The art of self-discipline and battling resistance
“Inspiration is for amateurs — the rest of us just show up and get to work” Chuck Close
One of my biggest personal battles when it comes to creative work doesn’t really sound like a problem at all but anyone whose faced a blank canvas can relate to it. It’s the simple act of getting started – sitting down, making a start and then maintaining focus on the job in hand. I find myself taking every opportunity to delay progress using the incessant distractions of social media, email, odd jobs and todo lists when there’s important work to be done.
Recognising the issue led to the realisation that these external factors aren’t to blame – the all-defeating internal self talk, or as Buddhists refer to it, the “monkey-mind” chatter is the real offender. These voices will do anything to keep an artist from creating, using fear, self sabotage, procrastination, self-doubt, distraction and perfectionism to make you lose your way. This may sound overly dramatic but as Steven Pressfield states in his book ‘Do the work’, there is a very real enemy working against us, “The enemy is Resistance.”
Do the work
‘Do the work’ by Steven Pressfield is the companion manifesto to ‘The War of Art’ and aims to coach artists through their project – from conception to finished product – with the view of conquering resistance. Having personally benefitted from this book I’d like to share some of the key principles so those who’re struggling with similar issues may also find a breakthrough.
“Any act that rejects immediate gratification in favour of long-term growth, health, or integrity. Or, expressed another way, any act that derives from our higher nature instead of our lower. Any of these will elicit Resistance.”
What is resistance?
As explained extensively in Pressfield’s ‘The War of Art’, resistance is the repelling force preventing us from doing our work. It’s invisible – but it can be felt. It manifests itself in ways such as procrastination, instant gratification, excuses, victimhood, waiting for perfection, jealousy, criticism of others and fear.
Don’t think. Act!
The act of creation will always conjure up resistance in some form. To battle this resistance we must learn to outsmart it with the knowledge that we can never escape it. Once we have fought resistance and won, it will never hold the same power over you again.
To combat resistance at the start of a project we must begin before we’re ready – Don’t think. Act! It’s always possible to revise your work later but until we act, we can’t accomplish anything. I’ve found this to be true for my own work as a graphic designer, by simply placing type and images on a blank page and pushing these elements around, things can start to happen – a type combination can be suggested or a layout will start to make sense and that can eventually lead to a solution.
“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favour all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.”
William H. Murray
The big crash
When a project has gained momentum and is at full speed we will suddenly and out of nowhere hit a wall. The big crash is predictable across every artistic discipline – it will always happen – but it often happens in unpredictable ways. Take heart though, crashes are actually good. It means we have failed and we are learning about our work and improving. This creative panic means we’re about to step over our artistic threshold and is a sign we’re growing. Our greatest fear is often the fear of success, and when we’re advancing our craft, panic often strikes.
The fact we’ve crashed is not a reflection of our worth as human beings. It’s just a mistake. It’s a problem—and a problem can be solved. The following seven points are the most important mantras to remember whenever you encounter the big crash:
- There is an enemy –It’s important to recognise that there is an enemy working against us – Resistance.
- This enemy is implacable – Resistance is ruthless and destructive.
- The enemy is inside you – Resistance is born inside of you.
- The enemy is inside you but it is not you – You are not to blame for the voices of resistance inside you, we all have the same voices in our heads. Even Picasso and Einstein.
- The real you must fight the resistance you – There is no way to be nice or reason or negotiate with it. You need to battle resistance and win.
- Resistance arrises second – The idea that scared the hell out of you came first, not resistance. The urge to create is nurtured through love, life force or creative drive.
- Opposite of resistance is assistance – Love the idea and wholeheartedly align ourselves with this to make that which is unclear become clear.
Have you experienced resistance within your work? Share your methods for battling resistance by leaving a comment below