Do The Work by Steven Pressfield- Notes12 min read

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Do The Work is Steven Pressfield’s follow-up to The War Of Art, where he gives you actionable tactics and strategies to overcome resistance, the force behind procrastination.

The main theme throughout Steven Pressfields books is Resistance, the inner force that lets you procrastinate on work, even though it’s most important to you.

While the first book describes resistance in all its facets, Do The Work takes you through actually overcoming it.

Here are the 3 things I learned:

  • If your work truly matters to you, the fear around it will never subside.
  • Never take action and reflect on your work at the same time.
  • Let your work itself be the biggest reward for working.

Let’s take a deep dive!

Lesson 1: If your work is important to you, the fear of doing it will never go away.

We always think that if we practice enough, we’ll get so good we’ll never have any problems with our work, ever again.

But that’s not true.

Henry Fonda was so obsessed with acting that he had to throw up before coming on stage, every single time – even when he was 75 years old and a world famous actor already.

If you truly care about your work, you’ll always be worried about your performance, and that’s a good thing, because it means you’re still trying to get better.

So don’t stop when you’re afraid and instead, move on in spite of fear. After all, this is the definition of courage.

Lesson 2: Don’t take action and reflect at the same time.

Guess what the worst time is to edit a blog post? Right after you wrote it.

It’ll be impossible to objectively reflect on your work, because you just finished it, and are naturally proud of what you did – and you should be.

But that’s why it’s important to give yourself some temporal and physical distance, before judging your work.

I’ll even take it a step further and suggest this:

When in doubt, don’t reflect at all.

For example, I found it’s much easier to just write another blog post, instead of perfectly editing the last one. That’s why I usually just write, press publish and instantly write more.

Lesson 3: Your work should be the biggest reward for your work.

Resistance is a nasty thing. The perfect example happened to me today. It’s January 1st, which means I stayed up late for New Year’s Eve yesterday. However, I had already had a sleep deficit from getting up at 5 am for the past 2 weeks, to write these summaries every day.

Staying up until 2 am broke the camel’s back and I slept in, completely blowing my routine. Naturally, I had to overcome tons of resistance to write this today.

But I love writing these, and I have created a summary every day for the past 15 days – so I can’t just give up now. Looking back at how far I’ve come already made me want to continue.

So when you’re down and about to give up, look at what you’ve accomplished already, and let it drive you to doing even more. Then, ask yourself two questions:

How badly do I really want this?

Why do I want this?

You better be totally committed to it and feel like you have no other choice but to do it – because that’s the kind of work worth pursuing.

Note: I remind myself of these two things by listening to Eminem – Lose Yourself every single morning.

My personal take-aways

This book summary was very very short, only 4 blinks total, and while it was very inspirational, I felt the lessons lacked a bit of the actionable tips that the book supposedly holds.

Do The Work by Steven Pressfield

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Do The Work Summary

The Book in Three Sentences

Resistance is what prevents us from doing our best work.

The more important a call or action is to, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.

The worst thing we can do is to stop once we’ve started.

The Five Big Ideas

“The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day.”

Our mightiest ally (our indispensable ally) is the belief in something we cannot see, hear, touch, taste, or feel.

“When we conquer our fears, we discover a boundless, bottomless, inexhaustible well of passion.”

“We can never eliminate Resistance. It will never go away. But we can outsmart it, and we can enlist allies that are as powerful as it is.”

“Research can be fun. It can be seductive. That’s its danger. We need it, we love it. But we must never forget that research can become Resistance.”

Do The Work Summary

The following is a list, in no particular order, of those activities that most commonly elicit Resistance:

The pursuit of any calling in writing, painting, music, film, dance, or any creative art, however marginal or unconventional.

The launching of any entrepreneurial venture or enterprise, for profit or otherwise.

Any diet or health regimen.

Any program of spiritual advancement.

Any activity whose aim is the acquisition of chiseled abdominals.

Any course or program designed to overcome an unwholesome habit or addiction.

Education of every kind.

Any act of political, moral, or ethical courage, including the decision to change for the better some unworthy pattern of thought or conduct in ourselves.

The undertaking of any enterprise or endeavor whose aim is to help others.

Any act that entails commitment of the heart—the decision to get married, to have a child, to weather a rocky patch in a relationship.

The taking of any principled stand in the face of adversity.

“In other words, any act that rejects immediate gratification in favor of long-term growth, health, or integrity.”

“Resistance is a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.”

“Resistance will reason with you like a lawyer or jam a nine-millimeter in your face like a stickup man.”

“Resistance is always lying and always full of shit.”

“Though it feels malevolent, Resistance in fact operates with the indifference of rain and transits the heavens by the same laws as stars. When we marshal our forces to combat Resistance, we must remember this.”

“Rule of thumb: The more important a call or action is to our soul’s evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it.”

“The warrior and the artist live by the same code of necessity, which dictates that the battle must be fought anew every day.”

“Resistance aims to kill.”

“We want to work from the Self, that is, from instinct and intuition, from the unconscious.”

“The last thing we want is to remain as we are.”

“Prepare yourself to make new friends. They will appear, trust me.”

“Ignorance and arrogance are the artist and entrepreneur’s indispensable allies. She must be clueless enough to have no idea how difficult her enterprise is going to be—and cocky enough to believe she can pull it off anyway.”

“A child has no trouble believing the unbelievable, nor does the genius or the madman. It’s only you and I, with our big brains and our tiny hearts, who doubt and overthink and hesitate.”

“Don’t think. Act. We can always revise and revisit once we’ve acted. But we can accomplish nothing until we act.”

“Be stubborn. Once we commit to action, the worst thing we can do is to stop.”

“We’re in till the finish. We will sink our junkyard-dog teeth into Resistance’s ass and not let go, no matter how hard he kicks.”

“Our mightiest ally (our indispensable ally) is belief in something we cannot see, hear, touch, taste, or feel.”

“You may think that you’ve lost your passion, or that you can’t identify it, or that you have so much of it, it threatens to overwhelm you. None of these is true.”

“When we conquer our fears, we discover a boundless, bottomless, inexhaustible well of passion.”

“Remember, our enemy is not lack of preparation; it’s not the difficulty of the project or the state of the marketplace or the emptiness of our bank account.”

“The enemy is our chattering brain, which, if we give it so much as a nanosecond, will start producing excuses, alibis, transparent self-justifications, and a million reasons why we can’t/shouldn’t/won’t do what we know we need to do.”

“Start before you’re ready.”

“You’re allowed to read three books on your subject. No more.”

“Let the unconscious do its work.”

“Research can become Resistance. We want to work, not prepare to work.”

“Discipline yourself to boil down your story/new business/philanthropic enterprise to a single page.”

“Do you love your idea? Does it feel right on instinct? Are you willing to bleed for it?”

“Get your idea down on paper. You can always tweak it later.”

“Figure out where you want to go; then work backward from there.”

“End first, then beginning and middle. That’s your startup, that’s your plan for competing in a triathlon, that’s your ballet.”

“We can never eliminate Resistance. It will never go away. But we can outsmart it, and we can enlist allies that are as powerful as it is.”

“Do research early or late. Don’t stop working. Never do research in prime working time.”

“Research can be fun. It can be seductive. That’s its danger. We need it, we love it. But we must never forget that research can become Resistance.”

“Any project or enterprise can be broken down into beginning, middle, and end. Fill in the gaps; then fill in the gaps between the gaps.”

“One rule for first full working drafts: get them done ASAP.”

“This draft is not being graded. There will be no pop quiz.”

“Only one thing matters in this initial draft: get SOMETHING done, however flawed or imperfect.”

“You are not allowed to judge yourself.”

“Stay stupid. Follow your unconventional, crazy heart.”

“Ideas come according to their own logic. That logic is not rational. It’s not linear. We may get the middle before we get the end. We may get the end before we get the beginning. Be ready for this. Don’t resist it.”

“Nothing is more fun than turning on the recorder and hearing your own voice telling you a fantastic idea that you had completely forgotten you had.”

“Forget rational thought. Play. Play like a child.”

“Our job is not to control our idea; our job is to figure out what our idea is (and wants to be)—and then bring it into being.”

“Keep working. Keep working. Keep working.”

“Ask yourself what’s missing. Then fill that void.”

Principles of Resistance

Principle Number One: There Is An Enemy

Principle Number Two: This Enemy Is Implacable

Principle Number Three: This Enemy Is Inside You

Principle Number Four: The Enemy Is Inside You, But It Is Not You

Principle Number Five: The “Real You” Must Duel the “Resistance You”

Principle Number Six: Resistance Arises Second

Principle Number Seven: The Opposite of Resistance Is Assistance

“There is an enemy. There is an intelligent, active, malign force working against us.”

“Step one is to recognize [there is an enemy]. This recognition alone is enormously powerful. It saved my life, and it will save yours.”

“You are not to blame for the voices of Resistance you hear in your head.”

“If you’ve got a head, you’ve got a voice of Resistance inside it.”

Resistance’s Two Tests

According to Pressfield, Resistance puts two questions to each and all of us. Each question has only one correct answer:

Test Number One “How bad do you want it?

Test Number Two “Why do you want it?”

“If your answer is not [totally committed], put this book down and throw it away.”

“If you checked [For fun or beauty Because I have no choice], you get to stay on the island.”

“The Big Crash is so predictable, across all fields of enterprise, that we can practically set our watches by it.”

“Crashes are hell, but in the end, they’re good for us.”

“A crash means we have failed. We gave it everything we had and we came up short. A crash does not mean we are losers. A crash means we have to grow.”

“A crash means we’re at the threshold of learning something, which means we’re getting better, we’re acquiring the wisdom of our craft. A crash compels us to figure out what works and what doesn’t work—and to understand the difference.”

“Whatever the cause, the Big Crash compels us to go back now and solve the problem that we either created directly or set into motion unwittingly at the outset.”

“Our greatest fear is fear of success.”

“When we experience panic, it means that we’re about to cross a threshold. We’re poised on the doorstep of a higher plane.”

“No matter how great a writer, artist, or entrepreneur, he is a mortal, he is fallible. He is not proof against Resistance. He will drop the ball; he will crash.”

“It takes balls of steel to ship.”

“When we ship, we’re exposed.”

“When we ship, we open ourselves to judgment in the real world. Nothing is more empowering because it plants us solidly on Planet Earth and gets us out of our self-devouring, navel-centered fantasies and self-delusions.”

Other Books by Steven Pressfield

The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles

Turning Pro: Tap Your Inner Power and Create Your Life’s Work

Recommended Reading

If you like Do The Work, you may also enjoy the following books:

Anything You Want: 40 Lessons for a New Kind of Entrepreneur by Derek Sivers

The Dip: A Little Book That Teaches You When to Quit (and When to Stick) Seth Godin

Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us by Seth Godin

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