the war of art summary

Book Summary: The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

The Book in Three Sentences

In this summary of The War of Art, you’ll learn how to defeat “Resistance”, the force that prevents you from reaching the best version of yourself. The book gives you the plan to conquer this internal enemy, as well as a detailed path to success. Although originally intended for authors, The War of Art has been popular among entrepreneurs, artists, and other professionals around the world.

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The War of Art Summary

Writing isn’t hard, sitting down to write is the hard part. The author refers to the force that prevents us from doing what we’re supposed to as Resistance. Resistance lies between the life we live and the unlived life. The difference between one and the other reflects in our actions. The unlived life refers to all the paths we could have taken but decided not to because of Resistance. Resistance is a toxic force and it leads to unhappiness. Most people never confront Resistance.

Book One: Resistance: Defining the Enemy

The activities that evoke resistance include:

  1. The pursuit of a calling such as writing, painting, music, film, or dance
  2. Launching an enterprise
  3. A diet
  4. A spiritual program
  5. Exercising
  6. Programs that help you overcome habits or addictions
  7. Education
  8. Self-improvement acts
  9. Endeavors whose purpose is helping others
  10. Commitments such as getting married, having children, or fixing a relationship
  11. Facing adversity

To sum up, acts that favor long-term growth instead of short-term gratification will evoke Resistance.

  • We can’t see Resistance, but we can feel it. It’s a negative force that distracts us from our work.
  • Although it seems external, Resistance comes from within. Resistance lies to you and it’ll do anything to deceive you, but you can use it as a compass because it points toward the most important things we must do.
  • Everyone struggles with Resistance and it gets its power from us and our fears. By mastering our fears, we can overcome resistance. The closest we get to our goals, the more Resistance will counterattack. While Resistance comes from within, it’ll recruit those around us to sabotage our work.
  • Resistance manifests itself in the form of procrastination and the problem with procrastination is that it becomes a habit. To fight Resistance, sit down and work now. Resistance can also take the form of sex because sex is all about immediate gratification. The more empty you feel afterward, the more certain you are it was the job of Resistance. This powerful force also takes the form of drugs, shopping, alcohol, and eating products with fat, sugar, salt, or chocolate.
  • We get in trouble because it’s the easiest way to get attention. Don’t allow trouble because it prevents you from doing your work. Creating drama is a symptom of Resistance as well. The moment you welcome drama into your life, that’s the moment you won’t get anything done.
  • When we take substances to alleviate conditions like depression or anxiety, we’re simply at the mercy of Resistance.
  • Resistance feels like unhappiness.
  • Artists and fundamentalists constantly face existentialist ideas. Questions like “Who am I?” or “Why am I here?” are hard to answer. Our thinking is rooted in ancient times when humans were hunter-gatherers and were part of a tribe. In modern times, though, when we can thrive on our own professionally, that thinking doesn’t help us much. Artists are self-confident and believe in progress. Fundamentalists don’t believe in such things and rely on prophets to find the truth, therefore, they can’t stand freedom.
  • Criticizing others is something you do out of Resistance. We can’t stand that others are being their authentic selves. Realized individuals never criticize others and if they speak, they do it to say words of encouragement. Criticizing not only harms others but also ourselves.
  • Self-doubt reflects the love of something we want.
  • Being paralyzed with fear is good because it shows us what to do. When you’re scared of something, it means we must do it.
  • The more Resistance you feel toward something, the more you love the project in question and the more gratification you’ll feel once you actually do it. The opposite of love isn’t hate, but indifference.
  • Only amateurs engage with fantasies. Professionals know that success is a by-product of actually doing the work. Sometimes we avoid certain projects because doing them requires us to go off on our own. But we’re never alone because our Muse is always with us.
  • For a project to interest us, we must have an unwavering passion for it.
  • Working isn’t the same as healing. You’ll never be free of pain. While our personal life might need healing, our work life doesn’t.
  • Seeking support is Resistance. Regardless of the problems you might be facing, you can take care of them. You are in command of your own life.
  • Resistance uses rationalization to prevent us from doing our work. Lie to yourself all you want, but never believe those lies.
  • Despite what you may think, Resistance can be beaten.

Book Two: Combating Resistance: Turning Pro

  • Those defeated by Resistance think like amateurs. To defeat Resistance, you must turn pro. There are two moments in life: before turning pro and after turning pro. Professionals love something so much that they devote their lives to it.
  • When in doubt about what to do next, remember the Principle of Priority which says that you should know the difference between urgent and important things. Work’s important, so do that first.
  • Every artist should know how to be miserable. This involves dealing with humiliation, ridicule, contempt, despair, self-doubt, and rejection.
  • To be considered a professional, you have to show up every day, you have to work despite difficulties, you have to stay on the job, and you have to commit to it for the long haul.
  • Professionals accept money, but they do things out of love. Too much love can be a liability, so do it for the money as well.
  • Professionals are patient.
  • Professionals demand order.
  • Professionals see their work as craft, not as art.
  • Professionals don’t accept excuses.
  • Professionals do the work despite adversity.
  • Professionals are prepared
  • Professionals don’t show off.
  • Professionals dedicate themselves to mastering techniques.
  • Professionals ask for help.
  • Professionals take distance from their instruments.
  • Professionals don’t take failure or success personally.
  • Professionals put up with adversity
  • Professionals seld-validate, they don’t react and they don’t take things personally, and they don’t see things as a sign. Other people’s actions can’t define your reality.
  • Professionals accept their limitations
  • Professionals reinvent themselves.
  • Professionals recognize each other
  • Make yourself a corporation so that you separate the artist from the person. By doing this, you’re less subjective and you won’t take things personally.
  • To become a pro, you make up your mind about it and do it.

Book Three: Beyond Resistance: The Higher Realm

  • Pressfield talks about invisible forces that help us on our journey. He refers to them as muses and angels and you can think of them as abstract energies.
  • Artists are modest because they’re not doing all the work. Someone or something else is dictating and the artists take note of that.
  • Angels live in the Self and Resistance lives in the Ego. They constantly battle each other. The Ego takes care of everything in the real world, but the problem is that the Ego thinks that time and space are real, that every person’s different, that self-preservation rules us, and that there’s no god. The Self believes that death doesn’t exist, that time and space don’t exist, that all individuals are one, that love rules everything, and that god is everything.
  • To get to the Self, we must destroy our Ego.
  • Fear feeds Resistance.
  • When we come into the world, we have an identity already. This limits our choices of what we want to be. We have a destiny.
  • Like other animals, humans achieve security by ranking themselves within a hierarchy or by having a connection to a place. Exploring territories other than the ones that were assigned to us can be life-changing.
  • The world is a hierarchy, but the bigger the place, the more you get lost.
  • Artists should never define themselves hierarchically because they’ll compete against others to increase their status, determine their happiness according to their rank, act toward others based on such rank, and determine every action to impress others. Do your work for yourself, not others.
  • A hack is the kind of writer who doesn’t trust himself and only looks to please their audience. Hacks think they’re better than the members of their audience. Hacks write hierarchically. Even if you win, you lose because succeeding means selling out the part of you that creates true work. Don’t be a hack.
  • Don’t do your work hierarchically but territorially.
  • Humans have physical and psychological territories.
  • Don’t look for the approval of others, do things for yourself. This is the difference between hierarchy and territory.
  • We must focus on the work and not on the possibility of failure.
  • We must do the work for ourselves, not for external rewards.
  • What’s your calling? Answer the question by action.

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