How Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art” Changed My Life

Written by on October 28th, 2016 // Filed under Book Recommendations, Craft Of Writing, Encouragement & Philosophy, Erika Viktor

the-war-of-art

For the last few posts I have written about self-sabotage. I couldn’t let this topic float away without highlighting the number one book that has profoundly changed my life since I read it four years ago, Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art. If you are my friend, chances are I have purchased and gifted this book to you. 

This book deals chiefly with self-sabotage as a dark force of nature, an indifferent but malevolent law known as “resistance.”

Resistance is defined by anything that stops us from growing to become what we want to be. Often, we create a vision for ourselves, a future. We want tight abs, we want the perfect relationship, we want a successful career.

But day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute, the invisible force stops us from becoming.

While writing this post it was very important for me not to appear like a complete psychotic fangirl of this book. After all, I have probably read it over 100 times. I have the audio book in my car and there are whole weeks where I listen to it on repeat. Pressfield’s name is so common in my household that every time I get near the topic, my husband proclaims “Who’s Steven Pressfield? I don’t know!” I regularly comment on his blog and have read every other book he’s written including the big thick ones about war and stuff.

But I can’t help but be a little bit of a psychotic fangirl because this book delivered to me a highly useful model that I have been lacking for decades in my search for the reason why I can’t get stuff done.

I hold the belief that, with the exception of physical things that we can touch see and smell, nothing is truly real unless we decide it is. I also hold the belief that all books in the self-help genre, that is, books that help you become what you desire, are simply cheap tricks to get us to do what we know we should do. Some of these tricks are not objectively true–meaning that we can’t prove them through sight and smell and sound. They become true for us because they fulfill a need to understand. 

I call them cheap tricks, others call them mental models. Whatever you call them, the result is the same. A mental model is like a machine. You put a stimulus (thought, emotion, etc) into the machine and it comes out different on the other side, closer to how you want it to really be.

I collect mental models like some people collect Instagram likes.

Pressfield’s book was a highly useful machine for me. I stuffed all of my failure, my self-recrimination, my procrastination, and my endless destructive tendencies into this machine and it came out on the other side with meaning.

The meaning was that I was besieged with this invisible demon called resistance, which is self-sabotage embodied. And it was my duty to wage war on this foe or die trying.

MY LIFE BEFORE THIS BOOK

Permit me to offer my own version of a recent Pressfield blog post (he put it so much better). Before I read The War of Art, I was always looking for shiny new things to distract me.

Sometimes the new things came in the form of things I could buy. I started dealing antiques and vintage when I was 19 and quickly found out there is always an estate sale to go to, always something to sift through, always an old barn to explore.

Sometimes the new things came in the form of other jobs. I took up photography and did it semi-professionally for a few years. I got corporate jobs.  I opened up several businesses under many different names. I even took a half-hearted stab at professional art, graphic design and interior decorating.

Sometimes the new things came in the form of relationships. I had cliques, buddies, groups, lovers and clients. There was a space of five years at least where I didn’t go a single day without hanging out with someone. I spent way too much time on Facebook and Flickr and message boards–my god, the message boards! At one point in my early twenties, I was a daily frequenter of at least eleven, sporting an embarrassingly juvenile handle and avatar that I would hate for someone to dig up.

Sometimes the new things came in the form of danger and excitement. I skydived, bobsledded, went on lone vacations, got into quick relationships with unsavory dudes, started wars and fights and stopped looking at my bank account.

Sometimes the new things came in the form of passive distractions. I watched more hours of television and played more video games as a kid than I care to admit.

Sometimes the new things came in the sneaky form of things that would improve my soul–in the wrong direction. I spent years as a devout Mormon, plumbing the depths of that religion by working at the church’s headquarters and participating in secret temple ceremonies and wasting my time on Sunday’s tending other people’s kids so they could get the “spirit.” I took up any number of health regimens. I joined courses, and groups and went back to school, then went back to school again and then again. Perhaps the worst of these soul enlightening activities was the endless intake and digestion of indoctrinated cultural norms spoon-fed to me by my elders. I believed them.

Mostly, I waited for someone else to do stuff for me.

MY LIFE AFTER THIS BOOK

My day is not unlike the day described in the opening chapter of War of Art. I wake up, I go on my walk. Then, I go to work. I stay there all day. I go home and I hang out with my people and rest.

I am not unhappy.

The thing about this regimen is that no one is making me do any of this. I have complete and utter control of my day.

Give me the same privilege ten years ago and I would have wasted it.

Don’t get me wrong, every day is a little different. It is different in that resistance always has a different trick.

I have come to see resistance as a virus. Once you are inoculated (i.e. recognize) his mode of attack, he mutates and morphs into something that will get you just as bad or worse the next time.

Today’s form was a little drama at the gas station where I get my morning drink. The clerk gave me the drink for free as retribution against his boss. After getting home, I thought about it for a nanosecond and went back to the gas station to pay for my drink. I couldn’t let that sit on my mind all day and stop me from writing.

Tomorrow resistance will try something different. There are many forms that no longer work for me. I don’t get stuck on social media, I don’t get stuck in lines at the store, I don’t take naps and I don’t spend endless hours talking with friends. I rarely shop anymore. I don’t primp. I don’t plan. I don’t start new projects. I see those for what they are, distractions from the things I set out to do every day.

I am humble because I know that he will find new ways to get me tomorrow. He will manufacture a pang in my side. He will flood my basement. He will fill my mailbox full of offers I can’t refuse. He will give me a great idea about a totally new and exciting project. He will give me so much business I won’t be able to think about anything else.

Even if I succumb for one day, I forgive myself and try again the next day.

I try every day.

2 Responses to “How Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art” Changed My Life”

  1. Another great book recommendation to check out. I actually read all the ones you suggest. You are wise like that. If only you would read some of the ones I suggest. But you don’t like Pearl S Buck like I do. Not your thing. I get it. Not all of us are in love with the leading power of the world. But that’s fine. Just understand our friendship is one-sided like that. Of course you aren’t in the humanities so you can’t really gel with us Buckmeysters. Anyway, I’m your friend and you never gave me TWOA. How come? Christmas is coming.

    Posted by Not The Real Pearl S BuckReply
  2. I too love “The War of Art” and Steve’s blog is how I found you! I think he’s very insightful. I do need to read the book again. Although I’m not as productive as you seem to be (I believe you!!!) I do remember the concept of resistance. Though I think its totally real and not a mental model. Sometimes I like to think of it as a ghost in my own machine, trying to stop me from writing. Like I am possessed. Great!

    Another really great post. Thanks!

    Posted by Gloria GoddardReply

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