There’s a handful of books that have truly changed the way I think. Not in an ‘I couldn’t put it down’ or ‘I learned something from that’ way. There have been loads of those. I’m talking about the kind of book that rocked my world so hard I can’t imagine life prior to reading it.
The real game changers fall off the shelf at the right time. There have been a number of books I’ve been genuinely interested in, but they just don’t resonate with the current season of life. Not to say they can’t have an impact, but the teacher appears when the student is ready, you know?
All of this is to say that I bought Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art about a year ago, and opened it for the first time last week. And hooo boy am I glad. Because not only is it the best nonfiction book I’ve read in long time, but also because it wouldn’t have been the reality check I needed a year ago.
It may seem from the outset like this one’s best suited for writers and creators, but I think anyone who is struggling with any sort of internal battle or wants to accomplish something could benefit from its message and lessons.
Many of our big, lofty goals seem straightforward enough, until we sit down and face them. Their complexity is revealed when we try to define them. There are reasons we can’t get from point A to point B, some of which we can’t even identify on the surface.
In The War of Art, Pressfield helps us identify the ‘why’ (aka a big buzzkill called Resistance with a capital R). Then he essentially throws every single excuse we’ve ever made out the window. This guy’s not gonna let you splash around in your pile of self doubt and try to rationalize reading a in-depth existential analysis of your monthly horoscope for two hours when you’re on a deadline (oh just me?).
When reading books like this one, I like to drink two cups of coffee then go wild with the note taking. I highlight things that stand out in my little black moleskin notebook so I can refer back to them without reading the whole thing again. With this one I basically copied down the entire book because every line was that insightful. And while I really appreciate you reading this review, I honestly think you should just go read the book instead. I mean it’s 165 pages. You can read it over a weekend, or like a week’s worth of subway commutes.
But since it’s probably not appropriate to call this a “book review” and just tell you to go read the book instead I will now outline several insights I found helpful.
The War of Art is split into three parts:
- Book One: Resistance: Defining the Enemy
- Book Two: Combating Resistance: Turning Pro
- Book Three: Beyond Resistance: Higher Realm
In book one, we get real acquainted with our friend Resistance.
Or what Steve calls the most toxic force on the planet, not to be dramatic.
ALL of us are fighting Resistance pretty regularly in one form or another. It could look like buying business cards instead of sending a potential client your rates, opting for McDonald’s on the way home from work instead of cooking a healthy dinner when your want to fit into your skinny jeans, or lashing out at your partner instead of having a conversation about how you really feel.
It’s a tricky son of a bitch because it’s invisible. It will assume any form, and the more we fight it the more we’ll feel it. It’s fueled by fear, and it’s most powerful at the finish line. That means the closer you are to a big goal, the more you can expect it to show up.
And as if it wasn’t tough enough to beat this thing on our own, we live in a consumer culture that’s aware of this unhappiness, and sells us products, drugs and distractions to exploit it.
It’s our obligation to call bullshit, even though we’re scared. Fear tells us what we have to do. If what we deeply desire meant nothing, there would be no fear.
Which brings me to book two, Combating Resistance: Turning Pro.
The first thing you should know here is that Resistance is that feeling you get when you wake up. Right as you’re getting out of bed, before having coffee. You have to feel it, and keep going, and you’ll learn a lot of actionable stuff about how to overcome it in this section, which distinguish a professional from an amateur. 10 distinct steps to be exact. Resistance hates when we act professional.
The most important thing about overcoming Resistance and creating is sitting down everyday and trying. Eventually allies come to our aid.
It’s the allies we learn about in book three – Beyond Resistance: The Higher Realm.
Here we’re given a bunch of tools like how to pray to ~the muses~ and such. Before I lose ya there, know that any power which inspires you can qualify as a muse. You might say the glass of cabernet sauvignon I’m drinking right now is a muse of sorts IDK.
Probably not because these muses are more unseen, intangible forces and he even provides a badass poem from The Odyssey to rile ‘em up.
The point is, we don’t have to go at it alone. There are forces we can tap into to help us reach our goals and this is the part where you learn how to do that.
I skipped over a bunch of Pinterest-worthy quotes throughout these three books, so if you’re into the motivational schtuff here are a few quotes from The War of Art that I underscored with my big yellow highlighter:
- “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.” [Ed. Note: Substitute “writing” for anything: health, weight loss, getting a promotion, launching a business: your big goal.]
- “Most of us have two lives. The lives we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands resistance.”
- “Self-doubt can be an ally. This is because it serves as an indicator of aspiration. It reflects love, love of something we dream of doing, and desire, desire to do it. If you find yourself asking yourself (and your friends), “Am I really a writer? Am I really an artist?” chances are you are.
- “The counterfeit innovator is wildly self-confident. The real one is scared to death.”
To summarize, if you’ve got a big goal lingering around but are feeling some resistance, GO READ THIS BOOK! I’d bet the farm it will give you a kick in the ass you need to get moving on it.