3 Steps for Overcoming Creative Resistance

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[I]f you’re an artist, you’re going to face inner creative battles and resistance. We’re talking headwind, hardship and heartache. It’s part of the territory of living out on the wide plains of the creative open range. If you’re not an artist, but you just want to lose five pounds. Or resolve a conflict with a family member or co-worker. Or you want to plan a dream vacation. Whatever goal, ideal, challenge, or creative endeavor you set your sights on pursuing, you can count on this: You are going to face resistance. And it ain’t gonna be purdy.

If resistance was an eighteen-wheeler, I’d have huge tire tracks running up and down my back. So, speaking from a personal wrapped-around-the-axle-creative perspective, I want to offer 3 steps for overcoming creative resistance. Read on…


Whether you are a full-time artist, a student, a creative person who dabbles in different artistic disciplines, or just someone with a challenge you want to overcome, I want to recommend  you pick up a copy of Stephen Pressfield’s excellent book, The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. It’s been out for some time, but Pressfield has many good things to say about creative challenges, problems and obstacles. Pressfield is a highly successful writer, the author of several novels and books on the creative life such as Turning Pro Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work and Do the Work.

Pressfield states the reality of resistance occurs in every human endeavor as part of the human condition. The War of Art outlines the problems faced by every artist (and human being) in short, digestible chapters and offers practical steps for overcoming it.

You and I will face resistance in every area of our life. Ask yourself, “What is keeping me from pursuing what you really want…”

Do you want to…

• Succeed in your business?
• Actually finish a new diet and workout plan?
• Resolve a conflict
• Pursue a dream to write music or paint or finish a book?
Grow spiritually?
• Deepen a relationship?

If you want to do any of these worthy things, you are always going to face RESISTANCE.

For me, I have been facing resisting finishing several books and screenplays for which I’ve written hundreds of pages. A mix of boredom, fear, publisher rejections, distractions (email, facebook, phone calls, obsessive plant watering) and other pathologies I’m sure. (I wrote a bit about this in 3 Steps to Overcoming Perfectionism. Yet, resistance hasn’t won the day in every aspect of my work. For the past two months, my screenwriting partner and I have made huge progress in the fourth draft in one of our screenplays. It’s our best work yet, so if you find yourself wrestling with resistance, it is important to see what smaller battle you may be winning. Progress. Go for little daily gains.

The turtle wins the race. Not the rabbit.

So whatever creative resistance you’re facing, here are 3 things that help me overcome that self-sabotaging resistance that lurks in my mind the moment I wake up:

1. Stop Making Excuses

I can come up with a wikipedia-like cache of excuses of why I can’t finish a book, start a blog post or organize my work bench. You and I are all too busy, too tired, too hungry, too stressed, too poor, too important, too addicted, too full of crapola as to why we can’t finish what we start. Our excuses are our choices. Our choices determine our progress. Our failure. Or our success.

Here’s a test: Write down your top five excuses why you can’t finish__________(fill in the blank).

Now ask yourself, “Why?”

God gave you a life. I once heard someone say, “You serve no one by living small.”

2. Ask Yourself, “Do I want to be an amateur or a pro?”

Pressfield has a whole lot to say about turning pro and how it is the only way to combat resistance. He writes,

The word amateur comes from the Latin root meaning “to love.” The conventional interpretation is that the amateur purses his calling out of love, while the pro does it for money. Not the way I see it. In my view, the amateur does not love the game enough. If he did, he would not pursue it as a sideline, distinct from his “real” vocation.

That’s what I mean when I say turning pro.

Resistance hates it when we turn pro.

Whatever noble goal you set for your life, you will face resistance. Which is why you and I need to “go pro” in every aspect of our lives. Whether losing five pounds or picking up that paint brush, going pro is all about making and keeping the commitments we make to ourselves. That’s where real growth and maturity happens.

Overcoming resistance begins by asking yourself hard questions. Do you want to chase the idealized fantasies of an amateur by piddling around or do you want to steel yourself and get down to hard work like a seasoned pro? How you answer that question has everything to do with outcomes, finished work, and making your life count by bringing your gifts to the world.

3. Resistance Can Make You Stronger

Just like the little brain lifting the barbell over its head, resistance can make you stronger if you don’t give up. Initially, lifting weights will break down our muscles, causing microscopic tears. You will feel sore and your mind will give you 1001 reasons–er–excuses why you should stop. But if after your workout, you replenish your muscles with good food and adequate rest, your muscles will repair themselves. The result? You come back stronger. More momentum. More motivation. Mas musculos!

The same goes for finishing that song. Or writing a couple pages a day. Or doing that dance routine for the nth time.

Every time you tell yourself, “I’m 100% in” and you show up to do the work, all the screaming voices of fear, stress, angst and creative catastrophizing will scatter like cockroaches in the kitchen. Why? Because you’ve thrown the lights on. You’ve stopped making excuses. You’ve decided to go pro. You’ve stood up to resistance. You’re stronger now. You’re all in and nothing can stop you.

Overcoming creative resistance begins in the mind. Left unchecked, it will shrivel your heart and poison your soul.

So bring all of you. Your heart. Your mind. Your Soul & Spirit.

To who God has called you to be, the gifts He’s graciously given you and what He’s made you to do.
And don’t forget the true source of your strength who lives in you.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” Phil. 4:13

Questions: Where are you facing the most resistance in your creative life right now? What one step will best help you move forward today?

I’d love your thoughts and comments.

(If you need help overcoming creative resistance, have you considered a creative coach? Visit my Creative Coaching & Mentoring page to sign up for your FREE 30 Minute Introductory Consultation.)

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive, snarky or off-topic.