Every morning when I sit down to write, I face what Steven Pressfield calls “Resistance,” a force that has knocked me down more times than I care to admit.
In his book The War of Art, Pressfield describes Resistance as “a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.” Beginning a new diet or exercise program? Starting a new career? Start a new business? Taking a principled stand? Researching graduate programs or finishing your dissertation? Learning about liberty? Resistance arises, Pressfield explains, whenever you attempt “any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity.” We have all faced it.
You won’t face Resistance when you binge-watch Netflix.”]You won’t face Resistance when you binge-watch Netflix instead of getting on the elliptical sitting idle in your basement. Resistance will cheer when you eat the donut today and promise to cut back on refined carbohydrates tomorrow. Use work time to check your email, the weather, or Facebook and you won’t feel the force of Resistance.
The consequence of Resistance is the same for all of us. In short, as Pressfield writes, “Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance.”
Why understanding resistance matters
In the grip of Resistance, we rationalize our bad choices and attempt to eschew responsibility. We are mistaken if we believe that Resistance is generated outside ourselves. Pressfield tells us bluntly, “Resistance seems to come from outside ourselves. We locate it in spouses, jobs, bosses, kids.… Resistance arises from within. It is self-generated and self-perpetuated. Resistance is the enemy within.”
Philosopher Eric Hoffer puts it this way in his book on the nature of mass movements, The True Believer:
The tendency to look for all causes outside ourselves persists even when it is clear that our state of being is the product of personal qualities.… It is understandable that those who fail should incline to blame the world for their failure.”]
If Resistance gets in the way of using our talents and we do nothing to overcome it, what comes from the inevitable personal frustrations? Hoffer observes that liberty is threatened,
People whose lives are barren and insecure seem to show a greater willingness to obey than people who are self-sufficient and self-confident. To the frustrated, freedom from responsibility is more attractive than freedom from restraint. They are eager to barter their independence for relief from the burdens of willing, deciding and being responsible for inevitable failure. They willingly abdicate the directing of their lives to those who want to plan, command and shoulder all responsibility.”]
Freedom can alleviate frustration, Hoffer explains, because it makes available palliatives such as action. But Hoffer asks, “Of what avail is freedom to choose if the self be ineffectual? Unless a man has the talents to make something of himself, freedom is an irksome burden.”
Frustrated by our own inaction, Hoffer warns, “We join a mass movement to escape individual responsibility, or, in the words of the ardent young Nazi, ‘to be free from freedom.’”
Perhaps, yielding to Resistance, we complain endlessly and boorishly about the bad breaks life has handed us and how unfairly we have been treated. Do we then, as Friedrich Hayek writes in The Road to Serfdom, wish to be “relieved of the necessity of solving our own economic problems?”
You can’t overcome Resistance as long as you think the problem is external. Beaten by Resistance, I have made up alibis and rationalizations. I was too tired, too busy, too upset by events of the day — the self-deception goes on.
Pressfield writes, “Procrastination is the most common manifestation of Resistance because it’s the easiest to rationalize.” We tell ourselves we are going to do the task, just not right now. When we wait for the perfect set of circumstances to face Resistance, we wait a long time. No one’s glass is full of perfect circumstances.
“Not right now” has terrible consequences. Have you ever seen an article that demonstrates the difference in accumulated wealth when you start saving for retirement, for example, at age 25 as compared to age 35? Compounding makes a huge difference in accumulated wealth.
You can’t overcome Resistance as long as you think the problem is external.”]Your career capital, like financial capital, is subject to compounding. Those who overcome Resistance and work at what is important to them, grow their career capital; those who yield to Resistance stagnate. If you are not doing what is critical today, tomorrow, and next week, it is very difficult to make it up.
Resistance doesn’t come from the action but from our thinking about the action. The more we fear and resist our Resistance, the stronger our Resistance becomes. As soon as you turn your full attention to the action required, Resistance yields.
There is a moment each morning when you open your eyes to a fresh day. Pause to notice this moment. Then observe how quickly Resistance steps in, reciting your problematical circumstances, your back pain, your 3 pm meeting, your commute, your difficult project. Attend to those thoughts and Resistance already has the upper hand. Let those thoughts pass without engaging them and Resistance yields.
We all have our own flavors of Resistance—simple awareness of the many forms your Resistance takes can help you gently walk around it. There probably won’t come a morning when Resistance won’t arise, but there can come a morning when you won’t fight with or fear your Resistance.
Become more aware of times you catch yourself thinking “not right now.” We always have rationalizations for yielding to Resistances, but yielding creates frustration, and as frustration grows there are consequences for society and the future of liberty. Pressfield puts it this way: “[T]he truly free individual is free only to the extent of his own self-mastery. While those who will not govern themselves are condemned to find masters to govern over them.”