Most of us have two lives.
The life we live, and the unlived life within us.
Between the two stands Resistance.
- Steven Pressfield

When you try to start a new art project or an illustration, do you ever find yourself over rationalizing it? Do you find yourself leaving your authenticity and personal style out of the equation and conforming with what everyone else is doing?

Maybe you feel annoyed each time you see people around you succeeding, or you find yourself so busy that you no longer have time to actually do the work?

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Then, my friend, you have encountered resistance.

By understanding and naming the source of resistance, you can find a way to work through it and be more mindful when you encounter it. In the following article, I will give examples of resistance and provide several tools for defeating it.

My own battle with resistance

I came across the topic of resistance a while ago when I was experiencing it myself. I was feeling stuck in my projects and felt ashamed about the situation.

I thought that I was the only one experiencing something like that, procrastinating and sabotaging my own work. Yet, little did I know that everyone goes through it, and that it’s all part of the creative process.

A few years ago, I decided to take some time off. I was feeling slightly burnt out and I wanted to have a break and work on projects with a creative component.

It seemed I had finally met the right conditions and was able to explore my creative side. Little did I know that reality was going to be very different.

It turned out that I started freezing, and was struggling to get anything done. As ironic as it may seem, I was doing even less work when I had the proper conditions and wasn't having to squeeze creativity into my spare time.

When friends asked me how this time was going, I didn't know exactly how to explain this situation. Not only was I frustrated, but I was also ashamed. And the reason for that is that I myself didn’t understand it.

Captured on Portobello Road, London
Photo by Ed Robertson / Unsplash

I did what I always do when I’m struggling with an issue in life: I researched it.

That’s how I found not only the diagnosis of what I was struggling with, but got some clues about how to work around it.

And when I say this, I don’t mean that I’ve completely overcome it, that I don’t experience any impostor syndrome anymore, or that I no longer find excuses not to do the work. Yet, these days I can recognize it and I know better how to deal with it.

What exactly is resistance?

I personally like to define resistance as that force inside of us that tries to distract us, that tells us we can't do it, and does everything it can to keep us from sitting down and finishing our projects.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that resistance is almost an evil force.

You don’t believe me? Well, our inner resistance is invisible, internal, insidious, implacable, highly intelligent, and creative. Try to fight against something with these characteristics, and you’ll realize why it can have so much power over us.

It seems that resistance acts from a place of fear and survival. It pushes us to fit in, and by doing so, it shouts down our inner genius.

Resistance is also universal. The funny thing is that although we all experience it, it fools us into thinking everyone else is advancing gracefully except for us.

But the truth is that deep inside, we all (of course to different extents and levels) have to face these uncomfortable feelings from time to time (if not most of the time).

Shadow of a hand holding a flower against a wall
Photo by Tanya Trofymchuk / Unsplash

But wait—there’s hope

Although it might sound almost impossible to deceive, there’s hope for us yet.

According to Steven Pressfield (who has a course about this topic) the way to deceive resistance is to learn to recognize it: the more we know about resistance, the better we can combat it.

To help you understand a little bit better, inner resistance can look like:

• self-sabotage

• feeling overwhelmed

• habits of procrastination

• susceptibility to distraction

• self-doubt

• perfectionism

• over-rationalization

What creates creative resistance?

A question I asked myself while exploring my own resistance was: what generates it?

To my surprise, I found out that everything new brings resistance! Indeed, it always appears second: resistance will not appear without a project or a dream (it’s like a shadow).

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It seems that for our reptilian brain, starting a creative project can be terrifying because it involves breaking out from the status quo and being seen.

I could talk about this topic for hours, but for now I’ll summarize it into this quote from Steven Pressfield about resistance and fear:

“[Resistance ] is the part of you that is working overtime to get you to shut up, sit down, and do your work. It will invent stories, illnesses, emergencies, and distractions in order to keep the genius bottled up. The resistance is afraid. Afraid of what will happen to you (and to it) if the ideas get out, if your gifts are received, if the magic happens.”

Resistance and its many forms

Which form does our Resistance take? It can take two main forms:

1. The voice in our heads that tells us that our idea for our project is just not worth pursuing, undermining our belief in ourselves and our faith in our project. Have you ever told to yourself phrases like, “See, I told you it would never work” or “you should have listened to me, you really fuck it up.” Well, this is because you’re experiencing resistance.

2. It’s this part inside of us that tempts us with distractions. This can take many forms, but it is basically everything that keeps us away from work. As Pressfield states, “It’s not the writing that is hard. It’s the sitting down to write- and what keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.”

Where my resistance hides

Since the resistance is not only clever but also highly creative, it tends to also appear in more sophisticated ways.

One of these ways is to romanticize the magic of creativity. But, what does that exactly mean? In my case, I tend to think that order, discipline, regularity, and constant striving kills the flow. Yet, once I started to create some structure around my work, it was easier to flow.

It might sound counter-intuitive (as it did to me at the beginning), but doing the work even when we don’t feel inspired helps us to create the structure. And then we have this moment, when we are almost about to give up, but we find ourselves finally “in the zone.”

Another way in which resistance was showing up in my life was by making myself busy and overwhelmed. What I learned while dancing with my resistance is that being constantly overwhelmed gave me the permission slip that I needed for not doing the work.

Are you skeptical about this? Well, it turns out that feeling overwhelmed had hidden benefits for me (and probably also for you). For instance, it prevented me from putting myself out there and feeling incapable. It also provided me with an excuse not to do anything while feeling productive, important, or busy. The feeling itself resembles the emotion that comes before productivity.

I will not go into the social aspect of it, and the fact that being busy (and overwhelmed) is not only highly accepted in our world these days, but it can also help us to relate and bond with certain people. Yet, this factor definitely adds to this.

This also seems counter-intuitive, but having more freedom actually fed my resistance even more. As I came to realize afterwards, freedom involves doing vague tasks that are difficult to measure. It involves living without a map and that the responsibility is fully ours, which is particularly challenging when we fail.

Freedom can be an opening for resistance because it becomes easier to hide, easier to find excuses, and easier to do very little.

Learning to embrace resistance

It’s natural to just want to get rid of resistance when it arises, and I’ll give it to you, it’s an obstacle that drives us away from our goal. Yet, I personally think that it can teach us a lot about ourselves and about the conditions that we need to work at our fullest capacity.

On top of that, resistance could also be a good sign for yourself and your project. If you feel overwhelmed or find yourself procrastinating about a project, it could mean that you care for it and that is important for the evolution of your soul.

Resistance forces us to look deeper at ourselves, to get to know each other better, and to come out from it stronger. If we approach it in the right way, our enemies can become great teachers, and this can also apply to our resistance.

Some final words about resistance

It’s not that one day out of the blue this inner harsh critic will stop existing, but rather that we’ll learn how to deal with it in a way that doesn’t stop us from doing the work or showing up.

Steven Pressfield has this amazing quote: “And I will say this: if you are an aspiring writer, artist, filmmaker, or whatever it is, you will never, never achieve your artistic or entrepreneurial goals unless you recognize the reality of this negative, lethal diabolical force, and devise your own method of overcoming it.”

At some point, you’ve to decide how you’d like to relate to it. Are you going to let your resistance take the lead and scare you? Or do you want to find ways to work around it or even with it?

 Kaleidoscopic image of houses and sky with power lines
Image Source: Pinterest

This decision is yours, and it’s key to determine if you’re going to actually be able to share your gifts with the world, or if you’ll keep on finding excuses for not doing the work.

My humble invitation to you is not only to identify and acknowledge your inner resistance but to also learn as much as possible from it through exploration. By doing so your inner resistance can become a great teacher to you and your work.

Melissa Cuevas is a Berlin-based environmentalist and the founder of the Unstuck Lab.

If you're feeling inspired to work with your resistance, download Linearity Curve (formally Vectornator) to start exploring your creativity.

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Resistance: the source of creative procrastination and how to tackle it | Linearity
Resistance: the source of creative procrastination and how to tackle it