There was an old Star Trek plot about an alien enemy called the BORG. Their mission in the universe was to assimilate all of the other intelligent races. In pursuit of their seemingly unstoppable collectivist mission, they had a habit of intoning “resistance is futile.” They were convinced that they would win in the end. Of course, this attitude is usually admirable. In the case of forced assimilation into the collective, not so much.
As it turns out, resistance was not futile, and the good guys finally won the day. However, there’s another sort of resistance. This variety is insidious and evil. It’s the enemy inside all of us that keeps us from achieving our goals. Whether you’re trying to write a book, develop an iPod app, lose 40 pounds, start a new business or bounce back from adversity, you have a built-in adversary that will be fiendishly creative and stubborn in finding ways to keep you from your goal. This enemy, Resistance with a capital R, is described accurately, succinctly and frighteningly by Stephen Pressfield in his new, quick and feisty little book, Do the Work.
Pressfield sets the stage by describing Resistance and its allies: self-doubt, procrastination, timidity, perfectionism, narcissism, our own intelligence and even friends and family. These are the powerful forces that are arrayed against us with whether we’re trying to build a business, create a work of art or achieve any worthwhile goal. Think of Resistance as an actively malevolent force whose sole aim is to keep us from doing our work by using a wide variety of tactics and obstacles. It is always there, it is universal and it never sleeps. A major tool of Resistance is rational thought. It can distract us and lead us to over-think issues. We normally assume our rational mind will help us to achieve, but (especially in the early part of the process) it will try to talk us out of our quest. Another enemy in disguise is our normal support system. Friends and family have a great deal of investment in seeing you as consistent and as staying as you are. Actually, that’s the last thing you want to do if you’re trying to accomplish great things. By definition, you’re trying to transform something: yourself, a business, a project, the presentation of great thoughts and ideas, etc. That may be a threat to those closest to you.
However, there are allies we can employ to fight Resistance. Most important of these are stupidity, stubbornness, and blind faith. Pressfield uses the examples of Charles Lindbergh, Steve Jobs and Winston Churchill to illustrate the value of “staying stupid.” This is because any “smart” person would have immediately understood how impossible their goals were and would have advised them to look at something more realistically achievable. He notes that ignorance and arrogance are indispensable allies for the artist and entrepreneur. One must be clueless enough not to realize how difficult the task will be and cocky enough to believe that he or she can pull it off anyway. We do this by staying stupid and not allowing ourselves to think. Instead, we need to act. As he notes, “The child has no trouble believing the unbelievable, nor does the genius on the madman. It’s only you and I, with our big brains and our tiny hearts, who doubt and over-think and hesitate.” Act. Don’t think. You can always revise, rewrite, and revisit once you have acted, but nothing gets accomplished until you DO act.
The second great ally is stubbornness. We need to keep going once we have committed to an action. As resistance piles up more and more doubt and other obstacles, the worst thing we can do is stop at this point. Be a pain in the butt. Be mean, ornery and pigheaded. Once you have determined your course of action, put blinders on and keep pushing. As Pressfield says “We’re in until the finish. We will sink our junkyard-dog teeth into Resistance’s ass and not let go, no matter how hard he kicks.”
Blind faith is the belief in something that you can’t see, hear, touch, taste or feel. It is your ability to sustain belief in what you are doing. When you’re working on a project and trying to accomplish your goals, consider this as your religion. It’s your belief in what can be and what will exist beyond the current reality. Closely related allies are passion, the ability to tap into the natural increase in good ideas once you are on your way and remembering who you love: that is, who you are doing this for.
Pressfield suggests these steps to help you succeed:
Begin before you’re fully ready (that is, don’t spend any more time on research beyond the basics that you need to get started) Stay primitive (that is, keep things on the primal, earthy and emotional plane rather than trying to be too rational at this point)
Swing for the seats (keep your sights very high because that will get you a lot further toward your goal even if you fail at first)
Start at the end (visualize where you want to go, then work backwards from there.
And always remember that your internal dialogue, your chatter, your “monkey mind talk” (as the Buddhists call it) is nothing more than Resistance.
Not only does the universe not care about you and your work, it will actively conspire to keep you from achieving it. Resistance is built-in to each of us. It’s the pull towards entropy and the push against change. However, once we realize that we can fight against it by pushing ahead on all fronts, staying crazy and irrational, suspending self judgment, saying yes to the ideas and goals that would normally stop “smart” people in their tracks and working with blinders on towards the end result, we can overcome it. But even doing all this, there will always be the wall you’ll encounter at various points and there will always be unanticipated counterattacks, IED’s, booby traps and frontal assaults.
You’re in a war, and the enemy is tireless and unceasing.
Be all that as it may, it helps to remember that Resistance arises as a second force in opposition to the idea. The idea, the passion and the dream come first. Resistance is the inevitable shadow that tries to block out the light from these positive energies. The achievement wants to exist. Resistance wants to snuff it out before it gets started.
If you’re not totally committed to the work and if you’re not doing it for sheer fun, love or beauty, or because you have no choice, Resistance is likely to win. Only with the total motivation and belief in yourself, your idea and your potential to achieve it, will you be able to successfully fight against Resistance and slay the Dragon. But he’s like a zombie looking for brains. You must keep killing him. But you can kick his butt by aiming high, staying stupid, being stubborn and keeping the blind faith.
BE THE BORG. Make Resistance futile.