Project resistance

In Steven Pressfield’s classic The War of Art, he introduces the idea of Resistance. It’s the internal force that keeps us from doing our most important creative work.

If an instinct, a habit or a feeling gets in the way of the work, it’s Pressfield’s Resistance. Things we would never choose to add to the flow of our days, but there they are.

It’s easy to imagine that Resistance is for screenwriters or novelists. Writer’s block and procrastination. But anyone leading a project of any kind–a business, a non-profit, a campaign–confronts it as well.

We could do something, we might do something, but we don’t. And so the work doesn’t ship, or it doesn’t meet its potential.

I’m not alone in facing Resistance. It happens everywhere we look.

Some of the symptoms of Resistance seem contradictory, but if we go back to the definition, that makes sense. Here are a few:


Ignoring or avoiding the useful metrics

Focusing on vivid but non-useful metrics

Not shipping the project

Shipping junk

Asserting that it’s not Resistance

Being too busy to get to the hard part

Aiming too high

Aiming too low

Refusing to set a budget or deadlines

The tension of “this might not work” ends up feeling like stress instead

Not actively managing the project, letting the project manage us instead

Embracing sunk costs

Not asking useful questions

Refusing to find and use leverage or tools, focusing on the known fussy tasks instead

Blaming the system for our obstacles

Ignoring the system and acting as if we’re the first ones here

Being obsessed with new technology and opportunities, waiting for the next big thing

Refusing to learn about new tech or opportunities

Reacting instead of responding, responding instead of leading

Focusing on the urgent instead of the important

Obsessively documenting everything


Irrational exuberance

Failing to delegate appropriate tasks

Taking too much credit

Ignoring useful feedback

Being reckless and assuming a net will appear

Looking for the shortcuts even when we know the long way is the only way

Sloppily leaving out details

Asking too many questions before making assertions

Our actual calendar of time spent doesn’t match the agenda for the work to be done

Making big promises we can’t keep

Refusing to make useful promises for fear of not keeping them

Taking it personally

Keeping our fears to ourselves

Using deadlines as fuel

Spending too much time focusing on our fear

Insisting on authenticity instead of consistency

Showing up late

Going over budget

Becoming a perfectionist

It’s tempting to imagine that Resistance is a moral failing, but it’s more like stubbing your toe or burning the toast. We don’t have to blame ourselves for where we are, but if we can see it and name it, we can learn to dance with it.

These behaviors may seem as though they happen to us, but ultimately, they’re a choice. A skill we can learn, a habit we can unlearn. We can be kind to ourselves, focus on the goal and get back to the project.

There are two confusions and one fear:

The first confusion is that we might not realize that these are choices.

The second confusion is that we might not have learned better tactics, tools and choices, but we can.

And the fear? It’s of change. The change of it might not work, or the chance that it will.

When Resistance arises, and it always does, we can see it, name it, and gently move on.

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