The Greatest Enemy of Creativity

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. ~Steven Pressfield, The War of Art

Are you unable to stick to any course of action that favors long-term growth and fulfillment? Are you frustrated by your failure to write, paint, exercise, or meditate consistently? You are not alone. According to novelist Steven Pressfield, each one of us is a victim of a pervasive self-destructive force. He He calls it “Resistance.”

Resistance is a negative force of self-sabotage whose only aim is to prevent us from doing the work that’s most important to us. In his best-selling book, The War of Art, Pressfield states a simple rule of thumb to define Resistance: “The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.”

Characteristics of Resistance:To combat Resistance, we first have to become aware of its presence and learn to recognize it when it afflicts us. Though each one of us experiences it differently, Resistance has some common characteristics:

1. Resistance is internal and insidiousWe tend to blame our family or jobs or other external causes for our failure to nurture our creativity. However, Resistance arises from within. It’s a personification of our own weaknesses and fears. It pretends to be our authentic inner voice and provides a hundred “sensible” reasons to disrupt our creative efforts.

2. Resistance is implacable and indefatigablePressfield compares Resistance to the shark in “Jaws”. Resistance not only blocks us before we start, it continually blocks us at every step. After we complete one project, it stops us from starting the next project. We may beat it today but we have to battle it all over again tomorrow. There’s no final victory; it’s a fight to the death.

3. Resistance is universal and impersonalLike the law of gravity, Resistance affects each and every one of us. Everyone who wants to move to a higher creative or spiritual state has to defeat Resistance in one form or another.

Once we learn to recognize the self-destructive presence of Resistance in our lives, we also begin to see its three biggest allies:

1. ProcrastinationThe most common ally of Resistance is procrastination because it’s the easiest to justify. It’s easier to say, “I’m going to start my first novel tomorrow,” instead of saying, “I’m never going to write my first novel.”

2. Addiction to instant gratification
Another powerful ally of Resistance is craving for TV, shopping, gossip, drugs, sex and unhealthy food. All of these have the potential to distract us and keep us from doing meaningful creative work.

3. Rationalization:Making excuses keeps us from being ashamed for not doing our work. Rationalization is dangerous because we start to believe our own excuses. Instead, if we honestly acknowledge that our own fear is preventing us from doing our work, we may feel shame and this shame may drive us to act in spite of our fears.

How to Overcome Resistance
“On the field of the Self stand a knight and a dragon.
You are the knight. Resistance is the dragon.”
~Steven Pressfield, Do the Work

To defeat Resistance, we have to realize that Resistance is real. Otherwise, warns Pressfield, it will bury us. Next, we must stop thinking like amateurs and develop a professional attitude towards our work. Most important is to dedicate our lives to developing our creativity. We do this by reinforcing our work with planning, preparation, patience, and persistence. Above all, we must never surrender to Resistance. Because if Resistance wins, we lose the most meaningful part of our lives, the part that makes everything else worthwhile.

29 June 2011


Rohi Shetty is a medical doctor, Vipassana meditator, writer, editor, translator and blogger. His short stories and articles have been published online and in print.

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