By Steven Pressfield | Published: September 2, 2015
“Hook,” as I define it in this post, is probably not a legitimate psychological term. It’s more like hippie psychology. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) But it’s such a vivid term and so accurate in its depiction of how this phenomenon works that I’m gonna stick with it, even if it might not pass the DSM test.
A “hook” is an action or statement designed to provoke a response.
A hook is always hostile and always bears evil intent. (See this prior post, “The Principal and the Profile.”)
If you’re a working artist, people are throwing hooks at you all day.
Hurling a hook is a symptom of Resistance.
One of the critical skills the working artist needs to acquire is how to avoid being hooked by hooks.
Okay, what’s an example of a hook?
1. Someone tells you they read your short story and they find your attitude “extremely insensitive and offensive” to _________________. [Pick a group/victim.]
2. Someone approaches you and tells you they hate your work. You have no talent, you stink, you should not be afforded the forum to show your stuff in public.
3. Someone tells you that your words/actions/images have hurt them deeply. They are suffering acutely because of your cruelty, whether conscious or not.
4. Someone tells you they’re in love with you. You are perfect, you walk on water, they were meant to be with you and can prove it if you give them the chance.
Hooks can come at you from complete strangers or from those who are closest to you.
What do these hookers want? They want your attention. They want you to engage with them.
They provoke you, seeking to generate a response. They accuse you, hoping you will respond by defending yourself. They pick a fight with you, hoping you will strike back.
The practice of throwing hooks is not limited to individuals. Nations can be hook throwers too. North Korea. Iran. ISIS has achieved new heights in hook throwing.
Hooks are thrown by “losers” at “winners.”
Stalking is a form of hook throwing.
I got the chance last year to visit the office of a personal security company, an outfit that specializes in protecting high-profile executives and celebrities. My host showed me an exhibit. It was a stack of letters, piled literally to the ceiling. The letters had all been written to one celebrity by a single hook-thrower. This person sometimes sent as many as eighteen letters a day.
In Turning Pro, I talk about “shadow careers” and “shadow works of art.” That’s what this stack of letters was. When I say hook-throwing is a symptom of Resistance, that’s what I mean. The letter writer felt a burning need to create, but he or she, overwhelmed by Resistance (no doubt unconsciously), couldn’t sit down and do it. So his or her imagination fixated instead on some artist or celebrity (the security people wouldn’t tell us who the letters were sent to) who, no doubt, was producing exactly the kind of work that the hook-thrower wished he or she could create. The hook-thrower then projected onto this individual all the energy, focus, intensity, and love that should have gone into their own work of art.
The stack of letters became this person’s shadow work of art.
The bullets that Mark David Chapman fired into John Lennon were his shadow version of Abbey Road or Sergeant Pepper or (arrrgh) Revolver.
I asked the security executives what principles they employed in protecting their clients from hook throwers.
First, they said: Do Not Engage.
Don’t take the hook. Don’t get angry when provoked. Don’t defend yourself when attacked. Don’t apologize or explain yourself when accused of causing harm.
Do not respond in any way.
Your response—any response—is what the hook thrower wants, said the security execs. The more you respond, the more energized and validated the hook-thrower will become and the more hooks they will throw.
That stack of letters? The client to whom they were addressed never saw them or even knew they existed. They were intercepted by the security company and that was the end of it. The hook-thrower’s gambit was completely neutralized.
It took me a long time to learn, when I receive hook e-mails, to simply delete them and to add a Rule to my Mail Folder that sends any subsequent communications from the hook-sender straight to Junk.
The flip side of this, of course, is to monitor our own selves and be certain that we are not sending out hooks—to people we admire or to our own loved ones.
If we are, we are falling prey to our own Resistance. Our job is to stop sending hooks and instead to focus on our own work—and do it.