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Published in 2002, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield is about breaking through blocks that hold you back and disciplining yourself to do important work and pursue your calling. This book is aimed at creative artists, especially writers. But it contains lessons for anyone pursuing growth in any area who feels blocked by self-sabotaging behavior or failure to act.

The War of Art BookThe premise of The War of Art is that there are hidden forces working against us, leading to inaction, distraction, procrastination, complacency, fear and self-destructive behavior. The author calls these forces “resistance.” They exist within us as negative tendencies or programming in our subconscious. The resistance may also be outside us, as in associations with the wrong people, or addiction to distractions (which today includes social media).

Resistance doesn’t only affect writers. It hits people in endeavors such as business, education, breaking bad habits and even, wrote Pressfield, “Any diet or health regimen.” The back cover blurb says, “Dream about writing the great American novel? Regret not finishing your paintings? Wish you could start dieting or exercising today? Hope to run a marathon some day? Resistance is what holds us back from these undertakings.”

The War of Art is divided into three parts. In part one, Defining The Enemy, Pressfield describes the insidious nature of resistance. He explains it from his perspective as a writer, but lists many activities that elicit resistance. This includes any pursuit that calls for rejecting instant gratification in favor of long-term growth, health or integrity. He also warns of the cost of giving in to resistance.

In part two, Combatting Resistance, you’re encouraged that resistance can be beaten. The way is by turning pro and ceasing to act like an amateur. You learn that this is not an easy task. You only turn pro by practicing self-discipline and pursuing self-mastery for life.

Here’s a partial list of what Pressfield says turning pro looks like:

1. The pro shows up every day no matter what.
2. The pro is committed for the long haul.
3. The pro knows the stakes are high and real.
4. The pro masters the technique of their craft.
5. The pro doesn’t accept excuses.
6. The pro keeps working with the cards he is dealt.
7. The pro is a student of the game for life and open to coaching.
8. The pro reinvents himself.
9. The pro endures adversity.
10. The pro is patient.

The third part of The War of Art is called, Beyond Resistance: Higher Realm. Some readers might find this part strange or even off-putting as it touches on spiritual / metaphysical topics. The author uses the term “muse” or even “angels” to describe the invisible source of inspiration that spurs us on to do our work. However, depending on your belief system, you could conceptualize this two ways:

One, this is the subconscious. This powerful part of our mind stores everything we’ve ever seen, read and experienced and can call it up into conscious awareness. It can also assemble old ideas and knowledge into new combinations. It is the wellspring of our creativity. Two, there’s a universal consciousness. This is a higher power, creative in nature, and possessing all knowledge. We are connected to it, or one with it in individualized form. We can call on it. But we can also cut ourselves off from this inspiration if we identify only with the ego and physical self.

The second interpretation appears more powerful, infinitely so. In either case, the author does not suggest just sitting around to pray, meditate, or think positive. The key is setting an intention and then starting the work. You commit to show up and simply begin no matter what. As you begin, you ask for guidance (“invoke the muse”), and the beneficent unseen forces show up. You’re inspired to keep taking action. You’re infused with energy. Ideas keep popping into your head.

A core message is that we are creative and growth-oriented beings by nature, and we have a channel to a creative source. Failure to act on our higher urges, do our work and create something or grow as a person means a life unlived, and cheating others out of our potential contributions.

Pressfield has a unique and impactful style. There are a couple F bombs, but colorful language is not gratuitous. At 165 pages, you can zip through the book quickly, especially because some pages contain only one paragraph. I can understand how this book might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but as a fitness professional and a writer, it resonated strongly with me. On the cover, a blurb from Esquire says, “… a kick in the ass.” That’s exactly how I’d describe it too.

Get the book – this is our Amazon Associate’s link:

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