“Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us.” — Steven Pressfield
For the fifth day in a row, I sit in front of the computer screen and write nothing. Not a paragraph. Not a sentence. Not a word.
However, today I’ll give it a better go.
I take a few deep breaths and start on my pre-writing routines. First, I make espresso, put on my headphones, and listen to my Apple playlist for writing, including neoclassical albums, Yann Tiersen, Federico Albanese, and Zimmer’s Inception. I then light up a short cigar and take a few puffs, just till my fingers find the keyboard.
I finally write a few sentences, but my rush of inspiration ends just as quickly as it started, and I lose focus.
I check my phone, then my email, and within a few minutes, I’m chasing one link after another till I find myself on YouTube listening to an interview with bestselling author Steven Pressfield. In it, he talks about his book, The War of Art, and how we unconsciously block ourselves from doing our work.
I’ve been shuttling between Lebanon and Ghana to visit my ailing father for the past few months. True, my regular practice has been disrupted, but I’ve also had enough free time to do anything I wanted to.
I don’t have any valid excuses, but I find myself delaying my responses to colleagues at work, not writing my weekly blog posts on time and stalling on the memoir book I’d promised to finish by July of this year.
The truth is there is no such thing called writer’s block; instead, when we stare at an empty screen, it’s just another form of procrastination.
I’m reminded of my 20-year-old self. Then, with only a month to go before my exam dates came, I postponed studying so often that I finally had to book a hotel room and lock myself in it for ten days to focus on 18-hour study days.
In the English dictionary, procrastination is defined as the act of delaying or postponing a task. Put another way; it’s self-sabotage. We place obstacles in our path to avoid the work at hand.
Steven Pressfield’s bestseller, The War of Art, calls this the “resistance.” Pressfield argues that the primary enemy of creativity is “resistance,” an unconscious part of us that acts against our conscious desires and sabotages our work.
He further explains that Resistance is the most toxic force on the planet. It arises from within and forms procrastination, lack of motivation, insecurities, self-doubt, and fear.
Behavioural psychology suggests that we act this way because our minds crave instant gratification. Procrastination is intractable because it’s linked to deeper perceptions of time and the differences between “the present and future self.”
“When making long-term decisions, [people] tend to fundamentally feel a lack of emotional connection to their future selves,” writes Hal Hershfield, a psychologist at UCLA Anderson School of Management who studies the present and future self.
His research has substantiated the argument that even though we know that the person we are today is the same as the one who has a deadline in a week, we have little care, perception or empathy for that future self.
We don’t care about how we will feel in a week or a month, but rather how we think now. It’s as if we treat the future self like a different person — one who won’t benefit or suffer from our actions today.
How to fight Resistance:
A) Know that we sabotage ourselves
First and foremost, as always, we need to recognize that it’s self-sabotage. This Resistance isn’t some external factor but something we are doing to ourselves. So we have to look at it closely as if we were battling our inner demons. There’s always a deeper fear or insecurity within us for why we stop ourselves from doing the work.
B) Take Baby Steps
When we find ourselves in the midst of this war against Resistance, it’s best to break up goals or tasks into mini-goals and micro-tasks. For example, instead of telling ourselves we need to go to the gym five days a week for an hour each time, let’s set a target of going twice a week for 20 minutes.
Whether it’s my father’s deteriorating health or my company facing one mini-crisis after another, or the challenging task of writing a memoir and having committed to handing it in by July, I’ve been emotionally all over the place.
Unless and until we accept that procrastination is matter-of-fact and that it’s a problem originating inside our minds rather than outside ourselves, we won’t be able to fight it. Resistance is real, and it is part and parcel of our working lives.
We must recognize that the work we do is sacred, whether in art (writing poetry, painting murals, playing the guitar) or in business (creating a marketing program, preparing for a quarterly meeting, setting a new company strategy).
We do the work for its own sake and not for money, fame, or some sense of belonging.
As Steven Pressfield said, “The most important thing about art(work) is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.”
Are you ready to fight your Resistance?
Then prepare for war.