Writing Wednesdays

Writing Wednesdays

Resistance is Not Us

By Steven Pressfield | Published: March 19, 2014

There are concepts that are so obvious that it’s almost impossible for us to grasp them. This is one of them.

Zen

That voice in our heads is not us

What I mean by “so obvious” is, someone says something to us and we think, “Of course. Sure. I know that.”

Then the concept blows right past us. It’s out the window and gone, and we’re no better off than we were before we heard it.

Here’s the concept (focus hard):

Resistance is not us.

That voice we hear in our head? That’s not us.

Those thoughts we think are our own? They’re not our thoughts.

They’re Resistance.

“You stink, you’re worthless, you’re a loser.” That’s not our voice.

“Your idea is great but you’ll never pull it off.” That’s not us saying that.

“Let’s hit the beach and blow this day off!” That’s not us either.

I’m wrestling with a major siege of Resistance right now in my own life. It’s too private to talk about in specifics. (It’s not about writing.) But that voice is hammering me big-time right now.

Fortunately I have dueled that voice for years and I know most of its tricks.

The big thing I know is:

THAT VOICE IS NOT ME.

P.S. Another post that’s on this exact subject is Resistance and Self-Loathing from a couple of months ago.

P.P.S. I touched on this on Oprah Winfrey’s Super Soul Sunday, also a few months ago.

The best analogy to “Resistance is not us” is a phenomenon that we’ve all experienced in meditation.

We sit. We still our breathing. We focus inward.

Suddenly a whole 3-D freak show begins appearing on the movie screen of our minds. It’s like logging onto the web. We ricochet from mindless distraction to inane diversion. Kittens. Porn. The stock market. Then come the self-defeating thoughts. “My knees are killing me. Why did I come to this stupid dojo in the first place? What time is it?”

If we have a meditation teacher, she has prepared us for this. “Pay no attention to those thoughts. They are not you. Let them enter one side of your mind, pass through and out the other. Remain in stillness. Those ‘thoughts’ will subside. In a few minutes, your mind will grow calm.”

She is describing Resistance.

If we can truly grasp the concept that Resistance is not us, it takes all the judgment out of the endeavor to do our work.

We are not being judged and found wanting by that voice, because that voice is not us.

It’s Resistance.

It’s an objective, universal, impersonal force of nature.

It’s not you and it’s not me. We did not sit down and assess ourselves and our potential impartially and objectively, then conclude:

“You know what? I am a loser. I have nothing going for me. I’m unworthy of breathing oxygen on the planet—and I’m certainly unworthy of trying to write a symphony, complete my Ph.D., start a business, open my mouth and express an opinion.”

Nor are we the subtler, more devious voice of Resistance that tells us

“You are a beautiful, brilliant, supremely gifted individual who is capable of just about anything. But this one particular project/aspiration/aim that you’re engaged in now? Maybe not that one. Anything else, okay. But not this one. Not yet anyway.”

If you believe what I’m saying, you will get up off the psychoanalytic couch. The cure will not be found, you will agree, in tracing our “crippling self-image” back to its origins in childhood, in abuse, neglect, etc., however factual and true such recollections might be.

Resistance is more diabolical than that.

Resistance is recruiting that abuse, that neglect, that whatever. It is enlisting it in its cause: to stop us from doing our work. Even if there had been no abuse, no neglect … if we had been raised on moonbeams and honeydew in the land beyond the rainbow, that same voice of Resistance would appear in our heads.

We must dismiss it.

It is not us.

It is not worthy of our attention.

Thanks, Voice. Nice of you to drop by. You’ve got some great material today, even some fresh material. It’s smart. It’s extremely convincing.

But we’re not buying.

We see you.

We see that you are not us. Your voice is not our voice.

We see you and we see through you.

So long. Sayonara. See you around.

Posted in Writing Wednesdays

45 Responses to “Resistance is Not Us”

  1. Mark
    March 19, 2014 at 3:16 am

    Thanks Steven, I really needed to be reminded of this. Means alot.

  2. March 19, 2014 at 3:57 am

    Dripping wisdom in every word, I have always wondered if only I knew how to choke this self doubting voice. Now, I know for better – perhaps the key lies not in choking it but dismissing it.

    Thanks!

  3. Mary Doyle
    March 19, 2014 at 5:42 am

    Great reminder Steve, that it is always there and that it is never our own voice. It is so seductive, so convincing and so easy to fall for…good luck fighting it back with whatever you’re dealing with right now.

  4. March 19, 2014 at 5:51 am

    Steve, I’ve got to play devil’s advocate here and ask a question. At what point does pursuing our dream really cause us to do things that we should take ourselves to task for?

    I am thinking of accounts of so-called holy men and women leaving their families with young children to pursue praying or teaching. Or an artist accepting financial dependence on family member or people with whom they have a toxic relationship in order to pursue their art.

    At what point does the dream really become more important than anything else?

    I would really appreciate your thoughts on this.

    • March 19, 2014 at 6:53 am

      Not Steven, but if I may, I’ll venture a partial answer.

      I would say that you have given examples not of pursuing the dream, but of Resistance winning. Thus, when you write, “so-called holy men and women leaving their families with young children to pursue praying or teaching,” you have with your own words identified the deceit. These “holy” men and women are “so-called” because they are not really holy. Praying and teaching and fulfilling one’s first responsibilities – to one’s family and young children – are not contradictory. Indeed, the abandonment is proof they have betrayed the dream.

      (I can go on at length regarding the theological elements of this, but the conclusion is this: We have many conflicts in our lives. The dream may reveal contradictions or incompatibilities that existed under the table (beneath the surface), but the true and correct pursuit of the dream never destroys true and correct responsibilities or relationships.)

      You also write: “Or an artist accepting financial dependence on family member or people with whom they have a toxic relationship in order to pursue their art.” I would ask: is that financial dependence really the pursuit of the art? If the relationship is truly toxic, then surely there must be other ways, granted with sacrifice – perhaps great sacrifice – to pursue the art. Indeed, I think the argument can be made that making one’s self toxically dependent, financially or otherwise, is Resistance at its strongest, Resistance diseasing the art.

      Thanks – thought-provoking question.

      • March 19, 2014 at 1:14 pm

        David, thanks for a thought-provoking answer. I’ll be pondering this for a while.

      • Sid
        March 20, 2014 at 5:15 am

        Hi David
        this is to play the devil’s advocate to what you said. I personally think that the examples given by Susanna are examples of resisting the Resistance. Your inner quest is what you are. Resistance throttles your inner quest. Now, if your inner quest were to be pushed, resistance has to be resisted, you HAVE to go against the grain. The examples Susanna has given belongs to that category, i.e. when the existing relationships are somehow counter-productive to your true calling, abandoning them for the cause of the tug inside of your hearts may be what you ought to be doing. In the other examples, staying with toxic relationship or being dependent on others may be the price you pay for following your heart.

        The crux of the matter:
        Firstly, Follow your heart whatever it takes. Most dont. They are waylaid by Resistance.

        Secondly, you may have to chart the path less travelled in order to beat Resistance. That’s where Susanna’s examples fit in perfectly.

        Thirdly, you have to pay a price. To get what is priceless and not available any other way.

        Be it also said, for all this pontificating, I am still floundering on the shores of Resistance myself.

        • March 20, 2014 at 8:43 am

          Sid, you have raised some of my doubts. David’s “true and correct pursuit of the dream” raises issues of morality and I admire the concept. But I do agree with you that that might not always be possible. Thanks for your thoughts.

  5. K Willard
    March 19, 2014 at 6:28 am

    Just what I needed to hear. putting my head down, and trying my hardest, and then some to keep my eye on MY ball!

    I want to thank you for changing my life. After seeing you on Super Soul Sunday – I actually heard what you were saying and walked away believing, no knowing my writing was possible. Of course it took months for me to really….put my ass where my heart wanted to be…in that chair. Since then ….and after reading going pro, the war of art….and anything else I could get my hands on by you….

    I have gone pro…..my muse and I are BFFs I’ve made a deadline and am working full speed ahead – I wouldn’t have thunk it possible – but I wake up every day…pull my ass out of bed, layer aside my daily chores and work at least four hours (that goes by in a flash). As my project just pours out of me. I wanted to believe it was possible…..but doubted I could summon the daily…get to it-ness going pro and fighting my resistance requires. I’m a believer now!

    Thank You for speaking in a way I could hear

    Kate

  6. March 19, 2014 at 6:40 am

    I needed to hear this today. Thank you.

  7. Daniel
    March 19, 2014 at 6:41 am

    I told my neighbor that I began writing my story and she gave me “do the work”. Since then I have written quite a bit and I have read “turning pro” “the war of art” and I’m currently reading “warrior ethos” I have picked up so many valuable tools and feel fortified to carry on with new adventures and pick up some old ones that I thought I could not complete before. Thank you neighbor, thank you Steven.

  8. March 19, 2014 at 6:42 am

    The war within the soul. Your post is reflective of the insights of the Chassidic rabbis.
    How does the war work? When one wrestles Resistance (the evil inclination), one must engage with it. Then, even if one wins, one loses. The dust and mud of battle gets into one’s pores. Dismiss, ignore.

    Resistance exists to be resisted. It’s there as a test, as a means of strengthening and discovering who we are. That process, and resisting resistance is hard. Very hard. The task of transformation of self and the world, of growing goodness through resisting Resistance and Doing The Work, is the soul’s lifetime (never-ending) task.

    No Pain, No Gain. (It also rhymes in Hebrew, and sounds better, too.)

    Another thought: Resistance (the yetzer hara or evil inclination) is selfish. And soul-specific, if you will. That is, my Resistance doesn’t care about yours. So what constitutes Resistance for me will not affect you at all, and vice versa. I can Do The Work through things that would seem to be an impenetrable barrier for you, and vice versa.

    But, that which Is Me (using your phrase)
    does care about that which IS You. That’s why we can help each other beat our own Resistance. That’s one of the values of this blog. It’s Two Of Us (great song) against one Resistance. First yours, then mine. We win every time.

    Another reason why being generous works – it helps the generositor (I made up the word) more than the generositee.

    In full confidence that you’ll beat Resistance this time, too, Steven, thanks for helping me, and all of us, beat ours.

    • March 19, 2014 at 12:05 pm

      David, thanks for a very thought-provoking answer. I’m going to be pondering it for a while.

    • March 23, 2014 at 11:40 am

      Thanks for this David. As a person of faith, I also agree with Steven’s assessment and wondered if anyone else saw the parallels with the battle between good and evil.

      It’s the battle of “flesh”/temptation/Satan vs. “spirit”/conscience/God … which I believe goes on within all of us.

      Thanks again for the added information David.

  9. March 19, 2014 at 6:44 am

    Thanks Steve. One of the problems is that it sounds so much like me. It will use my own vernacular, sometimes my own wit. The voice sounds so much more like me than anytime I hear a recorded sound of me speaking.

    I had a bout yesterday. Knew I needed to run before going home. Felt all tied up in knots, but didn’t know why. I changed my clothes and was then torn between a slow easy run, or a vicious set of sprints. The weather was on the verge of a cold rain. (even for those of us living in the Pacific NW, cold rain can suck).

    I struggled with myself for about 15 minutes–sending texts, emails, half putting my stuff in my bag. Then I said “F-Bomb it”. I’m running. I put “Turning Pro” on my iPhone, and went for a 4 mile jog. I hate the first 10 minutes of running with a passion. Everything is tight, Resistance tells me I’m fat, getting old, my knee hurts, I should probably quit, turn around, quit, quit, it hurts, quit…

    Of course, just like your passage in “War of Art”, I start to warm up. The rain never manifests. I get into a rhythm. I return home present. Relaxed. The man I want to be. I can listen to Kelly’s day with rapt attention and love. My day ends well.

    I see Kate has gone pro. God Bless You! I’m changing careers, but realized yesterday that it is about damn time for me to make the same difficult decision.

    Your words were exactly what I needed this morning, a serendipitous reminder of the truth. Resistance is a Mike Foxtrot for sure.
    bsn

  10. Jane
    March 19, 2014 at 6:50 am

    Needed this today. Waging a war with my own Resistance and like another poster, thinking about how much that voice in my head sounds like me. Resistance in a costume, getting close by making itself seem so familiar.

  11. March 19, 2014 at 6:56 am

    “The Tricks of the Mind” Oh how I know this voice…Been too acquainted and friendly far to long and, too, nothing to do with wanting to be an author or screen writer. Mine is about all in the name of “recruiting the abuse” back in time to childhood. Getting to the point, though, of “not buying into it” – “not worth my time” – “it’s keeping me stuck and not moving forward”. – RESISTANCE all in caps. Changing the words when I “tap” – even with “The Tapping Solution” I need to “be careful” as “The Voice” is always in the head playing its game. Finally “getting it”. Getting a little faster catching “it’s tricks of the trade.” But, too, like “the hackers” and “a virus” on a computer. Conquering the ONE – another “trick” is right there in the combat zone of the mind “sending in the clowns” – DISCERNMENT…in retaliation and hopefully sooner rather than later I, too, write to all “the clowns” So long. Sayonara. See you around; but KNOW THIS TO BE TRUE, “I’ll cross the street if I see you coming my way.”

  12. Ulla Lauridsen
    March 19, 2014 at 6:57 am

    Well … I’m not one for the supernatural. To me it makes great sense that evolution would have taught us to look at every new and daring venture with fear and a lot of scepticism. We know that we are safe as we are – but venturing out, doing something never done before, would be inherently dangerous. So we created this voice that ensures our survival by keeping us bores, frustrated and ’safe’. Or so I think. But I will be forever gratefuld that you told me about Resistance in The War of Art. That book is still changing my life :-)

  13. March 19, 2014 at 7:02 am

    Just last night I sat at my computer working on a piece, and BG (Bad Guy, my version of Resistance) showed up to circle and peck. With “You cannot do this, give it up now” running on a continuous loop, I nearly let him put one in the win column. I’ve learned to call him out and call in The Trio at times like that. As usual, they shut him up–temporarily, I know–but long enough for me downshift and move ahead.

    Thanks for more arsenal today.

  14. March 19, 2014 at 7:08 am

    Awesome. Exactly what I needed today. And ditto to all the great comments.

  15. March 19, 2014 at 8:28 am

    One of the classic lines, and seems apropos here, in Roger Water’s last piece on Dark Side of the Moon is:
    “There’s someone in my head but it’s not me. ”
    I remember as teens we were gonna break through all the ‘brainwashing’ that society and those nasty ‘grown-up’ put on us. Little did I know I did it to myself.
    I found myself quoting Helen Keller the other day. We were talking about fear of losing one’s job by not kissing butt. I thought of this quote: Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.
    Helen Keller

    What’s that have to do with topic? Well, it occurred to me that Helen didn’t get all brainwashed due to her lack of being over exposed to it and by the same token, wasn’t provided with suggestions and tools and various dogma for the young person to implement their own prison of resistance. Same with aborigines. I think, at least for me, what Steve talks about isn’t mind over mind, which is an impossible paradox. Maybe it’s something else over mind, as a mind can’t see the mind that sees the mind that sees, that sees the mind…, to badly paraphrase Alan what’s, or the teeth can’t bite the teeth. Anyway, if a pill would do it, I’d take it. Tried that. Didn’t work. I don’t believe in shrinks, although I’m on a serious Jesse Stone binge and think I would enjoy BSing with William Devane.
    Is it just a question of sufficient will power? Make a vow by God!? Jeesh, not, even though I’m sure He would love to read my stuff.
    No, I think Steve is suggesting self-awareness. I’ve listened to Pema Chodren and others talk about meditation and it sounds like this. Brute force, weather thought of as ‘will power’ or ‘mind over mind, I think is a stress trap and circular. Calmly recognizing my patterns and laughing at them, then everyday giving my dream a go, seems best, sans stress, come what may. The funny thing is, it reminds me of when I jogged everyday; getting started I looked for every excuse not to, but once I got started, it felt great and I didn’t want to stop.
    Don’t beat yourself up over beating yourself up. ;)

    • March 19, 2014 at 8:32 am

      I forgot to check the spell checker. My bad.
      (Alan Watts and Whether)

  16. March 19, 2014 at 8:43 am

    I always think it’s so interesting how we assign our physical pain or injuries an existence apart from us, and we just have it or do it (I have a headache, I broke my leg, I have a sore wrist), but with emotional pain or mental distress, we ARE (or are not) the thing we feel–I AM a loser, I am sad, I am lonely, I am weird, I am not cut out for this….

    If we said I have sadness or I have loneliness, or even I feel like a loser or I worry that I’m weird, at least we could separate ourselves from the stories we tell ourselves or that others have told us, that we started to which we start to believe until we absorb them like truth. That how they *become* us.

    I guess if we focus on what we do, more than judgements of “how we are,” this is a really great practice. In fact, maybe I’ll start asking people, “What have you been up to?” instead of “How are you?” :-)

    • mel
      March 19, 2014 at 9:12 am

      Well put. Thanks.

  17. Joel McMahon
    March 19, 2014 at 8:54 am

    This could not have come at a better time. Thanks!

  18. Marilynn Stumfall
    March 19, 2014 at 9:13 am

    “What have you been up to?” WOW! A tool to free up time and energy.

  19. Vanessa
    March 19, 2014 at 9:15 am

    Thanks, Steven, Just what I needed today. But a question, please :
    Ever since I got out my foolscap page to start my new plan, Resistance has overpowered me. I have a big project that I decided it was time to tackle, and I had been working towards that; but then began to think it would be “easier” ( but also a good idea?? That’s the rub) to ease in by writing a follow-up to another book I’ve written which I know will flow easier and more pleasantly. Having decided that was the way to go, I then read “Write Your White Whale”. Resistance has got me and I am confused. Should I ease in ( having changed my working life to give more time to writing) with something I know will be easy and pleasant or should I go straight for the jugular?
    Thanks

  20. Pamela Seley
    March 19, 2014 at 9:21 am

    I’ve been aware of Resistance for years, just didn’t have a name or a fully-developed description for it until I read Steven’s books, “The War of Art,” and “Turning Pro.” Then the light bulb turned on. In Steven’s interview with Oprah I’m nodding my head when he says we are confronted with Resistance when we are trying to move from a lower level to a higher level, and also Resistance can appear as sabotage by others. This happened to me when I chose, what I thought was something mundane, to get married and start a family. Everyone I knew was opposed. Looking back, I see every milestone I’ve accomplished in my life, going back to college, working on my senior thesis, moving up the “corporate” ladder, quitting and moving 3000 miles, studying and starting my own business, gaining success in my business, resistance shows up in sabotage from others. I’m not sure which is worse, fighting the Resistance in others, or that small voice that checks in from time to time to say “you’re not good enough.” Being aware Resistance is real and not a fabrication is more than half of winning the battle.

  21. March 19, 2014 at 9:32 am

    Thanks, Steve! Another nail hit squarely on the head. Danged ol’ Resistance! I’m really glad I have the Writing Wednesdays to look forward to, because I know I’ll have some help getting into my battle gear. That Kevlar vest can be a real bear, ya know?

  22. Eleatic Visitor
    March 19, 2014 at 11:55 am

    Your writing helps us beat our internal foes.

    Now that internal trouble is slamming you hard, we want to help you. We’ve got your back.

    Since logistics makes it tough to give you a hug or a pat on the back in person, here is some positive energy, over the internet. Although electronic instead of personal, I hope it helps:

    Keep fighting the good fight, Steve.

    We are there with you, in spirit, if not in person.

    The energy we send to you is strong, thanks in part because you helped us take the plunge, get our lunchpail, and get creative.

    Thanks for that. Now internalize what we are sending to you, take what the defense gives you for today, and keep pushing for Ithaca.

  23. Donn McAfee
    March 19, 2014 at 12:42 pm

    Steven: Thank you once again. Your words are a wonderful gift. The fact that you take the time to selflessly share and pass on inspiration is humbling.

    After reading your post I went to work. i.e.. I sat down to write. I’ve been struggling with an Inciting Incident. I couldn’t figure out how to put it all together. Now, three hours later I see that I didn’t have to figure out anything. It just came out. Like Resistance, the Work isn’t a part of me, either. It just flows through, if I choose to let it. Writing is like meditating (at least for me). Everything on the outside gets blocked out as I go deeper and deeper. I can choose to let Resistance in or let the (I don’t know what to call it) in. The Work, The Good, etc. What I love about writing is how when it’s good, it’s REALLY good. But Resistance pounds on the door even harder, doesn’t it? None of it is me. I just make the choices to let it in, or not.

    Good luck with your struggle, my friend. Let the river flow.

  24. March 19, 2014 at 3:34 pm

    Hey, Steve, it’s Mary, Burt G.’s mentor and friend. I have a new website; http://www.breakthroughwriting.net On a recent Breakthrough tip, I told my readers that War of Art is the only book a writer needs for their writing. Having said that, I take an opposite tack from denying the resistance/censor voice. I work with my students on claiming that voice. Once they do that, they can have a conversation (usually many) with it. That way they can learn its source and how to negotiate with it. Let me know if you’d like me to send you the process I use to make that meeting. As always, Thanks for what you do. ms

  25. Kathleen Franks
    March 19, 2014 at 4:39 pm

    Thank you, Steven. Every time a piece of art is created, a little less evil exists in the world. Resistance wants to keep us all down in a world without art, without beauty, without joy. My favorite quote about that voice is by Vincent Van Gogh, “If you hear a voice saying, ‘you are not a painter,’ then by all means, paint, and silence that voice!”

  26. March 19, 2014 at 4:52 pm

    Thanks for the great post, Steven! Really appreciate the reminder that the Resistance is NOT us and therefore, we can dismiss the associated judgment. Here’s to taming those little mind devils!

  27. Patrick OToole
    March 19, 2014 at 5:29 pm

    Thanks for the reminder. I needed it.

  28. March 20, 2014 at 12:37 am

    Steve, I just wanted to say that I hear you. Thank you.

  29. Sid
    March 20, 2014 at 4:59 am

    Steve
    this is an amazing piece of Wisdom. I am immediately charged up. Hope I can hold onto this, as you have warned first up. This is absolutely bloody brilliant.

    My story is like this: I read and read, imbibe, feel great, then as the day passes, negativity assails inexorably almost like a vice and by the end of the day I am cowering at the onslaught. Again, I read and recuperate. And this…ad nauseum.

    Is this concept a panacea? Only if you can hold onto it. PERMANENTLY. Steve, please also tell what would we be [in your experience], once we are shorn of this ghoul whispering in our ears: would we automatically know what to do, what steps to take. Probably yes.

    This finds consonance with the tenets of Quantum Psychology [am reading about this outstandingly clear and deep delineation of QP in a free ebook by Dr. Steven Wolinsky [people named Steve have a proprietory hegemony on the higher levels of knowledge and creativity, it seems :) ]]

  30. March 20, 2014 at 7:13 am

    That is so simple but makes sense. Too often I’ve listened to that voice and it’s held be back from moving forward!

  31. gs
    March 20, 2014 at 10:04 am

    I just emerged from an extended period of flu-like symptoms. My energy was reduced and the voice of Resistance was amplified.

    So this post is just what I need to read. Thanks.

    • March 20, 2014 at 2:26 pm

      gs, that same flu just hit me today. Ugh. Feel better! I will too.

  32. delores Newton
    March 20, 2014 at 12:51 pm

    My passion for music begin at a early age. Through sabotage and resistance, my creative genius has been
    dormant for over 30 years Resistance has ruled my life. I am using my creativity now by completing my Autobiography. I also joined a singing group!
    Thank you Steven for your interview with Oprah and your continuing wisdom on this subject.

  33. March 20, 2014 at 12:55 pm

    “Suddenly a whole 3D freak show begins…”
    Do you have any idea how this sentence affected me as I read this? I sit here, heavy in Resistance because I have to work on my stupid blog, the idiot next painting, as I try some guided meditations to clear my foggy brain, here you come, Mr. Pressfield, my hero, with this post and knock me straight out of my chair. Certainly, if the Voice in my head is not me, it clearly is the devil.

  34. beth
    March 22, 2014 at 7:40 am

    Thank you for this article and your commentators have added some great thoughts too. The question I have is why and how is resistance able to sound so much like me? How does one really know which words are resistance and which are really my brain observing unpleasant truths about myself? Is there a key by which to sort out which is which? I hope you’re feeling better!

  35. March 22, 2014 at 2:38 pm

    Keep rocking, Steven! You are such an inspiration and guide for us all. And Resistance knows that! You must be on the cusp on something wonderful for it to be hitting you so hard. God bless and hope you feel better soon!