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Do The Work – An Interview With Steven Pressfield

in Do What You Love, People & Products, Videos


It’s my huge pleasure to share an interview with Steven Pressfield on habit change, resistance, and doing the work.

I’m a fan of several of Steven’s past books (check out the transcript for more info), so it should come as no surprise that I’m currently in love with his latest book – Do The Work – which releases today. It’s a quick, powerful read.

Quick Recap:

  • [00:30] – Steven outlines the enemy of change… what he calls “Resistance”.
  • [02:15] – How to know when Resistance will kick in…
  • [03:30] – Steven’s number one tip to overcoming the Resistance.
  • [04:50] – The most important takeaway from Do The Work.
  • [07:10] – Common resistance points people struggle with in finances.
  • [08:45] – What to do when family or friends try to pull you down.
  • [14:00] – Steven’s question for you!…

Full Transcript Below…

Hey everyone. This is Baker from Man vs. Debt. And today I am joined by Steven Pressfield.

It is my pleasure, because Steven is a fascinating author, and dare I say a prolific author, with his wide range of works. From The Legend of Bagger Vance to The War of Art, which I enjoyed, and my personal favorite, Gates of Fire.

Steven, thanks for joining me.

Adam, thanks for having me. It’s a pleasure to be here.

I want to jump right in and talk about what—I believe you brought this up in The War of Art, but correct me if I’m wrong. The topic of the Resistance. Can you explain to the readers of Man vs. Debt, what is what you call the Resistance?

It’s—I call it Resistance with a capital R, and it is—If you’ve ever joined a gym and found that you stopped going after about a week and a half, then you know what resistance is.

If you’ve ever brought home an abdominal machine. If you’ve ever signed up to do any kind of project and crapped out on it, as I have done many times. If you’ve ever started a book. If you’ve ever started a screenplay. If you’ve ever opened a business and gotten halfway through and dropped the ball, that’s what resistance is.

Resistance is the internal self-sabotage that we all face. It’s sort of the negative forces that kind of radiates off a blank page or off a work in potential that’s trying to keep us from doing it. That’s what I call Resistance with a capital R.

All right, so I think this is such an awesome topic, because it can be applied to a wide variety of situations. From anything from entrepreneurship to just creative work, even to personal finance, which is where I would like to take this.

And people not only having to overcome resistance to lose weight. [They] not only have to overcome resistance to start a business or start a creative project. But whenever they start to do any changes in their life.

What are, let’s say, your top three tips?

Or what—If I came to you and said, “Steven, I’m just really having this problem. I really want to get XYZ in order. How do I overcome this internal Resistance with a capital R?”

Let me back up one second, Adam. ‘Cause one of the characteristics of Resistance—and I know what you mean about personal finance—is Resistance will kick in when we’re trying to move from a lower level to a higher level. That’s the only time it’ll kick in.

I say in The War of Art, if you’re working for Mother Teresa in Calcutta, and you have an idea that you want to start a career in telemarketing, don’t worry about Resistance. It’ll give you a complete free pass.

But—And maybe—See if I’ve got this. I read an interesting book called The Automatic Millionaire. Have you ever read—You familiar with that?

I am familiar with that, yes.

I forgot the author’s name, but I know that—

Bach.

I think that he had a bunch of clients, and he wanted to get them to automatically pay themselves first. In personal finance. They were entrepreneurs. And he said, “Let me set it up for you.” And everybody said to him, “No, no, no. I’ll set it up for myself.”

Anyway, bottom line, out of 100 clients that he pitched this to, not a single one of them did what he told them to, and that’s purely for Resistance.

Resistance seems to be when we know something is for our own good, Resistance will keep us from doing it.

So the question that you asked, Adam, was how do you overcome it?

Exactly.

Now, for me as a writer, what is—The Resistance takes the form of facing a blank page. So what worked for me, after a million years of failing, was to—What I call turning pro.

And it’s just a change in attitude, from thinking of yourself as an amateur to thinking of yourself as a professional. Now an amateur, when an amateur runs into adversity of any kind, they’ll just fold up their tents and crap out.

You know? If we’re playing basketball for fun, and our ankle starts to hurt, we’ll knock off. But if it’s Kobe Bryant, he’s going to keep playing through the pain.

So a pro, if we just have the professional attitude of a hardcore but cold-blooded, get the job done attitude, then we’ll do the right thing.

Yep. I completely understand that. And I guess what you’re saying is that you just need to step up and do the work. If I can be a little pun here. Because—

Exactly. It’s as simple as, just do it. That’s all there is to it.

Yep, yep. So—And let’s talk a little bit about that. Because your latest, I guess, creative release into the world is called Do the Work. And it’s a joint project with The Domino Project, or a collaboration with The Domino Project.

What are the two big takeaways that you want to convey with Do the Work?

That’s a really good question. Do the Work is—It’s about—It’s sort of a manual that takes you from the start of a project to the finish of a project, hitting the points of Resistance that will come up as they happen. And they’re amazingly predictable.

You can see that like—Just in, say, a screenplay. Let’s say you’re writing a screenplay. You’ll plunge—First there’s a Resistance to even start. You’ll come up with all these reasons: “Why me? I’m not good enough. I’m too old. I’m too young. I’m too stupid.” Whatever.

Then you’ll plunge in on pure enthusiasm. You’ll get to about 1/5 of the way through, and then you’ll panic because you’re outside the sight of shore, but you can’t see the other side anyway.

So to boil it down to your question of takeaways from Do the Work, it’s that for one thing, if you hit these sticking points in anything you’re doing, you’re not alone. You’re not the first person that has hit this thing.

Everybody hits it, whether it’s Neil Young or Donald Trump or anybody that’s doing anything. And there is a way through each one of these points that you will hit.

And a lot of it comes down to that professional, and it’s sort of a do the—That’s why it’s called Do the Work. There’s no sort of mystery to it. It’s just making yourself face each challenge and push through it, no matter what.

And I love that. Because I think that—I haven’t read it yet, but you bet I will.

It’s an easy—It’s an easy read.

Yeah. So, but each—I think that the key thing that you said there, especially when it comes to the personal finance world, is for people to understand that there is a series of steps through this process.

Yes, each person’s life circumstance/creative work/screenplay/movie/book/whatever may be a little bit different, but each step along the way, as you’ve mapped out, has been encountered before.

And by doing and channeling and focusing, you can get over that into the next step. I’m sort of paraphrasing what you’re saying.

Exactly, yeah.

Because that’s what we talk about in the personal finance world all the time here.

Let me ask you a question, Adam. When you talk about personal finance, give me a specific. What would be a Resistance point that clients might have?

Internal Resistance points? Oh gosh. They can range from anything to they think they just can’t do it. A lot of people self-identify as being bad with money.

So they’ll get into a certain rut, and they just can’t identify as the type of person, like you said, that can step up and just do the work. So they’re just like, “I’m always bad with money,” or, “I can never do this.” They don’t think they’re good at math. They think they need to be great at math in order to budget.

And all of these things are just not true. It’s just finding the system for them. And I think a lot of people encounter fear, too. Fear of what—The amount of work it will take to make a change. Which is oftentimes a misconception. Does that make sense?

Yeah, and I would imagine too that money is a tremendously emotional issue, right? And it’s tied up, I imagine, with self-worth, and all kinds of things like that.

Yeah. Go ahead.

I myself have issues with money. So I can relate to who you’re talking to. I will say to myself, “Oh, I’m not good at that kind of stuff. I need somebody to help me with it.” And I know I’m wrong.

Again, it’s that sort of attitude of turning pro. If I were lecturing myself, I would say, “You used to get 100s on math tests. You can think of this. Just think of yourself as a money pro, and make that change in your head, and then it’ll be a piece of cake.”

Yep. Yep. I love that advice. And I want to take this. And I don’t know if I necessarily read this from you or not before, but what about external? We’ve talked about the internal Resistance. And what about external?

Because this is big in personal finance. Like people’s family and people’s friends, and this thing about personal finance being that a lot of people see the resistance as not only internal, but they feel pressured or blame or place a lot of the blame on these external forces.

Do you have any tips? ‘Cause I know I do this as a creative and an entrepreneur as well. I tend to blame my environment, blame my circumstances. And that keeps me from looking at the internal problems that I have. Does this make sense? I’m sort of rambling but I’m—

No, absolutely. In fact, I think one of the characteristics of a Resistance is that we tend to blame other people. I wake up in the morning, and I’m almost always in a really terrible mood. Coming off the freeway and I’m bitching at everybody. This is just Resistance.

I’ve got work I need to do today. I’m afraid of it. I don’t want to do it, so I’m projecting this outward onto other people and being a pain in the ass. But at the same time, there’s another form of—Where not only will you sabotage yourself, but people close to you will sabotage you if you try to change.

The one—The analogy I use in The War of Art is if there’s a bunch of crabs in a bucket, and one crab tries to crawl out of the bucket, the other crabs will grab it and pull it back down, ’cause—Did you by any chance see the movie The Fighter with Mark Wahlberg?

I have not seen it yet, no.

Well, it’s a great movie. I highly recommend it. But it’s really about this exactly. The story is, this fighter, played by Mark Wahlberg, who is managed by his brother, Christian Slater, or what’s—Christian Bale, who won the Oscar. And his mom. He’s trained by his brother and managed by his mom, Melissa Leo, who also won an Oscar.

And this story is about, as he gets good as a fighter, his family tries to sabotage him. They—The opening scene in the movie is they overmatch him, with a fighter that’s like 20 pounds heavier than he is. And the guy just gets his clock cleaned.

So the whole story, in my view, is about this sort of group sabotage, where he’s trying to overcome his own internal things, and his family’s dragging him down. And what’s interesting is, in the movie he has a girlfriend, Kay—whatever her name is, who stands up to the family. And it’s really an interesting story.

And it’s just—it’s scary how the creative world—and I guess just attacking your personal finances, and stepping up in the money world is the same thing as doing that in any creative endeavor.

But there are so many parallels, because exactly what you just went over, it happens to people so much in personal finance. They finally are able to step up and take personal responsibility, and then they also have influences that don’t want to see them succeed with money.

Right.

They like them right where they are, because it makes them feel better about themselves. They don’t want them to elevate themselves.

One of the—I’m sorry, go ahead.

No, what was your point there?

One of the things that I say in Do the Work is that friends and family can be one of our worst enemies. Not always. I’m not—But friends and family do have a vested interest in us as we are. Right?

And so they want to keep us as we are, and if we’re trying to make a big change, that can be threatening to friends and family. They say, “Geez, what if Adam starts taking off and making a million dollars? He’s going to leave us, he’s going to”—whatever. So they want to keep you right where you are.

Yeah. And I guess, to channel this into an action for people to take, again, does it come back to just channeling that in, and focusing in and turning on pro mode and doing the work?

I mean, is there any other way? Is that what it all comes back to, even—

There’s no real mystery about it, you know? It’s doing the hardest thing.

I was reading somewhere. Somebody said something that was just as simple as the trick to something—I forgot what—is just doing what you don’t want to do.

And that sounds so simple, but there’s—That’s where people fall down, particularly in our culture today, seems to reward instant success, no work, take a pill, buy this little machine and you’ll lose 100 pounds, you know? It doesn’t work like that. Life doesn’t work like that.

Yeah. Nope. I love it, your message. Simple, straightforward, exactly what I preach in the personal finance world.  And in your books and yourself, you’ve been a big influence on me. So I want to ask one more question, and then we’ll wrap it up.

And the question is actually for you to ask a question. And I do this—And we didn’t talk about it beforehand, but I like the people that I interview to ask a question of the Man vs. Debt readers.

So this doesn’t have to apply to personal finance. It can, but you get one question. I’ll ask it. And hopefully we’ll get some intelligent answers back from the readership.

Now say that again?

Sorry.

—of your readership?

You got it. What one question do you want to hear from my readership to sort of sum up the interview and continue the conversation?

What would be the worst thing that could happen to you if you listen to what Adam says?

Haha—I might change the end of that. But I love the framing of that question. What would be the worst thing that—

What would be the worst thing that would happen to you if you took good advice and followed it?

Exactly. Again, thanks Steven. I appreciate you taking the time out of your busy schedule to be with us today.

Thank, Adam. Thanks for having me. You ask really good questions. It was fun.

Steven’s Question For You:

*What’s the worst that could happen if you made the change you wanted?*

Share your comments below!

Xoxoxo,

-Baker

{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Gab @ Creative Netrepreneur April 20, 2011 at 4:52 AM

Thanks for sharing, Baker! I love The War of Art. Just downloaded Do The Work (Kindle version). Got it for free at Amazon. Thanks so much, Steven!

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Jonathan Manor April 20, 2011 at 6:06 AM

This is a brilliant post! The whole professional attitude and the amateur attitude is really prominent when it comes to money. Money is freaking scary! And yeah, it’s constantly weighing on my mind what I have to do with my debt. I have to understand that there’s a professionalism to take this head on, and I’m hoping that I could do that.

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Matt Langdon April 20, 2011 at 9:03 AM

Joseph Campbell said we don’t have to go on the journey alone because the heroes of all time have gone before us.

That’s exactly in line with what you said about despite each person’s individual subtle differences, people have gone through the same steps you need to go through. Great interview.

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Dean Dwyer April 20, 2011 at 9:40 AM

Well my new phrase for today, “Crap out!”

I really loved the analogy/mindset shift of moving from thinking like an amateur to thinking like a professional. Seems simple but there is an utter brilliance, dare I say elegance to making that shift happen. Will let that idea rattle around in my noggin for the day as I reflect on how to lose my amateur status.

Well done AB. Enjoyed it throughly, even thought the background makes it look like you are broadcasting from a prison courtyard :-)

DD

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Maureen Thomson April 20, 2011 at 9:44 AM

The worst thing? I’d be uncomfortable for a little while until the behavior became second nature.

Geeze…not such a big deal!

Great interview.

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Rey April 20, 2011 at 11:49 AM

This is a great interview. Good info about internal and external resistance keeping us from doing the work we should be doing. To answer Steven’s question, the worst thing that could happen to me if I made the change is if I got stuck into a deeper hole than I previously was. For example, if I took a debt relief advise, and it backfired and I ended up worst off then when I previously started. Thanks.

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Jennifer L. April 20, 2011 at 3:48 PM

The word that kept coming to my mind was ‘commitment’. You have to have a real commitment to any change, so when the Resistance comes you are commited to moving thru it. (I did ‘est’ a million years ago and that was discussed frequently.)

Worst thing that could happen if I followed Baker’s advice: I might be bored. I might do it anyway. My husband might not want to follow through with the plan. But having nothing much change is not really harmful anyway, just annoying.

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Hunter April 20, 2011 at 5:13 PM

Mmm, worst. There would be less crap in my garage, more money in my pocket, and a renewed focus on checking out with a bag full of experiences.

Nice interview. The external example has another name in Australia. They call it the Tall Poppy Syndrome. When anyone tries to rise above, the pack cuts them down…brutal.

Thanks,
Hunter.

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mtipster April 20, 2011 at 5:16 PM

The worst thing? Facing the unknown and the stress that comes with it.

But we often forget that the stress associated with the temporary state we put ourselves in during the actual change period vanishes and is replaced by a sense of accomplishment upon success. I wonder if keeping the pro attitude M. Pressfield speaks of is about being aware of the change period being temporary, even after a failure but still pushing forward.

Very interesting point of view. I’m getting that book now :)

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Mike Stankavich April 20, 2011 at 6:17 PM

Adam, thanks for sharing this. I’ve also been a big fan of Steven’s work for a good while. And yes, I wrestle with Resistance day in and day out. Like Steven says, the best thing to do is accept that Resistance must be fought every day, show up, and put in the time.

I definitely faced up to the “what’s the worst that can happen” question when I took an expat job last year. It’s been a while now, so I don’t recall exactly which negative outcome frightened me most. But I can tell you that not one of the negative outcomes that I stewed and fretted about came to pass. And even if they had, there would have been a path forward given the willingness to be professional and do the work.

The interesting thing is that until I read this article, it hadn’t occurred to me that most of the fears that I have around my next major change (switching from corporate job to location-independent consulting) are the same fears that I had prior to taking the expat job. Thanks for that insight.

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Hugo April 20, 2011 at 10:16 PM

Awesome interview! The concept of Resistance and the effect it has on all aspects of life is a fantastic topic. The pervasiveness of our own mind / ego to undo something we need to to for betterment of our lives is so hidden and stealthy to most. great job interviewing! keep it up. Love the amateur / professional correlation.

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Paula @ AffordAnything.org April 21, 2011 at 11:11 AM

He’s right …. people are sometimes the biggest obstacle to their own success. Overcoming resistance is not as easy as just “snapping out of it.” But with daily practice — doing small things — you can really change your life.

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Frugal Living April 21, 2011 at 6:18 PM

This was a great interview on what you need to do in order to work smarter and not harder

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Rachel April 25, 2011 at 1:27 PM

I’ve gotta say, I really appreciate the video transcriptions. This was one heck of an interview (loads to ponder!), and I’m glad I didn’t miss it just because I can’t watch videos here (I’m on break at work).

Thanks a bunch!

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Jessica Broughton April 25, 2011 at 1:50 PM

Hi Adam,

Thank you so much for this interview! Not only did I immediately go get “Do the Work” for the Kindle (free on Amazon right now) but I actually stopped myself dead in my tracks from making a poor financial decision i.e. going out to an expensive dinner with friends this coming Sunday at a place that is good, but not good enough to warrant $50 a plate. It made me realize that if I’m not going to enjoy it because it’s not as good, and I’m not going to enjoy it because I’m going to be unhappy about the expense, I shouldn’t do it! Very simple to do, yet sometimes hard in the face of friends.

Thanks for helping me take a step to take control of my finances and encouraging me to track them so I can see what I’m dealing with.

Cheers,
Jessica

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Prentiss Seymour April 27, 2011 at 4:22 PM

For me, what Steven Pressfield has to say can alter one’s life, turn an amateur into a professional. What ever your endeavor to reach your objective you must do the work. Maybe the reason most successful people, who are viewed as being successful, succeed is they are doing work they love. How in the world could someone possibly succeed doing a task they abhor, in my view it is very unlikely. So look for “Your Bliss” as Joseph Campbell says and enjoy being a pro as well as enjoying life. Take care

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Dwight Anthony May 1, 2011 at 9:34 PM

I love this, action is what separates the most productive people vs. people that are just busy all the time.

Dwight Anthony
Financially Elite Blog dot Com

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David May 1, 2011 at 10:05 PM

Just downloaded the kindle version of “Do the Word” for free! Great interview.

What’s the worst that could happen?? hmmm don’t know if there is a good answer to that…

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Brankica May 2, 2011 at 3:18 AM

I read the book the first day it was out (thanks to my faithful Kindle) and loved it. I love Pressfield’s work anyway cause The Gates of Fire is one of my top 3 books of all times. So glad I ran into this interview, he is just amazing!

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Darin Persinger May 4, 2011 at 6:52 PM

I loved reading Do The Work, downloaded it and read it on my iphone while on a flight recently. Nice job on landing this interview.

The idea of Resistance is brilliant and the Truth. I believe there is a yin/yang in the world. No good in the world without evil.

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Denise August 26, 2012 at 3:52 PM

Great interview. Love Pressfield…Love The War of Art and Do the Work. Thanks

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