Steven Pressfield — How to Overcome Self-Sabotage and Resistance, Routines for Little Successes, and The Hero’s Journey vs. The Artist’s Journey (#501)

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“Resistance with a capital R, that force of self-sabotage, will try to stop you as a writer or an artist or anybody from achieving your best work, from following your calling, will try to distract you, undermine your self-confidence, make you procrastinate, make you quit, make you give into fear, or, on the other hand, make you such a perfectionist that you spend all day on one paragraph and you accomplish nothing. The concept of little successes, or of a routine, is to help you overcome that Resistance.”

— Steven Pressfield

Steven Pressfield (@SPressfield), a former Marine and graduate of Duke University, became an overnight success as a writer after 30 years of abject failure. Identifying the omnipresence of “Resistance,” the interior force of self-sabotage he described in The War of Art, has saved his own artistic life and has helped many others struggling to find their creative calling. Steven’s novels of the ancient world, including the nonfiction The Warrior Ethos, are required reading at West Point, Annapolis, and in the Marine Corps. He lives in Los Angeles.

His new book is A Man at Arms, an epic saga about a reluctant hero, the Roman Empire, and the rise of a new faith.

Please enjoy!

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The transcript of this episode can be found here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#501: Steven Pressfield — How to Overcome Self-Sabotage and Resistance, Routines for Little Successes, and The Hero’s Journey vs. The Artist’s Journey
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What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.

SCROLL BELOW FOR LINKS AND SHOW NOTES…

Want to hear an episode with another prolific wordsmith? Lend an ear to my conversation with Joyce Carol Oates in which we discuss creative processes and obstacles, the joy of revision, the truth about “final” drafts, the relationship between quantity and enduring quality of one’s work, writing for contemporaries over posterity, and much more.

#497: Joyce Carol Oates — A Writing Icon on Creative Process and Creative Living
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SELECTED LINKS FROM THE EPISODE

  • Connect with Steven Pressfield:

Website | Twitter | Instagram

SHOW NOTES

  • During tough times, Steven lived behind a house for $15 a month and befriended a backwoods cat. How did this cat become his role model, and what circumstances led to their friendship? [07:27]
  • Steven’s theory about halfway houses and the people you’ll find there (which for a time included him). [14:21]
  • From a resume more eclectic than most, what job stands out as being especially formative for Steven’s eventual pivot to writer? [15:55]
  • Common examples of Steven’s self-sabotage in the working world, and how a caring mentor helped him up and shook him out of this destructive pattern. [18:18]
  • After 30 years of what Steven calls “abject failure,” Steven published his first novel when he was in his early 50s. Where did he pick up his wordsmithing skills, and how did make the transition from blue-collar truck driver to successful novelist? [23:11]
  • What did Steven pick up from his time as a copywriter in the world of advertising? [26:25]
  • How does the hero’s journey, as coined by Joseph Campbell, differ from what Steven considers to be the artist’s journey? [31:39]
  • During his own hero’s journey, what did Steven’s refusal of the call look like compared to that of other notable figures from ancient and modern mythology? [37:16]
  • How did Steven go from a refusal of the call that ended in an act of self-destruction and an unfinished novel to becoming a prolific writer? [41:07]
  • Finishing a first novel is a major feat, but getting it published is another thing altogether. How did he make it happen? Like most modern literary adventures, there’s a detour through Hollywood. [43:52]
  • How Steven’s morning routine gives him the momentum to write with what his friend Randy calls a “little successes” approach. [50:33]
  • What does Steven’s exercise routine look like? [53:22]
  • The writing process that works well for Joyce Carol Oates probably wouldn’t work at all for Steven. How should someone think about developing a routine for their own creative process? [54:15]
  • Recommended books on the writing process — including one that integrates the editor’s mindset to keep things on track. [1:00:43]
  • Steven’s advice for overcoming “Resistance with a capital R” when we feel like anything we create today will never match (let alone exceed) what we created yesterday. [1:05:24]
  • Why does Steven believe Resistance with a capital R exists? What purpose could it possibly serve? [1:10:11]
  • What is a shadow career, and what’s Steven’s advice to someone who finds themselves in one (and is willing to acknowledge it)? [1:15:43]
  • What compelled Steven to write his latest work of historical fiction, A Man at Arms? For that matter, what compels Steven to write fiction? [1:23:10]
  • What distinguishes the stories that come fast and easy from the hard slogs, and what might I gain from testing the waters of fiction writing? [1:28:13]
  • Fear-setting from an Israeli fighter pilot’s perspective. [1:32:59]
  • What is the yetzer hara? [1:34:22]
  • How should I best prepare to “go big” as an aspiring fiction writer? [1:37:36]
  • What would Steven’s billboard say? [1:44:25]
  • Parting thoughts. [1:46:07]

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23 Replies to “Steven Pressfield — How to Overcome Self-Sabotage and Resistance, Routines for Little Successes, and The Hero’s Journey vs. The Artist’s Journey (#501)”

  1. at 1:11 of your interview with Steve Pressfield you talk about Resistence. I have an observation – I am sure there is some theory in this somewhere, but for now it’s still just at hmmm. The economic equalibrium is between supply and demand. I think all of life systems including our minds and our societies is based on an equalibrium of Resistance and Strength in order to evolve. Some resistence crushes without the appropraite counter strength and in other cases the resistence is irrelevant because of overwhelming strength. But, when the battle is appropriate and won, strength grows and new resistence immerges. Jonathan Haidt refers to the human as unfragile (I think he credits the term to a famous monk or writer). The term means we need resistence. We grow because of opposition, not despite opposition. I see examples in my own head, in my family, community, work, country and in history. Right now in the US it feels like Resistence is creating a self imposed “fight” in the undisputed, safest, wealthiest, most informed and strongest age in all of history. It’s like “life” needs Resistence like an athlete needs dietary supplements.

  2. Thank you for getting Steven on the podcast, sir. I re-read The War of Art fairly regularly before starting a new creative project or when I feel like I’m wandering from my path. This episode just made it to the top of my queue!

  3. Greetings Tim,
    You are a thoughtful, thorough, meticulous interviewer and it is evident you work hard to hone your craft.

    I am just a simple woman from a small town but
    today I wrote 4 1/2 poems
    With a crayon half eaten by the dog
    Where they good? (who knows)
    Self indulgent (probably) but that does not matter anyway

    When I was 16 I learned Mary Oliver’s Wild Geese by heart and kept it as a shield, a sweater, a soft reminder to be gentle and appreciate all that is even if it feels I have lost the way.

    I’m not one to write comments ( actually this is the first time) but I stumbled on this podcast and hearing you recite the beginning of Wild Geese was a precious stone you find on a beach and put in your coat pocket and find years later.

    Steven Pressfield’s words also felt like some familiar mantra. I have odd varied jobs amount the common folk and no real status or wealth to my name. I live in Aotearoa, New Zealand and soon I will start picking apples in an organic orchard as this year they need the help but no matter where I work always I write.
    I’m also satisfied with my little life in my 114 old home on a hill by the sea (seeing my sunflowers survive the slaughter of snails gives me an inexplicable pleasure)

    I dare not call myself a poet but often poetry flows from me. Words stumble out and I must write them down. I don’t question why or how or what it means. I just accept it as something that happens.
    It was interesting to hear your questions about resistance and listen to your struggles regarding your own writing.
    Many thanks for this authentic podcast and the love you put into your work all the best for your fiction project
    If the seed finds
    energy
    sparks
    sprouts
    and takes fruit.
    I have a new 2021 project to write a poem a week and share out there in the big scary world.

    Many happy returns to you

  4. The War Of Art is one of the most important and impactful books I have ever read in my life. I’m not trying to sound overly dramatic in stating that. It’s just the facts. Learning about the concept of resistance was such an “ah-ha” moment for me. What a simple and easy to digest read too.

  5. Hi Tim –
    This was a particularly great episode – thanks very much!
    As a new novelist it directly tied into my interests, but I think much of what Steven Pressfield has to say benefits just about anyone.
    As for your own interests in writing Fiction — Go for it! After 20 years as a journalist and analyst I’m finding it to be really great fun — and hard but satisfying work.
    I don’t know if you read these comments, but, as you were asking Pressfield for suggestions on books to read and other advice:
    I think you’d enjoy talking to the guys at Sterling & Stone, a “story studio” near you in Austin. It was just three guys producing enough fiction to support themselves and their families, but they now employ a number of writers as well as an overall editor /story consultant who is upping everyone’s game — and she is just starting a multi-week course on story fundamentals as part of their regular podcast.
    They’d also be interesting guests for your podcast, to talk about not just writing, but the ups and downs of their business, as they tried many entrepreneurial “shadow careers” such as three years running a conference for writers and self-publishers.
    (I’m not affiliated with them in any way, just a fan of their books and podcast.)
    – Paul

  6. Pressfield’s treatment of Resistance, and Shadow Careers amazes me. As a psychologist and novelist, The War of Art is my most recommended book. And Pressfield is spot on to push Tim to just “jump into” long-form fiction, and to go big. I’d argue, though, that reading and researching can be okay if you use it to get unstuck, and/or for targeted inspiration. After all, that’s why we read Tim’s books, right? My three go-tos are Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing (takes ten minutes to read but the rules will stick with you for years); Bird by Bird, by Anne Lamott; and, of course, King’s On Writing. Thanks Steven, and good luck writing, Tim!

  7. I really enjoyed listening to this man’s open-mindedness and his wisdom. Thank you for having him as a guest.

  8. Amazing episode! Definitely in my personal TOP 10! If I may add my two cents on the Resistance and Negativity points:
    – Resistance – as per Tony Robbins a human being does Anything for two reasons only – to avoid something perceived as bad, and/or for a promise of pleasure. Since the brain is the most energy-consuming organ in the body, it always aims to conserve energy (hence – maintain homeostasis and change Nothing). So, whenever we want to change anything, the brain wants to revert to the good old situation it is familiar with. And progress is definitely a change (but requires energy to achieve, and then every to adjust to the new status quo). Which is why every time we try to change the status quo, our brain freaks out – “OMG, I will have to adjust to something new, hence expend energy, No Way!” So it starts all it’s gimmicks to keep us in the familiar (even if it’s bad). Learning and progress start where the comfort zone ends. There is a beautiful course called DSN which is all about breaking old habits and leaving the comfort zone.
    There is also the “identity thing” broached by Mark Manson in the “Subtle art of …” As long as we identify ourselves as “the person who is not moving forward” (not progressing with the book), every time we try to break this, our Ego (self-identity) blocks us. It is simply trying to protect us from the unknown.
    Then there is the environment and network thing – if you are surrounded by people who do not advance with their writing, you want to be like them…
    – Negativity – human beings are like atoms – they are all positive in their core, and negativity is only on the surface. Only those who have suffered and are in pain are able to inflict pain on others. Those who are in a pleasant state of being are not violent or negative. Proper food, meditation and good physical health prevent people from becoming negative or violent or depressed. And as Sri Sri Ravi Shankar says, if there is no suffering and pain in the world, there would not be any need for some of the most noble professions – without illness doctors and nurses would be obsolete, without hunger farmers will not be needed, without misery volunteers would have nothing to do. Without injustice police officers, detectives, soldiers, lawyers and judges would be out of work too. All events perceived as negative are actually the manure for the flowers of compassion, human touch, caring, love and gratitude.

  9. It’s your accountability muse pixie here. What’s the baby step of action you’ve taken towards unleashing your fiction?

  10. I absolutely love when you interview authors and go over process and the nitty gritty of exactly how someone came to be who they are today. Just commenting to say thank you!

  11. If I ever get to meet Steven Pressfield, I want to pick his brain about how his idea of Resistance relates to György Doczi’s concept of Dinergy and the importance of the artist’s creative force meeting resistance. Has anyone else here read both the War of Art and The Power of Limits and see a possible synergy between the ideas?

  12. Wow, what a great interview. I loved Steven’s personality and insight. It was inspiring to realize that we do have a long time and great things can happen at any point along our journey.

  13. Tim, I want to share some thoughts on this show (which was excellent, btw)… Mr. Pressfield mentioned that perhaps your calling was fiction writing…I see that as a call to open up to your right brain/creative side, more so than actually taking up a particular craft. This reminded me of the “Autobiography of John Stuart Mill” in which Mill talks about being a left-brain genius from an early age, yet found solace in right brain activities later in life to balance himself out….thought I’d share this. Thanks again and keep the awesome content coming.

  14. Amazing interview. One of the best. I could listen to him and Fussman all day. I’m looking forward to your first work of fiction. As one of my law professors once said “Embrace The Ambiguity!” 🙂

  15. What if your writing is worse than when you were 29? If it actually is, how is this negatively affecting your life and what is the worst thing that has happened because if it?

    I have also become lazy with the em dash, but more so commas. I am a comma whore. I don’t like the finality of a period and a short sentence—it ruins flow.

    There is a huge possibility my writing was better years ago, and as someone who has a black belt in beating herself up, I (surprisingly) don’t think I care all that much.

    I’m probably the only one who has noticed anyway… 🙂

    Great interview!

  16. Loved this episode, and the discussion around you writing a novel. Im a former military aviator, and I’ve been “writing” a fiction book novel based loosely on my friends and my experiences on Iraq and Afghanistan. I’m about 100 pages in, and its total shit. I need to strip out the 10-15 that are usable and start over. If you want a long-distance accountability buddy to see if we can get these books cranked out, lets do it.

    Cheers,
    Kyle French

  17. This episode was so much fun! I loved the conversation back and forth, the psychoanalysis of each other and yourselves as well. I will enjoy exploring more the linked references you mentioned here as well. So many great ideas and thoughts in this conversation to challenge the listeners as well as yourselves! You don’t see that every day.

    Here’s a request, if you’ll hear me out: an episode of Tim Ferriss interviews J. Michael Straczynski (@straczynski) would be epic-level greatness. This would be Batman vs. Superman: your Batman to his Superman. Joe’s latest book on writing “Becoming a Writer, Staying a Writer” would be a fantastic continuation of this episode’s exploration of writing craft and process. Joe’s career that spans TV to film to comics to novels to reporting would be fantastic to hear about and perhaps helpful if you are making plans to accept Steven’s challenge to write fiction of your own. Finally, hearing you and Joe, two of my greatest personal heroes, with you trying to piece apart how Joe does what he does, and Joe’s formidable mind, wit, and wordplay challenging you at every turn would be better than any MCU or DCEU epic that’s ever been brought to cinema.

  18. I have enjoyed your podcasts for years Tim. A suggestion for a possible podcast: Army General Mike Murray, commander of the Army Futures Command headquartered in Austin. I have observed a number of 4 stars in my career–he is one of the great ones.