have two lives: the life we live and the non-lived life we have within us. It is resistance that separates these two from each other.

JUST DO IT. For an aspiring writer, for example, the recommendation is to not bother about how many pages you have written or whether or not the writing is any good. The only thing that matters is to show up, put in the time and manage the time well. Real writers know that writing is not difficult. It is difficult to sit down and write.

GRIND IT OUT. The professional concentrates on doing the job and lets the reward come if it may. They apply the following process and mindset: (1) shows up every day no matter what, (2) is long-term dedicated, (3) has high and real efforts, (4) does not over-identify with the job, (5) masters the technology, (6) has a sense of humor about the job, and (7) gets praise and responsibility in the real world.

THE INNER SCORECARD. The professional respects contributions and feedback. It is important to distance one’s professional consciousness from one’s personal ego. It takes a lot of character to do that because evolution has programmed us to feel rejection. This is how the tribe imposes obedience, through the threat of expulsion – a fear that paralyzes us and prevents us from leaving it to public judgment. The amateur lets negative opinions create cowardice and takes external criticism to heart and lets it triumph over the self-image. Seeing oneself as a victim is the opposite of doing one’s job.

“The ego doesn’t want us to evolve. The ego runs the show right now. It likes things just the way they are. The instinct that pulls us toward art is the impulse to evolve, to learn, to heighten and elevate our consciousness. The ego hates this. Because the more awake we become, the less we need the ego”

PRACTICE + NOTHING. Pressfield refers to the classic book “The Bhagava-gita” which states that we are entitled to our work but not to the fruit of our work. All the warrior can give is his life. When it does not work, you improve the process. When it works, you do it better. The professional therefore learns new techniques and ways of working, not because technology is a substitute for inspiration, but because he has a full arsenal of skills when inspiration comes.

HIERARCHICAL OR TERRITORIAL. Most people define themselves hierarchically, as the school and the materialist culture drive us to define ourselves based on the perception of others. One way to break free from this is to ask yourself what to do if you felt really anxious. Pressfield believes that Arnold Schwarzenegger would go to the gym on a stormy day. He would not care if the gym was empty. He knows that training, all alone, would be enough to get him back in shape. He operates territorially.

WHAT IF YOU WERE THE LAST PERSON ON EARTH. Ask yourself: if I were the last person on earth, would I still do what I do? If Arnold Schwarzenegger was the last man on earth, he would probably go to the gym. Stevie Wonder would still play the piano. The reward comes from the action itself, not from the impression it creates in others.

DON’T COUNT OF FULL SUPPORT. When an author starts writing, she will notice that people around her can get grumpy and accuse the author of “not being the same person anymore”. The best you can do is to set a good example and provide inspiration. You may lose friends. But you also find new friends in places you never thought possible. And they are better and more true friends – in addition, we are truer to them.

AVOID DISTRACTIONS. How much in this world is really just distractions, things we do to forget what we should do. Things we do because we do not dare to tackle a certain issue or start a certain project. Resistance can become so strong that we allow different behaviours and distractions, and even allow the power to become clinical in the form of depression, aggression and dysfunction. Make a list of three things you are afraid of and master these within a year.

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