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Swift: Resistance grows in proportion to creative goal at hand

OK, so it’s confession time.

I’m a bit of a “self-help” junkie.

At any time, my nightstand is covered with at least three self-help books in various stages of completion. Right now, I’m simultaneously reading Brene Brown’s “The Gifts of Imperfection,” a workbook on mindfulness meditation and “Do What You Are,” a book about finding the ideal career.

Oh, and another book on different types of ADD, because I’ve somehow convinced myself that I have several different types of it. (Apparently, one of my ideal careers would be a hobbyist psychologist who diagnoses herself after seeing infomercials.)

I can’t seem to help it. I’ve always been a thinker and a seeker, which is how I’ve managed to compile a self-help library that might rival Oprah’s collection. Many of these books were only helpful in that they helped relieve me of my bothersome money. But every once in a while, I find one that really speaks to me and makes a difference.

“The War of Art,” by Steven Pressfield, is one of those books. This wise book helped me understand some life-changing things about the seemingly self-destructive habits that have plagued me as a writer for years.

Pressfield insists these same habits threaten all of us, as he believes every human was born with a creative force inside of us. Pressfield should know. He spent decades toiling away to sell his first successful book and eventually produced the best-selling “Legend of Bagger Vance.”

The core of Pressfield’s theory is that we all battle a creative saboteur known as “resistance.” Resistance is the dark, opposing stepbrother to creativity and fully-realized lives. It is what causes us to self-sabotage, procrastinate, fear, doubt ourselves and engage in addictive behavior. It is the “yeah, but” in our heads, which tells us that we aren’t good enough artists, there are too many cupcake shops on the block, and it’s too expensive to go back to school.

Resistance is what stands in the way of every effort to create or improve our lot in life. Whether it’s really our ego or something less tangible, resistance can hamper everything from building skyscrapers to losing weight.

Here’s the really interesting thing: Pressfield believes resistance grows in proportion to the creative goal at hand. As he puts it, the closer a task is to our soul’s calling, the greater resistance we feel. In fact, his belief is that we will experience full-out panic when we are really at the threshold of moving onto something great.

As I read this, my life suddenly made sense. For years, I’ve been a hopeless procrastinator. The larger the story or the bigger the task, the more I avoided it. It caused considerable turmoil. My life had become a perpetual flurry of all-nighters to scramble and get things done. It caused unbelievable self-loathing and stress. What was wrong with me? Why was I causing myself so much anxiety?

I thought of all the times I suddenly decided to color-code my closet when I had a big deadline to meet. I thought of the book I’ve talked about writing for the last five years, yet had never really started. Pressfield pointed out that procrastination allows us to rationalize our way into stagnation. We never say, “I’m not going to write a play.” Instead, we appease ourselves with, “I’m going to start my play tomorrow.”

The good news is that Pressfield has an antidote. It’s not a sexy or easy one, unfortunately. It’s about discipline and hard work. Once we face the dragon of resistance, he says we need to walk right through it. That means, as he puts it, “putting your (rhymes with sass) where your heart is.”

Instead of justifying, hashing out the details endlessly or consulting the 11th job coach, he proposes a Nike approach. Just do it. Sit down at the easel if you want to paint. Go to the yoga class. Sit in the chair and start hammering away if you want to write. Feel the fear, and do it anyway.

The key is deciding whether you want to be a “professional” or an “amateur,” Pressfield says. He doesn’t mean a doctor or a lawyer (unless, of course, that’s your aspiration). He means someone who sets their heart on a pursuit, dedicates their lives to it and takes the necessary small, frustrating steps to get there.

It all seems so obvious, so elementary. But as anyone who has struggled to discipline themselves – including yours truly – knows it isn’t.

Personally, I hope to write that book.

Too bad someone has already taken “Tales of the Resistance.”

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