The most effective heuristic I’ve found for deciding what to work on is Steven Pressfield’s concept of The Resistance.
If I had to describe the Resistance in my own words, I would say it’s a state of mild existential terror and discomfort.
And I think that’s how you should feel everyday.
I fundamentally accept the premise that humans are at their best when reaching or striving for something greater. I think this is something that artists, philosophers and makers throughout history have always believed.
It’s present in Aristotle’s conception of eudamonia. The idea that man should always be taking action to better himself
It’s the central premise of Viktor Frankl’s logotherapy in Man’s Search for Meaning.
Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what’s a heaven for? – Robert Browning (1855)
Whenever I read that quote by Browning, I think of the image on the ceiling of the Sistine chapel of the Creation of Adam with the image of Adam stretching out his arm and quite not reaching God.
Even the the idealized version of man in Micahelangelo’s conception of him, Adam, can’t quite reach heaven. The reason I personally so fundamentally accept this premise though is more than anything personal experience.
In retrospect, it’s always the periods saturated with mild existential terror that were the most rewarding.
You always hear athletes lamenting the end of their playing days or entrepreneurs lamenting the early years of their businesses. It was the times when things seemed the most difficult in the moment that they remember most fondly.
I still vividly remember that feeling of butterflies when you’re sitting in the locker room before a big game. It was terrifying.
I get the same feeling right before making cold calls now. I frequently get it before hitting publish on this blog.
I love the image Pressfield paints in The War of Art –
He describes that moment of waking up and going through his morning routine – eating breakfast, talking with his wife – before he sits down to write. For anyone looking on, everything seems normal and placed.
But on the inside, he’s a warrior preparing for battle. He’s just going through the motions when inside he’s really terrified of that moment when he actually has to sit down and do the work.
Use Deliverables to Set Yourself Up for Existential Terror and Discomfort
The problem is that it isn’t natural for people to go out and stretch for when they aren’t forced into it. I try to structure my life in such a way that I regularly experience a mild level of existential terror and discomfort.
I set up all these systems to fore myself into trying to make sure I experience it everyday.
Creating deadlines and deliverables like call 50 prospects today or publish once a week is the most effective way I’ve found to do this.
It’s easy to deceive yourself into thinking you’re doing the handwork, but setting deliverables and deadlines forces you to actually execute.
Sebastian Marshall posted a heuristic, I’ve found to be particularly valuable –
“Once you get to 85% complete, start obsessively focusing on the project that’s 85% complete. The mind will play all sorts of tricks on you if you let it, trying to seduce me into doing something unrelated or new. Never give in to that. Get hungry and focused when you get to 85% complete; get it done.”
I don’t think that feeling of mild existential terror ever goes away, nor should it. It doesn’t get any easier and it wouldn’t be much fun of it did.
The only answer is to get it done, to just keep going.
Last Updated on July 30, 2019 by Taylor Pearson