The War of Art is a book that is ostensibly for artists, however it really holds lessons for anyone who is struggling with the art of life. The author, Steven Pressfield, lists these strugglers:
- Anyone in the creative arts
- Anyone launching an entrepreneurial venture
- Anyone starting a diet or exercise program
- Anyone trying to overcome an addiction
- Anyone pursuing education of any sort
- Anyone pursuing spiritual advancement
- In short, anyone pursuing a long-term goal
Struggle as these people might, one thing they will not struggle with is the actual reading of this book. It’s only 165 pages long and those pages are broken down into 88 chapters. For those not good at math, this means that the average chapter is…short! In fact, the shortest chapter is three lines long, most chapters are a page, and the longest chapter only contains five pages. In spite of its brevity, I found four great lessons in reading the book. All will help achieve success in your long-term endeavor.
Lesson #1: You Need to Overcome Resistance – Pressfield defines resistance as anything that keeps you from getting around to the work you need to do in life. Let’s use exercising on a treadmill as an example. If that treadmill in your bedroom has never been used for exercise, but is used instead as a storage device for clothing waiting to be hung up, you know all about resistance. There is always a reason not to use the treadmill. Maybe you’re running late, or you don’t want to get sweaty before bed, or you have three bills that need to be paid before you do anything else, or, or, or. All of this is resistance at work. Once you know about resistance, you can call it by name, laugh at yourself for trying that silly ruse, then get on with the task at hand.
Lesson #2: You Need to Show Yourself Who’s Boss – I often threaten to make a social media post that says, “If second-guessing myself burned calories, I’d be skeletal.” In other words, what I think I’m capable of doing today has no bearing on how confident I’ll be about it tomorrow. Recognizing that we all have a can-do and a no-can-do side, Pressfield has a cure. We are to think of ourselves as a corporation where we are both the boss and the worker. Whenever the worker wavers in his/her confidence to accomplish a task, the boss is there to insist that the task will be done by close of business. The boss is also there to negotiate for us in the real world. Since he knows the true value of our work, he always puts his/our best foot forward, you know, the confident one.
Lesson #3: You Need to Understand That the More You Progress Toward Your Goal, the Easier it Is to Progress Toward Your Goal – Once you get immersed in a project, your brain goes on auto pilot thinking up great ideas for you even when you are not actually working on it. Writers are advised to write every single day. In fact, we are supposed to write at the same time every day, sitting at the same table, drinking from the same mug, etc. We are trying to be like Pavlov’s dog. When all these signals are in place, we want our brain to know it is time to write. The interesting thing is, that this really works. And once the brain starts writing, it doesn’t stop when the writing time is over. For me, ideas continue to spill forth at odd times like when I shower or put on my makeup. Once I’m on a roll, I keep rolling. But this makes perfect sense. To quote another scientist, Isaac Newton, a body in motion tends to stay in motion.
Lesson #4: You Need to Know That Some People Will Be Critical of Your Path, but That’s Their Problem, Not Yours – This lesson doesn’t come from the book, it comes from reading reviews of the book. Since I loved Pressfield’s book, it was very interesting to see that others hated it. Had those bad reviews been of my work instead of Pressfield’s I would have been devasted. Instead, I learned a valuable lesson. I saw that the bad reviews didn’t cause me to question the value of Pressfield’s work, they caused me to question the opinion of the reviewer.
A disclaimer: Yes, I want you to read Pressfield’s book but please be advised that there is no talk of treadmills, wishy-washy women, Pavlov, or Isaac Newton inside his pages. Those are my ways of explaining his concepts. His ways are different, and wonderful. For instance, he devotes about three dozen chapters to the many forms that resistance may take. What this means is that he effectively removes all excuses from your life.
Whatever the long-term goal you wish to achieve, now that your excuses are gone and your boss is at the helm, it should be a downhill journey. May you gather speed – and bowl over the naysayers along the way – as you move steadily toward success!