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As people actively engaged in creative work, we are aware of the force which attempts to distract us at any cost. Steven Pressfield calls this force The Resistance, Seth Godin termed it The Lizard Brain, and Brene Brown pictures a little gremlin. In all of its forms, the Resistance is one of the most destructive forces in our world, and has robbed us of countless works of art, acts of kindness, and basic happiness.
In my own work, I’ve noticed five ways the Resistance attacks us in our work and personal life. Whether the day’s calling is to write, record, or engage, the Resistance is lying in wait to patiently offer up displacement activities. In order to know thine enemy, you must know how they work.
This type of distraction is the low-hanging fruit of the Resistance. Stupid distractions are the kind where nothing constructive is being done or learned. They include all types of social media, web browsing, video games, personal emails, pleasure reading, and more. The encouraging part of stupid distractions is how quickly you can realize what you’re doing is stupid, and get yourself back on track. When you’re creating art, browsing through Facebook’s news feed or diving in to the black hole of Reddit is stupid. Mentally pull yourself back and keep working.
This is where the Resistance begins to deploy better tactics. Busy work can include activities such as cleaning the house, doing the dishes, work-related emails and administrative tasks, giving the dog a bath, updating your calendar, and so on. The deception and brilliance used by the Resistance is that all of these tasks have an important place in your life. But that place is not when you should be working. I only ever volunteer to sweep or do the dishes when I should be working instead. Do the work, then the dishes. Not the other way around (click to tweet that).
As you continue to deflect the attacks of the Resistance, progress will remain difficult, because the attacks will continue to improve. The siren song of self-improvement is a powerful track for creatives, because it’s part of the reason we are able to do what we do. We know there is value in reading that book or blog post, listening to that podcast or signing up for that class. But when we delay or diminish our creative output in the name of self-improvement, it’s a lie and an excuse. I would argue that even exercise, for all of its benefits on energy, productivity, and brain function, is still the work of the Resistance when it detracts from your work.
One of the final stands of the Resistance is blatant and brutal self-doubt. Take heart, because the little gremlin is getting desperate. You begin to hear and feel like you’re not good enough, smart enough, creative enough, well connected enough, funny enough, generally not enough to do what you’ve been called to do. And none of it’s true. When I begin to hear the little gremlin spew self-doubt, I try to think of Marianne Williamson’s wonderful quote from A Return to Love:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.”
The shadow career is relatively quiet and content type of Resistance. This patient type of attack was also coined by Pressfield, who describes the shadow career as the addiction we nurture instead of the work we are passionate about. Perhaps you are passionate about writing, but too addicted to money or status to downgrade your car, apartment, and clothes and start writing in earnest. The change doesn’t need to be that drastic, but if you’re passionate about a type of work or art, then start doing something about it and stop talking about it.
The Resistance loves to have us talk incessantly about our hobbies and interests but never do anything about them, no matter the interest. We engage in displacement activities and shadow careers because they give us some type of fulfillment, but in the end they slowly and steadily rob us of our true calling.
The Next Step
There’s one last trick to understanding the temptation of these attacks. None of these activities are inherently bad. Social media receives a bad rap sometimes, but it’s an incredible way to connect and build a platform. Of course you should keep a clean home (and happy spouse) and exercise. But those activities shouldn’t displace your calling. When the time has come to work, you shouldn’t decide now is the time to mow the grass. It’s time to do the work. Mow the grass when it’s time to mow the grass. Exercise when it’s time to exercise, and here’s a mind-bender… don’t write when it’s time to exercise!
What lies at the center is discipline. The discipline to do what is important now. The Resistance wants you to be undisciplined, unhappy, and unfulfilled.
Overcoming the Resistance isn’t easy, or beaten once and rid of it for life. The Resistance is patient, and has eternity to come back when we are complacent, cocky, or desperate. However, once we understand the little gremlin’s tactics, we have an advantage. We can recognize the attacks, and respond accordingly. Spend this week recognizing the attacks, and make a conscious choice to do the work. Next week, I’ll share the five tactics I’ve used to fight back, and keep my best work at the forefront. Keep fighting everyone, the world needs it.