The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield, has been buzzing around internet circles for several years. It was never a bestseller, but has become quite popular through little more than word of mouth. And rightfully so – it is a really good book. But I have a tiny problem with Pressfield’s book. My issue is small, but I think it cuts to the core of my failed attempts at motivation. And unless you’re one of the fortunate few blessed with Olympic levels of willpower, I bet it has something to do with your motivation problems as well.
Before I get too far, let me start by saying that The War of Art is one of the books that has had the deepest impact on me over the last decade. It has literally changed my relationship to my work as a musician and writer. If you’ve never read it, I highly recommend it. Pressfield’s message goes way beyond art – it could easily apply to a business or weight loss or any endeavor in which you’re trying to step out of your comfort zone.
The War of Art is split into three sections. The first section talks about Resistance, the force that fights for the status quo and prevents us from doing the things that we know we need to do. This is the part of the book that gets talked about the most, and it is definitely the section that spoke to me. My experience as a musician and fledgling writer bears out the fact that whenever we try to better ourselves, there is a mighty power that is working against us. In calling it Resistance, Pressfield did a bang-up job in putting a name to something that we all face on a daily basis. He also goes to great lengths to accurately describe how this powerful and destructive force manifests itself.
The next section talks about “going pro”. Pressfield asserts that a subtle shift in how we approach our work will be all the answer we need to defeat Resistance. We should look at our creative and self-improvement pursuits the same way as we do our day jobs. Punch the clock and get to work. In doing so, we will get everything done whether we feel like it or not. I think this solution misses the point just a bit. I’ll come back to that in a second.
The final section of the book talks about the spiritual side of creative work, Pressfield rightly points out that all creators of great art have acknowledged this spiritual dimension. In describing it, he talks about invoking angels and Greek muses. I imagine he probably got a lot of flak about this section of the book. While I don’t personally ascribe to his brand of spirituality, this section didn’t really bother me.
What did bother me, then? I think the book does a wonderful job of describing Resistance, but stops just short of calling it a spiritual issue. And by putting the spiritual dimension last, the idea of “turning pro” simply becomes good old-fashioned human striving under a new name.
Put the spiritual first. Because it’s a spiritual issue.
You see, here’s what I think. I think God made us in his image. God created. It’s the very first thing he’s recorded as doing. Creating is a beautiful thing, and we’re all – yes, that means you – meant to do it. But we humans went and screwed it up. One bad apple spoiled the whole lot of us.
And that is the core of the problem.
Call it Resistance. Call it the devil. Call it whatever you like, but the fact that we don’t create is a deeply spiritual issue. While there are a tiny fraction of us who are able to accomplish a lot through sheer force of will, we will all – yes, that means you – fail at some point and in some way.
The only way to confront a spiritual problem is through spiritual means.
And God has an interesting way of going about this. It’s not through a full-frontal assault on our spiritual enemy. Human striving and willpower come into play very little, if at all. I absolutely believe God cares about what we care about, big and small. And he wants to help us. But while God wants us to succeed, he wants something else first. He wants us.
He wants us to spend time with him. He wants us to pray. He wants us to read his word. He wants us to care about what he cares about. Make this your top priority, and everything else will fall into its proper place. And God will, in a very literal sense, make his home in your heart. I don’t know about you, but I think this gives me a motivation that far exceeds anything I could ever gain through human willpower.
If you want to try the human striving route, by all means. Set some goals and make some lists. Try harder. Grit your teeth a little tighter and grimace a little more. But I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it’s probably not going to work. When that happens, come back and read this post again in a few weeks. It will still be here.
Try this instead. Try something different. Try something truly radical. Make your relationship with God the number one thing in your life.
Try it for a few months and see where he takes you.
I dare you.
If you’ve ever read The War of Art, I’d love to hear how this post hits you. It’s been stirring in my heart for a LONG time. If you’ve never read the book, I recommend it! Either way, I hope this post encourages you to dig into God a little more.