The Only Way To Fight The Resistance Demon Is To Do The Work
I used to teach a workshop called Stop Procrastinating, Start Doing. It used tools and techniques that I learned from a lifelong personal development journey and NLP practitioner training. When I taught it for the first time, everybody got something, there were definitely some deep “a-ha” moments in the room and the course reviews were excellent.
But at the end of the session, I got the feeling that people were still waiting for some mystic secret to getting things done that I hadn’t yet revealed.
The next time I ran the workshop I started with this explanation: Today I’m going to teach you some useful tools and tricks for not procrastinating. Some will resonate with you, some won’t. But let me say this up front – the only way to beat procrastination is to get on and take action.
The only way to beat the demons in your head about writing, is to get on and do the work – at your pace, one sentence at a time.
Ten minutes of writing can defeat the demon.
Lamenting that you only have a few spare minutes and it’s just not worth the bother – this will feed the demon.
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What is resistance?
This is my favourite explanation of resistance. It is from Steven Pressfield’s book, The War of Art:
Have you ever brought home a treadmill and let it gather dust in the attic? Ever quit a diet, a course of yoga, a meditation practice? Have you ever bailed out on a call to embark upon a spiritual practice, dedicate yourself to a humanitarian calling, commit your life to the service of others? Have you ever wanted to be a mother, a doctor, an advocate for the weak and helpless; to run for office, crusade for the planet, campaign for world peace, or to preserve the environment? Late at night have you experienced a vision of the person you might become, the work you could accomplish, the realized being you were meant to be? Are you a writer who doesn’t write, a painter who doesn’t paint, an entrepreneur who never starts a venture? Then you know what Resistance is.
We all have our own form of resistance. I like to think of it as the inner gremlin. Its tactics may change over time but what remains constant is the insidious way it will attack you, perfectly fitting your Achilles heel.
For many years for me it was illness, tiredness and a bad back. Nowadays it is doubt in what I am writing. Am I crazy to want to write this novel? Do I really think I could write a weekly Substack newsletter?
Resistance, or the inner gremlin, can screw your head so much that you just give up on writing or sit in front of your computer and play Tetris instead.
Taking action, no matter how small, beats resistance
Action defeats procrastination. Action defeats resistance.
When you start work, the fear and mental turmoil recedes. Working on your writing project is grounding even if you can only do it for a few minutes a day.
Baby steps add up. It might be too much for you to write for three hours a day but you can probably manage ten minutes. If you aim for a very small goal there’s more chance you will do it. Maybe once you’ve done ten minutes, you might continue for another half an hour
It’s a gradual, regular process. If you make progress today, however small, you feel better.
Taking action helps you to accept where you are at
When you take action, it is easier to be more accepting of the outcome. I might never be a best-selling author where I make millions from my books. However, because I sit and write most days, I’m being true to myself, working at my level and I’m content with that.
If I wasn’t writing, then I would be tormenting myself with what might have been: the book signings, the film rights or the reader adulation. I would feel like a failure.
Similarly with producing this newsletter. If I don’t try then I’ll never know whether I could have done it. I’d much rather try and fail, and understand why I haven’t achieved what I thought I wanted, than give in to fear and forever be bitter about other people’s successful publications.
It isn’t easy to take action in the face of your deepest fears, but it is the only way to tame or defeat them.
I’ll let Steven Pressfield have the last word:
Because the most important thing about art is to work. Nothing else matters except sitting down every day and trying.
Why is that so important?
Because when we sit down day after day and keep grinding, something mysterious starts to happen. A process is set into motion by which, inevitably and infallibly, heaven comes to our aid. Unseen forces enlist in our cause; serendipity reinforces our purpose.
If you haven’t read the War of Art by Steven Pressfield then order it immediately. It will help you understand your own personal demons as well as kick you up the butt to get on, in spite of them.
You might find this article useful in your fight against resistance:
Why It’s Sometimes Hard To Write, Even If You Really Want To
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"Lamenting that you only have a few spare minutes and it’s just not worth the bother – this will feed the demon." - I love this! I have a book called "Atomic Habits" sitting on my desk (mostly unopened) but in a podcast I listened to he talked about setting your goal so low you can't avoid it. Like "I will write for 1 minute" because even if it's time to go to bed you can still do it. So now I have a habit tracker and it just tracks did I journal and did I do any form of play, creativity or writing. One minute counts. And you know what? I'm starting to feel like someone who writes because my tracker says I do it every day.