May 04, 2015


The War of Art

My favourite thing in the world is when two ideas correlate. This happened to be the case when I read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. As I opened the pages, I  knew Dan Ariely's ideas from The Upside of Irrationality would go together perfectly.

In his book, Steven talks about three major topics: Resistance, Work and The Muse. Resistance is anything that stops you from creating. Work is work - it's creating even if you're not inspired. The Muse only shows up after you start working - not the other way around - or like Tchaikovsky put it "inspiration comes to those who can master their disinclination." Steven's formula is simple: Beat resistance by doing work. If you do, then the muse will show up. For any artist reading this, you're already thinking "yeah right, it's not that easy."

This is where Dan Ariely comes in with Behavioural Economics. In his book The Upside of Irrationality, Dan talks about a time when he burnt 70% of the skin on his body and in his treatment he received Hepatitis C from the blood transfusions. From here, he decided to take an experimental drug for the next 18 months. This experimental drug wasn't so glorious. Every time you would take the pills (in Dan's case three times a week), you would vomit for the next 16 hours.To all the artists out there, we know that convincing ourselves to do the work can be just as hard as taking this pill - not rationally so - but we aren't rational beings.

This is where Dan's genius comes in. At the time, he talks about how he loved watching movies. Each morning before he knew he was going to take the pills, he would rent two or three movies. Then, after taking the medications he would sit there with a blanket and a bucket and watch his movies. It turns out, after the 18 months had passed, Dan was the only one to take the pill every time he was supposed to and it turned out that the treatment was successful. Good for you Dan.

Dan knows he isn't a higher evolved species than the rest of us. He knows he just tricked himself. He tricked his monkey brain into thinking it was getting an immediate reward. This led to a long term reward also. Any artist knows that great work means delaying immediate gratitude. To my dear fellow artists, how can we apply this to our internal war of art? Give yourself a reward for putting in the labor. If you're a writer, allow yourself to read or watch TV only after you've written 2,000 words of your novel. If you're starting a business, reward yourself with a coffee after making 20 cold calls.

Whatever it is - and you know what it is - you need to do it. Trick yourself into doing it. I guarantee you, if you do, the treatment will be successful. That is, the muse will pay you a visit. Now, excuse me while I go reward myself for writing this by drinking coffee.

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