Note: This is a long one, but depending where you are in your life, it might change your life. Literally. Ten minutes for something that could change your life …
I want to establish a business, start writing
Ever wondered what’s stopping you from doing your work? Why is it that we put off things we know would benefit us? Not just a little, but a lot.
Starting that blog or a Youtube channel or business or pick up painting again or the book you started three years ago.
Everyone has that “something” they want to do deep inside. Yet, why are we not doing it? Is it because we don’t know how to do it? No, we already know.
Let’s take business. Let’s say you know nothing about business, but it’s your dream to set one up. You still know what to do. The process is fairly simple.
First, you find out what kind of a business you want to establish. Second, you learn how to do it: watch Youtube videos, read articles, listen to podcasts, read books about establishing a business, marketing, management, etc. Third, you execute.
Therefore it’s not the know-how that’s the problem. It’s not the motivation or your lack of will either. It’s what Steven Pressfield calls “the resistance.”
The mainstream narrative
There’s this mainstream narrative that successful artists or writers or successful people, in general, were just lucky and in the right place at the right time. That they are somehow magically blessed. Not like ordinary people. They just sit, and suddenly, inspiration strikes them, and they work ferociously and produce a masterpiece.
If you look at the movies, this is how it works there. We watch those movies and believe this is how it works. It’s of course not possible to show the long boring grind behind the scenes and nor is it advisable. The audience would bore out of their minds. Nobody would want to watch that kind of a movie.
I used to think that highly successful people were just meant to be like that and I wasn’t. I simply didn’t have that magic, that creativity. It’s just how it is. Some people are meant to be, and others are not. Some people are just lucky and gifted, and there’s nothing I can do to change.
This is low-paradigm thinking. This might look like a far fetched analogy, but I believe it’s the same type of thinking the people have who blame the government of their shitty lives.
I remember watching this video in which a self-help guru described his encounter with someone who smoked crack-cocaine and blamed the government of his problems. “Are you sure it’s the government and not the crack cocaine?” the guru asked. “Fuck the government! Fuck Trump!” was the answer.
I did not smoke crack cocaine, but I was pretty much in a similar mindset. The mindset that things are how they are, there’s nothing you can do about it.
Some people may even feel that others owe them something. That’s the craziest thing. Take the incels for example. These guys literally believe that the world owes them a girlfriend. In fact, they’re so caught up on this trauma energy that they hate women. This is what happens if you get to the really deep end of the downward spiral.
The real story
This all changed when I started to read (auto)biographies and other non-fiction books. It’s important to read autobiographies of successful people: they show you the “behind the scenes.” They show you how these people got so successful. They show you it’s not a fairytale.
Let’s take Mike Tyson. I used to think that he was just a stupid, arrogant ass hole who was good at boxing. I had no idea of the really rough childhood he went through.
That his father was a pimp and his mother was basically a prostitute. That he got beat up so much and quit school because he was too afraid to go there again. That he had to put in the countless hours of training. E.g., when other boxers woke up, Mike already came back from running. And this small list is peanuts compared to some of the other stuff you find out in the book.
Highly successful people are clearly talented, but that’s not the point. The point is that it’s not the talent but super hard work that made them — the long grind of doing the same thing every day on and on and on.
One of my favorite quotes by Steven Pressfield describes this perfectly:
“There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is resistance.”
What is resistance?
It’s an invisible force, and its sole purpose is to stop us from doing our work. It doesn’t want to wound or hurt; it wants to kill.
It comes from ourselves, which means that we create it. It manifests e.g., in procrastination, rationalization, excuses. It always hits us when we want to evolve to a higher plane. When we want to move up in life. What do I mean, exactly?
I bring you an example. This very same article I’m writing. I can describe the way the resistance manifests itself. Thoughts like “I should read more about the subject before publishing this; let me get more experience in my creative endeavors; who am I to write this kind of an article, I’m the last person to give this advice; it’s not going to be good enough” etc.
The biggest ally of the resistance, in my opinion, is a rationalization. You might tell yourself things like “I don’t have time; I’m busy; I’m tired.”
What makes the rationalizations especially dangerous is that the things you tell yourself are probably true. You are tired; you are busy.
Then again, you have to ask yourself, what is important to you: being busy or doing the work? Sleeping or getting the thing done?
Another aspect is that you end up rationalizing over and over again. “I feel tired; I start tomorrow.” The next day you might say: “I already messed up my streak, I start off fresh the next week.”. The following week you might say: “I start the next month because it’s the new year and I’ll make it as part of my new year’s resolutions.” This can go on endlessly and it will if you don’t break the cycle by starting right now.
Resistance is nothing personal; everyone has it. It never goes away, and we have to fight it every day over and over again.
And let me tell you, it’s especially strong in the finish line. This is when the resistance hits the panic button, so to speak.
Just as you’re about to finish your work, may it be an article, a book, uploading that video to Youtube, you’ll feel it the strongest. This is its last chance to stop you. I can already hear the voice I’m going to hear right before I hit the “publish” button.
Beating the resistance
The solution is to, as cliché as it sounds, to just do it. As the writer Steven Pressfields says, he doesn’t care how much he writes on a particular day, only that he sat down and did the work. That’s all that matters.
This is the tedious, boring, long grind that happens behind the scenes nobody sees.
This is Adele recording the follow-up album to the 21, putting everything she has into it and then hearing the producer Rick Rubin tell her that it’s not good enough; then reworking it for two extra years to a point it was ready to be released. This is all the artists who produce work after work after work. It’s not glamorous at all. As Mike Tyson has said:
“The boxing’s the easy part. When you get into the ring to fight, that’s the vacation. But when you get in the gym, you have to do things over and over till you’re sore and deep in your mind you say, ‘I don’t want to do this anymore,’ I push that out of my mind.”
We also complain and bring excuses like “I’m not feeling it today.” Of course, it’s easier to do our work when we “feel like it” but this is not most days. It’s just not how it works.
Some days we feel like it, some days we don’t. If Mike Tyson would’ve only gone to the gym when he “felt like it,” he wouldn’t be the Mike Tyson as we know.
Passion is an excellent fuel, but it doesn’t last forever. It comes, and then it goes. In the meantime, it’s important to do the work. We already know how to do it. Going to school or work every day and doing or work whether we feel like it or not. It’s the same thing with art.
Another false idea people have about artists (and I don’t mean just painters but everyone doing creative work) is that they are at random times magically struck by inspiration and then produce great work instantly.
William Somerset Maugham was once asked whether he writes on a specific time or only when inspiration strikes. His answer:
“I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately it strikes every morning at nine o’clock sharp.”
The simple truth is that ideas will strike you when you sit down to do the work. Apply ass to the chair is the first step.
Resistance is a compass
The coolest and most positive thing about resistance is that it acts as a compass. It shows us where we need to go.
The stronger the resistance, the more we can be sure that this is our calling. Think about it; we don’t feel resistance towards things we don’t care about. Instead of saying something like “I don’t care, I’m never going to do it,” we say “I’m going to do it tomorrow” or “I’ll do it someday.”
The “someday island” (as Brian Tracy calls it), is a trap. We can tell ourselves “someday” every day until the day we die. What makes you think that something will change tomorrow? It doesn’t.
This article is heavily based on Steven Pressfield’s the War of Art. I highly highly recommend checking it out.