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The War Of Art by Pressfield

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  • The War Of Art by Pressfield

    There are a few decent tips in this book, but in my view there is a ton of distorted thinking in this book, that will likely make people's problems with procrastination a lot worse.

    He sets up a mental creation called "Resistance", and then basically labels this imaginary "thing" as literally Evil, like an evil twin to Santa Clause.
    I guess this guy has never considered the idea, that to create things in your imagination, and then label them as Evil and trying to wreck your life might not be a good idea?
    That is just a glorified version of self-hatred. If you split your Self in half, and then set up a War Of The Self, where is that going to get you?

    He also states, "the more scared we are of a work, the more sure we can be that we have to do it". (notice the word HAVE TO DO IT. This is the very cognitive distortion which is likely creating his problem in the first place!)

    In at least a couple a points in the book, he does mention things like his "self-destruction demons" and , "I felt if I crapped out this time I would have to hang myself". So he obviously has some serious issues here with some type of self-hatred, that has even driven him to contemplate suicide. I always am very loathe to follow the advice of writers who think its perhaps noble to blow your brains out if you can't write anymore. No thanks.

    He also mentions he was in the Marines at some point, as some of this Dichotomous Thinking could have come from his military experiences, like Tom Peters. This guy is just full of black-or-white, absolutistic thinking, which CREATES the problem of procrastination in the first place!

    He also gets into a bunch of stuff like "Angels" giving us our good ideas, and other highly dubious ideas like Jungian Ego stuff.
    He then sets up a "war" between the Angels that live in the Self, and Resistance in the Ego. Then, "we demolish the Ego to get to the Self".
    This is the precise type of thinking that CREATES procrastination, and makes it even worse! It can even go beyond that into self-hatred, and for some people they push themselves into such a mental prison and severe depression, they could move into suicidal ideation.

    There are MANY other books that deal with procrastination out there, which are much more helpful, in my view.

    But we do basically the opposite of what this guy is telling you to do.
    You most certainly do not set up some supernatural war for your Soul inside of your imagination! This is going to create more stress, more misery, more self-downing, and even self-hatred.

    There are much better, science based, and psychologically sound techniques out there. Very specific techniques and not platitudes, that can help a person to get over their procrastination and avoidance.
    Perhaps I will post some info here about it.
    But this book from my POV, is what you should NOT do if you are procrastinating. This could make it so much worse, that people could whip themselves into a frenzy of misery and self-hatred.

    We would be wise to look at the scientific evidence from Cognitive Therapy, and learn how to ACCEPT ourselves, and learn how to overcome procrastination without turning all of this into some sort of bizarre supernatural cosmic war.
    If Pressman wants to know where all these "little voices" are coming from in him, then why not read "Consciousness Explained" by the philosopher Dennett?
    There are all sorts of plausible theories out there now for how the Mind works.
    But there is none of this knowledge in this book. Zero.
    The most recent thing I can see are Jung's ideas, and ideas going back into the Middle Ages.

    There are hundreds of brilliant thinkers, psychologists, scientists, working on the problem of how the human mind works.
    I would turn to them to understand what is going on, and not Angels vs. Devils.

    I would not recommend this book to anyone.
    There are much easier and psychologically sound ways to overcome procrastination.
    This area is almost totally neglected by GTD, and I have often wondered why?
    There is a mountain of great science based information about overcoming Avoidance and Procrastination. Why is the science almost completely ignored, I wonder?

    I would say, if you want to make yourself even MORE miserable, and maybe even make your life a living hell, then do what he says in the book.
    Split your Self concept into a Good part, and an Evil part that is trying to block you, and even destroy you. And then set up a WAR between them, and try to crush the evil part.
    Then you might end up with severe depression, anxiety, raging, and even worse.

    Totally absurd.
    The urge to procrastinate is a NORMAL human impulse. Its not evil. If anything, it is very helpful, IN THE CONTEXT IT EVOLVED IN. The human psyche evolved to be conservative, as if you made an error in pre-history, then you could get killed out there. Its better to be safe than sorry.
    But now this "safety button" gets pressed at the wrong times, and we become afraid of things that there is no real need to be afraid of. So we just need to retrain how our brain is processing this information about these stimuli. There are very SPECIFIC techniques to do this, that really work.

    We can overcome our phobias, procrastinations, and avoidances, but not by doing what he says. In my view, its just going to make it worse.
    Perhaps I will make a post about the specific techniques for overcoming procrastination from the cognitive therapies.

    I am going to be blunt here. In my view this is one of the worst books a real procrastinator could ever read. It will just make it worse.
    You can't FIGHT yourself. Who wants to make life into a daily war of the Self?

    We need to understand the parts of the Self that are resistant, and then modify them through careful Cognitive Restructuring. But its obvious that Pressman has likely never even heard of these things.
    Very strange book.
    Last edited by CosmoGTD; 03-31-2006, 12:02 PM.

  • #2
    Wow. I'm not sure if that was a negative book review or a tidal wave.

    I haven't read the book myself, but 21 people reviewed it at and gave it an average of 4.5 stars (and no mention of suicide or even misery!).

    Maybe it's a good book for people with a certain type of imagination?



    • #3
      War of Art

      Wow. I also read it based on David's recommendation. However, I quite liked it.

      I don't think it was meant literally - Pressman's pretty artsy, after all. If you want a more practical tome on overcoming procrastination, I suggest "The Now Habit" by Neil Fiore


      • #4
        By the way, I did not only take the book literally, even though that is how he wrote it, and meant to write it, according to himself. He REALLY means he has these literal supernatural Angels and Devils driving him crazy.

        What he does not seem to realize is that these are just Beliefs. Core beliefs that act as information processors in the human brain.

        So when something is presented to the brain as X, then the brain processes this info using its automatic programs, like core beliefs, and then figures out what to do, and what X means.
        So when it gets presented with X, it might interpret it as a THREAT, and thus give the command to AVOID it. This is "resistance". Its not evil, its not trying to wreck your life. Its just a false belief, that can be corrected with some simple techniques. Its a cognitive distortion, not a demon.
        If its an EXTREME belief, then it can still generally be corrected over time.

        The authors metaphysics behind what he is saying is part of the problem as well. When a person starts with an extreme metaphysical bias, its going to lead to absurd conclusions, like those made in the book.

        Also, if someone has a personality disorder that is self-destructive, and it sounds like that is what he has, then he might feel that little Demons are trying to wreck his life, and really believe it.

        By the way, for those who liked the book, tell me what specifically you liked about it, and how that specifically helped you in a practical way deal with procrastination.
        By his own admission, this book is not a novel, but a non-fiction book.
        I would like to hear about the specific benefits.

        Like I said, there were a few good smaller points in the book, but these were grossly outweighed by the overblown Platonic metaphysics, apparent ignorance of the research from the new cognitive therapies, and the erroneous psychological distortions.

        David Allen called this one of the BEST books about procrastination! This is the real problem to me. It makes me profoundly question his judgment in these matters.

        I have wondered why there is almost no information about real procrastination problems in GTD, and maybe this is why. Maybe he is not aware of all the good work that has been done?
        I would suggest to David Allen that he contact some of the top cognitive-behavioral scientists and researchers, and look at the science and the research that has been done on this problem, and then implement the SPECIFIC behavioral and cognitive interventions that have been carefully designed.
        No need for Angels and Devils, and distorted absolutistic thinking.

        Personally, I generally stay away from the advice of most novelists, except in rare cases, as they are not generally known for their psychological health or wisdom.

        There are also many other good writers about there about Creative Genius as well, and this book by Pressman does not even make the list, in my view.

        Art is not a War, unless you turn it into one in your own destructive and traumatized psyche. (Did Pressman fight in Vietnam?). And since you are the one who started the war inside your mind, then this war will continue until you stop it, or until it destroys you.
        I fundamentally reject his core idea that Art is a War, and I find that metaphor to be completely contrary to genuine creativity, and living a Good Life at the same time. Sure, you can be a maniac and produce some works like this, but at what cost? Just because most great artists were head-cases, doesn't mean you have to be a head-case to do good work.
        But if he wants to make Art into a War, then go right ahead. Knock yourself out!
        To me "Art" is a process of discovery and exploration, with enormous Adversity, endless challenges, and will tax you to beyond limits of your endurance. But to turn this into a war seems psychotic to me, and a sure way to destroy your work, and maybe yourself in the process.

        Often, guys like him who have been in the army, and have perhaps seen combat, get traumatized by this, and then act the trauma out in other areas of their life. It becomes their "core belief".
        Life is war, Art is War.
        Those are profoundly destructive core beliefs, and can literally destroy you.

        We had better be very careful about the core beliefs we adopt, they control our entire life.
        Last edited by CosmoGTD; 03-31-2006, 12:05 PM.


        • #5
          Well said, Cosmo. I haven't read the book, but you make some excellent points about motivation, internal struggle (not to be confused with internal war), and cognition. I hope readers of this forum will pay attention to those points whether or not they read/like the book.


          • #6
            The one good point in the Pressfield book, if you ask me, is the idea of resistance not just as an obstacle to things we might want to be doing, but as a pointer to what might be most important for us to be doing: "Do what you're resisting". The rest is supernatural nonsense and stress-inducing intensity, I agree... the funniest part is in the introduction, by some famous screenwriter, who basically admits that he finds the whole angels-and-demons part to be ridiculous, even though he is writing the introduction to the book...


            • #7
              I do agree with this general point.
              When we feel "resistance" to doing something, its telling us something, likely that we have some type of belief that doing X could lead to THREAT, trouble, hard-work, rejection, failure, etc.

              But here again i totally disagree with Pressfield.
              He said, "the more scared we are of a work, the more sure we can be that we have to do it".

              What he doesn't realize is the basic error he is making here.
              By saying you HAVE to do it, you MUST do it, you are just going to make it worse! You are now going to have secondary symptoms about your procrastination, as in...

              "I am resisting doing X, SO I MUST DO IT. Why aren't i doing it? What is my problem? What the hell is wrong with me, GET YOUR ASS MOVING YOU LAZY SLOB, STOP BEING SUCH A PATHETIC JERK, COME ON SOLDIER, GET YOUR LAZY ASS MOVING OR I WILL GET IT MOVING FOR YOU, YOU PATHETIC WORM, etc, like an internal Marine Drill Sargeant". (self-downing)

              What happens is you upset yourself EVEN MORE over the fact that you are not doing something. You PUT YOURSELF DOWN, over not doing something, and this CREATES depression. Literally. There are decades of evidence to show that this happens. Self-Downing leads to depressive symptoms. Self-Hating can lead to suicidal ideation, and our good buddy Pressfield does admit to feeling like that in his life.

              See, there is no Devil giving him Resistance. ITS HIS OWN BRAIN. So he is making a part of his own brain into the Enemy. This is very foolish, and can literally wreck your life, and even destroy it in serious cases.

              According to CBT and REBT you do the exact opposite to what he says.
              You tell yourself, "i don't HAVE to do this, not at all" You de-escalate it. You calm yourself down, and you accept yourself, even if you can't do it. This eliminates the secondary disturbance. You tell yourself, "i don't HAVE to do a damn thing if i don't want to do it!" (mental judo). You give yourself Unconditional Self Acceptance, (USA) and this elimates the secondary problems.

              THEN, you sit down and decide if you WANT to do it. Look at the costs and benefits. THEN if you decide you WANT to do it, you still don't HAVE to do it, but you CHOOSE to do it.

              THEN, you carefully, using a graded exposure hierarchy, approach doing this task, in a very precise way. No need for going mental. Over a short period of time, you retrain your brain that there is nothing to fear, and you do it.
              Pretty soon, you just DO that thing, with no big Drama, and its not a big deal anymore. And no Self-Damning if you don't get it done right away.

              So basically, you do the exact opposite of what he is saying. Its counter-intuitive, but it works.

              Also, Pressman spoke about how he had not washed his dishes in 10 days at one point, and had not written in years i think, and how he sat down to write one day, (OF COURSE HIS WRITING WAS ALL "CRAP" AND WAS THROWN OUT! MORE SELF-HATRED!!)
              then after he wrote, then he MAGIALLY did his dishes and enjoyed it!
              This is magical thinking.

              Look, the guy was likely clinically depressed, and so he couldn't do anything.
              Not washing the dishes for weeks is a SIGN you could be depressed.
              But to get yourself to wash the dishes, or anything else, you don't need Muses or Angels, and the Devil is not stopping you from washing the dishes.

              You are having automatic thoughts like,
              "oh crap, I HATE washing the stupid dishes, what a pain in the ass, i shouldn't have to wash the dishes, i SHOULD be a great Artist by now, i am too good for washing the dishes, i CAN'T STAND washing the dishes, what a bunch of crap and a waste of time, etc".

              Then you get your secondary disturbance ON TOP OF THIS, like Pressfield likely had,
              "what the hell is my problem? I am supposed to be greater than Hemingway, and i can't write, or even wash the dishes!!! I must be a piece of shit, and a pathetic excuse for a human being, maybe i should just hang myself, and get it over with".

              So, what he is saying in this book is a big mess, in my not so humble opinion.
              But i am very glad i read the book.
              I do thank him for reminding me of the wrong things to do to be productive, and what to do if you want to make your life miserable.

              Also, let me mention. In CBT-REBT you do engage in Behavioral Forcing. This is when you FORCE yourself to do things you are avoiding. You literally FORCE yourself to do them, in a very radical and bold way, to the point where you might feel you are going to crap your drawers! I am talking about FACING those fears down like a Bullfighter. So this is not some tepid psychobabble.
              BUT BUT BUT BUT...there is NO self-damning, so self-hating, no putting yourself down. That is the difference. You can FORCE yourself to do things, in a very intense way, but you do NOT beat yourself up over it. Huge difference. Actually, it makes all the difference in the world.

              If you want to handle serious procrastination, i would suggest looking into CBT or REBT. Those guys/gals know what they are talking about, based on careful scientific research over many decades now.

              Its not about Angels and Devils, its about how your BRAIN PROCESSES INFORMATION ABOUT ITS EXTERNAL AND INTERNAL ENVIRONMENT, and then decides what this information MEANS and thus what to DO or NOT DO about it. It does this by creating Emotions which either inhibit Behavior or motivate Behavior.
              It can do this in a tenth of a second. This seems to me to have been put there by Evolution for create very rapid automatic decision-making.

              The brain says in a tenth of a second, (read this next sentence as fast as you can, or think it in a half-second)

              "What is this thing, is it dangerous, and do i AVOID it?" YES = EMOTIONAL RESISTANCE. (which automatically inhibits Behavior)

              The problem is the brain gives too many false positives just to be SAFE, in our complex, modern society. It worked GREAT on the Savannas to keep us alive, but it does not work well in our modern technological society.
              So we need to SLOW THE BRAIN DOWN, and SHOW it, very slowly, that X is not a threat. We do this over and over, and soon the brain LEARNS that X is neutral or desirable. That's it!
              And once the brain relearns something, it seems to hang onto it, unless something happens to create some new learnings.

              Originally posted by ludlow
              The one good point in the Pressfield book, if you ask me, is the idea of resistance not just as an obstacle to things we might want to be doing, but as a pointer to what might be most important for us to be doing: "Do what you're resisting". ...
              Last edited by CosmoGTD; 03-31-2006, 12:08 PM.


              • #8
                You're braking the "no-novelettes on forums" rule with this topic!


                • #9
                  The War of Art

                  Pressfield's book has obviously pushed some buttons, but I did want to point out that he's a fiction writer (Gates of Fire, Tides of War, etc.) and that his book is primarily helpful to those who wish to create but are having difficulty. Hence the title, War of ART.

                  A couple of other small points: He does intro the last (angels etc.) part with a note about the reader using their own belief/non-belief system in place of his. And, finally, the 'famous screenwriter' (Robert McKee) of the introduction is more famous for being a well-known (and highly regarded) screenwriting instructor. His book, Story, is one many writers turn to when their work seems muddled.

                  I believe The War of Art is a useful book on procrastination for artists of any type. As a fiction writer, I found this book invaluable even though my own personal belief system differs from Pressfield's by a wide margin. This is a work of *experience*, not theory.


                  • #10

                    Although I have had to adopt a "warrior" mentality about every little thing in life due to chronic pain, I can still procrastinate (i.e., experience resistance) on unbelieveably important things.

                    GTD's system of narrowly focusing on the Next Action (not the whole megillah) helps remove procrastination/resistance by making the Next Action accessible and--usually--small.

                    Another technique for overcoming resistance/procrastination is to do the large procrastination "thing" (the 10 days of not washing dishes?!?!?) for a set period of time, using a timer. Say, 15 minutes of washing dishes. Maybe just 10 minutes.

                    Usually, a person can do MORE in 15 or even 10 minutes than s/he thought! If this leads to a breakthrough, great! Finish the dishes! But, if not, then there are 15 minutes less of dishes to be washed, phone calls to be made, filing to be caught up, etc.

                    Different paths to the same end--a clear conscience about work getting (or not getting) done.

                    Although I'm aware of cognitive behavioral therapy, I don't know the specifics, so have no idea whether the "breaking down into small pieces" or "using a timer" techniques are relevant to CBT, but they have definitely been relevant to my resistance/procrastination difficulties.




                    • #11
                      It always blows my mind when someone, like Pressfield, appears to be so Grandiose in his inflated view of himself, that he thinks the Universe, God, and His Angels are involved in his doing the dishes, or writing a few sentences in a book. What an amazing level of self-inflation, but very typical.
                      It does truly amaze me when people, like Pressfield, instead of taking personal RESPONSIBILITY for their own behaviors, feel the need to bring Angels, Devils and everyone else into it.
                      Get over yourself! You ain't all that!
                      Its just your own brain Pressfield, trying to make sense of the Universe, like the rest of us. Your own brain is manufacturing and constructing these ideas and beliefs you are choosing to live by. They are not objective realities, but constructs of your own mind.

                      Man, i truly despised the ideas in this book, more so than any book i have read in years. I just personally find his entire approach, from top to bottom, to be very destructive.

                      If others like it, fine, knock yourself out, i hope it works.
                      But i do think that approach is toxic, and can literally lead to very severe negative personal and creative consequences.

                      Originally posted by CKH
                      Although I'm aware of cognitive behavioral therapy, I don't know the specifics, so have no idea whether the "breaking down into small pieces" or "using a timer" techniques are relevant to CBT, but they have definitely been relevant to my resistance/procrastination difficulties.


                      Last edited by CosmoGTD; 03-31-2006, 12:11 PM.


                      • #12
                        At the risk of getting mugged , I must say I am thorougly enjoying Pressfield's book.
                        I am not offended by anything in the book, as I think Pressfield has his tongue firmly planted in his cheek for much of it.

                        One aha for me is that many times, while applying GTD, I am unable to come up with a clearly defined next action for some projects, and what I probably need to do with some of my "Mission Critical" objectives is to "take a seat" with them on a daily basis and see what shows up. In other words, it's not always possible to figure out what your going to do before you begin working, sometimes you need to start working and then you'll figure out what's next.

                        Pretty obvious I guess, but a great reminder for me. In the past, I've let muddy next action stop me from doing anything on some projects. I'm going to try writing "Sit with project X for 15 minutes" or something like that.


                        • #13
                          Well Coz, you probably feel like you are warning us all, and I can appreciate that. I think (based on your description) that I use something similar to CBT pretty often. It is true for me: if I can get away from the "should" part of an action, then I can back off and figure out why I should choose to do it (for whatever reasons I value). Then, since I am choosing to do it for reasons I believe in, I can actually enjoy it. I can derive satisfaction from the accomplishment of it. Perhaps it works for people who are rebels at heart, like myself, but it does work.

                          I recently started reading "Intuition at Work" by Gary Klein. He talks about people in high stress, high stakes situations creating mental scenarios based on their experience, in order to envision outcomes that help them determine the best course of action. This is similar to how beating procrastination works in my own mind. I create a kind of "mental space" where I don't have to do this, I could work at McDonalds, or whatever. Then with that "freedom" I can see other options and other reasons more clearly.

                          Thanks for the effort,


                          • #14
                            I found the book very moving and quite helpful. A refreshin kick in the ass.


                            • #15
                              Art of hypnosis

                              I'd also question the rational behind anyone recommending this book.

                              I appreciate that this thread closed some time ago but I just finished reading this book and wanted to add a couple of points.

                              1. Cosmo's observations about this book are, imo, right on.

                              2. I found the book very hypnotic in its use of pacing and leading. Trusisms followed by propositions - v. dangerous slacker thinking.

                              "Have you ever bought a treadmill and let it gather dust in the attic? Ever quit a diet, a course of yoga, a meditation practice? .... etc etc ... Then you know what resistence is. Resistence is the most toxic force on the planet. It is the root of more unhappiness than poverty, disease ...etc etc"

                              3. The book then tries to lead the reader into believeing that procrastination is something other than a behaviour - more like a deep seated evil - what a load of old cods that is. And, it's hypnosis. But, for the venerable, susceptable and unquestioning reader this could set up some real problems.

                              4. Daimon's, Angels and Muses - ya! right! More hypnosis.

                              My advice, read something else. Windy Dryden, overcoming procrastination is reasonable and down to earth(REBT based).