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Essay: How To Win Creative Battles and Never Procrastinate.

Essay: How To Win Creative Battles and Never Procrastinate.

Insights into becoming a creative warrior and doing battle with fear.
Birmingham Museums Trust

Resistance: The Enemy of Mankind. 

"The more important a call to action is to our soul's evolution, the more Resistance we will feel about answering it. But to yield to Resistance deforms our spirit. It stunts us and makes us less than we are and were born to be."

- Stephen Pressfield

Last week, I spoke about our inner daimon, an inner spiritual guide that can help us grow and develop in life. However, this wasn’t completely honest, as I left out the shadow side to that ability. An inner enemy that wants to stop us from growing and developing and wants to keep us weak and afraid, called: Resistance.

A lot of people have messaged me previously asking about motivation and procrastination and how they can actually sit down to do their creative work? This is the topic of a book called 'The War of Art’ by reformed procrastinating writer, Stephen Pressfield. In this book, he coined the term Resistance. An inner antagonist we all must face to sit down and do something significant. 

Resistance manifests as an inner voice that rationalises, it tells you you aren't good enough, It tells you the work isn’t good enough, it tells you why bother? Resistance tries to divert you from your destiny; Pressfield says Resistance is a con-man whose only goal is to stop you from doing the work and realising your potential. Resistance is the source of procrastination and resistance is nothing other than fear, the fear that prevents you from living a full life. 

An example of how Resistance maims a person in this way is the life of Adolf Hitler. Hitler wanted to be a painter and architect. He applied to art school, but the Resistance standing between him and his goal was too great. He struggled with criticism and was scared to put his dreams on the line. In the end, it was easier for Hitler to start a world war and oppress an entire population than go through the pains of committing to his art. Facing Resistance is no joke. 

As a writer, I face procrastination all the time. I’ve planned entire careers and lives to avoid facing resistance. Pressfield points out people live entire lives designed to avoid facing Resistance, start pointless jobs, and relationships, have endless dramas and seek mindless pleasure-seeking to avoid the task. We are all in danger of living fake and chaotic, disorganised lives to avoid facing Resistance. 

The true path, Pressfield says, involves using Resistance like a compass - resistance points North in the direction of maximal growth and development. Makes sense? Where you least want to go is where you will find what you need. This is the old mythological idea of the dragon's cave and the dragon's gold - under the biggest problems lies the biggest reward. So, in other words, Resistance, where you are procrastinating, is where your heroic life really is. But then, the real question arises, how do you go after it?

Becoming a Warrior.

"Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance."

― Steven Pressfield

For Pressfield, defeating Resistance and procrastination involves a permanent change in attitude. The problem is we are, what Pressfield terms, ‘amateurs' - easily intimidated and scared off the field and fail to fearful rationalizations and the promises and diversions of Resistance. Resistance is a liar and means to divert us from our destiny, and Pressfield says we have to turn 'Pro' to face it. That means the same way you peel yourself off the couch to go to work to put food on the table, is the same you have to approach your creative work. Seth Godin, best-selling author and marketing genius, used to say ‘writer's block can only happen if you're thinking like a writer - plumbers don't get plumbers' block.’ You just have to get the job done. 

Pressfield points out that life is a sport you have to play hurt. Everybody is all hung up on healing these days and finding the perfect moment where you feel completely perfect to start the work, when really really you have to accept that it will never be perfect and just get going. Overcoming Resistance is about bringing your God-given gift into this world and giving birth to that sucker. Instead of letting Resistance push you away, let it call you forward. 

Pressfield compares this ideal attitude facing resistance to the Navy Seals. If you put the Navy Seals in cold water, they'll rub sand in their eyes to make it worse. If you starve them; they dehydrate themselves too. In other words, if it gets tougher, they want it to be even tougher again! This is because they know that the more challenging the conditions, the more they will grow. They cultivate a mindset that enjoys the pain, the suffering, and misery because it is a creating an immovable spirit, a point of pride and honor in the strength of their character. 

In my life, the same has been true in martial arts, the bigger the challenge, the more fear, the more progress. Mostly in life, pain, fear, and discomfort means we should stop and need to go the other direction. But this is a logic of a prey animal, an amateur, to become a Pro and beat Resistance, you need to be able to head into the eye of the storm.

What you learn in martial arts is that making a habit of facing fear and practising courage is the best way to live. It never gets easier but resistance is never tougher than when you quit for awhile. Practise helps you identify what are excuses and rationalisations and ignore them and cultivate an attitude of getting the job done, no matter what. 

When an interviewer asked Elon Musk if he ever thought getting to Mars was too big a job? Elon said he didn't think of it that way. In his mind, human beings had to get to Mars at some point, and failure wasn't an option - the job simply had to be done, and so he was doing it. This has to be your attitude facing Resistance; there simply isn't a plan B, you have to be all in.   

Develop a Growth Mindset.

"Are you paralyzed with fear? That's a good sign. Fear is good. Like self-doubt, fear is an indicator. Fear tells us what we have to do. Remember one rule of thumb: the more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it."

― Steven Pressfield.

This attitude of facing Resistance, and becoming a creative warrior, long developed in martial arts and the military, has recently been confirmed by Neuroscience. 

In her groundbreaking research, psychologist Carol Dweck at Stanford University was investigating why people fail. In one experiment, students were given a series of puzzles, ranging from easy to difficult. To her surprise, some kids liked failure and treated it as a learning experience. One ten-year-old boy even yelled out - "I love a challenge." This attitude epitomizes what Carol went on to coin as a growth mindset. A growth mindset thrives on challenge and sees failure as a springboard for stretching existing abilities. As opposed to a fixed mindset that sees failure as final. The difference between a fixed and growth mindset, in my opinion, is believing or disbelieving resistance - and this is something you can control. 

A growth mindset sounds like a hokey, modern personal development concept. However, what it really represents is an enlivening attitude toward challenges that can make overcoming resistance and procrastination a joy. 

The secret to developing this mindset is by changing your attitude to challenge. That challenging things are good. This makes the challenge more salient you and motivational because motivation is mediated by Dopamine. When you desire the challenge and difficulty, you attach a dopamine reward to doing hard tasks and create a positive feedback loop - rewarding yourself for taking on the hard task, which in turn helps you take on more hard tasks in general. You can do this by setting clear milestones, it might be writing a page, sitting down for an hour or two hours - whatever the goal, the point is I’m making a habit of sitting down and facing that resistance and rewarding myself for doing so. Habitually facing challenges takes the sting out of resistance and cultivates positive feedback loops.

People often say the phrase 'enjoy the process'. In my opinion, this is what they are referring to, discovered by ancient philosophers, artists, and warriors, and now, modern neuroscience - the attitude is to see facing resistance and challenge as the goal. This is a fundamental shift in how you live your life, away from easy pleasure-seeking, and giving into fear and rationalisations and excuses, toward the hard and honourable combat with the forces of Resistance, which is the work of Gods and heroes. The best way to overcome procrastination is to make facing Resistance a way of life, and to remind yourself that when you see resistance it’s your job to go and face it - get it tattooed on your skin if you have to - we don't let the Resistance win. 

If you want to explore this topic more in-depth, I highly recommend getting Pressfield's, as it explains these truths more eloquently than I ever can, here

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Wisdom Dojo
Mahon McCann Podcast
Cultivating Wisdom, Virtue and Character in the Digital Age. Hosted by Irish Philosopher, Black belt and award-winning Playwright Mahon McCann. Every Thursday, jump into new audio essays and podcast interviews with the world’s brightest and most thought-provoking leaders to educate, inspire and motivate you to become your wisest self. (Join the Wisdom Dojo Substack to get the weekly essays and podcasts delivered to your inbox 👇)