Image: Vincent Van Gogh, "Man with Hoe" (1885)

Overcome Resistance and Get Out of Your Own Way

The three dumbest guys I can think of: Charles Lindbergh, Steve Jobs, Winston Churchill. Why? Because any smart person who understood how impossibly arduous were the tasks they had set themselves would have pulled the plug before he even began.

Ignorance and arrogance are the artist and entrepreneur’s indispensable allies. She must be clueless enough to have no idea how difficult her enterprise is going to be—and cocky enough to believe she can pull it off anyway.How do we achieve this state of mind?

By staying stupid. By not allowing ourselves to think.

A child has no trouble believing the unbelievable, nor does the genius or the madman. It’s only you and I, with our big brains and our tiny hearts, who doubt and overthink and hesitate.

Don’t think. Act.

We can always revise and revisit once we’ve acted. But we can accomplish nothing until we act.

Be Stubborn

Once we commit to action, the worst thing we can do is to stop.What will keep us from stopping? Plain old stubbornness. I like the idea of stubbornness because it’s less lofty than “tenacity” or “perseverance.” We don’t have to be heroes to be stubborn. We can just be pains in the butt. When we’re stubborn, there’s no quit in us. We’re mean. We’re mulish. We’re ornery.

We’re in till the finish.

We will sink our junkyard-dog teeth into Resistance’s ass and not let go, no matter how hard he kicks.

Blind Faith

Is there a spiritual element to creativity? Hell, yes. Our mightiest ally (our indispensable ally) is belief in something we cannot see, hear, touch, taste, or feel.

Resistance wants to rattle that faith. Resistance wants to destroy it. There’s an exercise that Patricia Ryan Madson describes in her wonderful book, Improv Wisdom. (Ms. Madson taught improvisational theater at Stanford to standing-room only classes for twenty years.)

Here’s the exercise: Imagine a box with a lid. Hold the box in your hand. Now open it. What’s inside?

It might be a frog, a silk scarf, a gold coin of Persia. But here’s the trick: no matter how many times you open the box, there is always something in it.

Ask me my religion. That’s it. I believe with unshakeable faith that there will always be something in the box.

Passion

Picasso painted with passion, Mozart composed with it. A child plays with it all day long. You may think that you’ve lost your passion, or that you can’t identify it, or that you have so much of it, it threatens to overwhelm you. None of these is true. Fear saps passion. When we conquer our fears, we discover a boundless, bottomless, inexhaustible well of passion.

This is an excerpt from Do The Work, the new title by Steven Pressfield, author of the classic title The War of Art. It is published by the Domino Project, Seth Godin’s new publishing venture with Amazon.

More insights on: Books, Creative Blocks, Perseverance

Steven Pressfield

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Steven Pressfield is a novelist and author of War of Art, The Legend of Bagger Vance, Gates of Fire, Tides of War, Virtues of War, The Afghan Campaign and Killing Rommel.
load comments (37)
  • Joe McCarthy

    The preference for action over thinking is one of the most significant differences between the entrepreneurial and academic worlds (not that I mean to imply that entrepreneurs don’t think, nor that academics don’t act).

    I’m reminded of my first taste of entrepreneuria (having spent much of my professional life in academia and/or industry research): the Northwest Entrepreneur Network (NWEN) Entrepreneur University in 2005, and of one talk in particular. Here is an excerpt from my notes from the event:

    Scott Svenson, Managing Partner of The Sienna Group, gave what I found to be the most personally inspiring presentation. Scott talked about the passion he and his wife had for good coffee and the cafe experience in Seattle, and how much they missed that when they moved to UK. Despite having no experience in retail or the coffee trade, they decided to form Seattle Coffee Company and open up a cafe in London. Everyone told them it would never work, and yet they grew from 1 to 65 stores in three years, and eventually sold the business to Starbucks. … In the Q&A period after his presentation, Scott talked about how he and his wife brought complementary skills and perspectives to the business… He also noted that one of their greatest strengths was what they didn’t know (e.g., they didn’t realize that opening 8 stores in 12 days was something that not even Starbucks would have attempted).

  • essay

    Nice post. Thanks for it.

  • Vangile Makwakwa

    Great post. I definitely think faith, which is also belief in yourself and your own visions, is a big part of being an artist or an entrepreneur because only you can see the vision. When you start to doubt it, everyone else will doubt it as well

  • sarazani

    Thank you!
    That’s a happy, empowering, and true comment!
    Sarazani

  • Christian Ray

    First time on this blog and loving it already, Pressfield is one of my favorites. I have a review of War of Art on The Third Drive ( http://www.christianrayflores.com) and will definitely get the new book.

  • ih

    Hello. I’d like to know more about the pencil/charcoal drawing you used to illustrate the article. Who’s the artist? Where is it from?

    Thanks.

    ih

  • Fjbruno

    The first paragraph of this article doesn’t make much sense. If an artist (or whoever) is “clueless,” underestimating the difficulty of their tasks or the odds against success, then that person does -not- also have to be inordinately cocky to believe they can achieve his or her goals.

    This evidence of sloppy thinking and writing made the rest of the piece difficult to take seriously, especially its valorization of not using your brain.

  • cliff

    Nice one. I believe fear is always our enemy in many aspects in life.

  • Deborah 'Cobra' Kruger

    Love your writing style, your upbeat and quirky approach and your heart. Thanks.

  • Monna

    just what I needed today!

  • Anna Gray

    This article is like it was written by my Mom. All my life, since I was a newborn, she would tell me: “Don’t try to be. Become!”
    For many years I was afraid of cutting glass, imagining how sharp edges of it will cut through my flesh. One evening I got sick of being afraid, took a glass cutter and cut a perfect piece of glass. Now I can make stained glass windows :).
    Another one was when I was afraid to swim. Every time I’d get into the water, I’d immediately start thinking about dark deep water underneath me, my spine and my limbs would turn into a gelly, and I’d sink right to the bottom. Every summer somebody would rescue me as I drowned. I’ve drowned for 30 or 40 times. One summer I got sick of being that helpless, told myself that I’m not afraid – and swam to the other bank of a small lake, sat there, rested – and swam back.
    Totally agree with the point. We can do anything once we tell ourselves that we can do it.

  • Altogether Leather

    The most honest article I’ve read in a long time – thanks so much!

  • Mary

    Thanks for a great article. Fear of failure always eats at my soul. It’s always the “if” that hinders my actions. I am not lazy, but never get any where. “One” sale lights a bulb. “Zero” sales blows out my spirit. “Hope” is not easy to say. “Life” is difficult.

  • Laura

    I really love this quote you used, and definitely think it’s true.

    “Ignorance and arrogance are the artist and entrepreneur’s indispensable
    allies. She must be clueless enough to have no idea how difficult her
    enterprise is going to be—and cocky enough to believe she can pull it
    off anyway.”

  • Esspweb192

    Wow..! honest article and good too…

  • Charb123

    4 month no sale would make anybody wonder WHY????? But I am like the little engine that says ” I think I can I think I can”. Thanks

  • mougly

    I liked the passage under “Be Stubborn”. A unique way of thinking! Cheers.

  • mougly

    And oh yes, I do remember the “Pursuit of Happyness” starring Will Smith. I think he would fit in the role for being stubborn. :)

  • Business logo design

    Fabulous drawing & article….

  • Annie Walsh

    This really got to the heart of what will keep us going on this path. Thank you for spelling it out in a practical way.

  • Ncam1

    Oh, I knew this but I had forgotten and it was just the thing I needed to read today!-Thank you!

  • Annamaria Potamiti

    Oh I knew this but I had forgotten- Thank you for reminding me!

  • Nancy

    Great inspiration to chase a dream no matter how far out of reach it seems:)

  • Janetelizabethllc

    Thanks for the words of wisdom! I’ll try to remember it when things aren’t going the way I would like them to.

  • Christian Ray

    Just read the book. Twice. Wrote a review on The Third Drive http://www.christianrayflores.com

  • Kendy Sproul

    Great post. You hit the nail right on the head with the entire article…just the shot in the arm I needed. Thank you!

  • Rockabillyjunction

    This has to be the all time battle rattle war cry for artistic entrepreneurs! Thanks for posting. This put quite the pep in my step :))

  • mac

    Good post.

    Steven Pressfield’s work, in terms of novels, is excellent. I’ve recently finished “Gates of Fire”. An excellent piece of historical writing, as much as anything else.

    I can’t help feeling that his more recent writing on “Resistance” is being extended beyond it’s usefulness. Don’t get me wrong – it’s an important subject matter for creatives. It’s just that two books in short succession on it maybe a bit too much.

    Mac at http://Clientonomy.com

  • Ricky Diaghe

    Just what I needed. Bought Do The Work and The War of Art. Thanks for the Post!

  • Valery Yankin

    Thanks a million for this both encouraging and smart post. I am what people call a hesitating artist. Sometimes I get the feeling that I have chosen the wrong career but this article helped me realise this is actually due to self-doubt and hesitation. It really made a dent in my thinking. I am priting out some quotes from this acticle to post them on the fridge door where I would see them every day.

  • Correy95355

    Great!  Sometimes we think ourselves out of action!  Now I’ll get to work on a new section of my Etsy shop

  • Lydia Krupinski

    Brilliant!

  • the little red hen

    I had to come back and thank you for your writing. I fell into an posting on Etsy where the practice was all about ink drawings. So many that posted their comments . . . got lost in the exercise. They missed what I found here, your point of “don’t think, act”. Your words came to me keeping in my head “be stupid enough to stay out of your own way”. Thank you! Such a great life lesson! Whew, I needed that!

  • Amdm

    Stubbornness I get. Blind faith and passion I have trouble with. Even when I read the words “Imagine a box with a lid. Hold the box in your hand. Now open it. What’s inside?” My box is empty. Though I did think, what a nice box. It’s brown cardboard, but a perfect cube. As for conquering fear, that is a tall order. I may need an article especially dedicated to that. 

  • Sun of Z Music

    Great piece…love the vehemence in which it is written. I truly believe the innovators and pioneers not only ignore the concept of impossiblity, in thier world it doesn’t exist.

  • Aiman Chughtai

    love it.
    spot on! absolutely.

  • http://www.startgainingmomentum.com/ Ludvig Sunström

    Great post Steven.
    Loving your books as well, they’ve have profound impact on my life.

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