When I get up in the morning, I’m almost always in a foul mood. I’m irritable, I’m short-tempered, I’m irascible. Coffee doesn’t help. I can’t watch Matt Lauer. If I have to drive anywhere I’m always pissed off at the other cars and muttering under my breath. I’m not happy with myself, I’m not happy with the world, I’m not happy with anything.
It’s all Resistance.
Why Resistance takes this form, I don’t know. Maybe you’re not like me. Maybe you wake up peppy and cheerful. Maybe I’m demented. But this is what my day feels like out of the box.
I have to counteract it right away. The worst thing I can do is lie in bed. If I let myself remain horizontal, my head starts spiraling off into dangerously dark places. The day can get out of control in a hurry.
It took me years to understand that that voice in my head is not me. It’s Resistance.
Hovering before me as I wake up is the work I know I need to do that day. Inevitably that work is daunting and inescapably it brings up fear. Ineluctably I don’t want to do it. This fear and this avoidance combine to create the witch’s brew that boils and bubbles in the cauldron of my brain.
I must take action to counter it.
Two things work for me. They might not work for you, but they do for me. One is exercise, the other is getting out of the house.
I’m a gym person. That’s my medicine. You’ll see my car pulling in before dawn and me trashing what’s left of my body on the treadmill or under the bar in the squat machine.
The gym isn’t about exercise for me. It’s about beating Resistance. The purpose of working out, for me, is to give me a “little victory” (my friend Randy Wallace’s phrase). Momentum. Something I can build on.
From the moment my soles touch the floor in the morning, I am seeking to manage my emotions for that day.
There’s an analogy you see a lot in ancient texts like Plutarch or Plato. The analogy is to the driver of a chariot. The charioteer has four horses. Each one is strong and willful and each one wants to gallop in a different direction. The horseman has to channel that powerful, unruly energy and make it go where he wants it to—without reining it in so much that he stifles his chargers’ fiery spirits.
We want that spirit. We want that horsepower. We just don’t want it dragging us all over the arena and eventually crashing head-on into the wall.
If you’re like me, you work by projects. For me it’s books. My life isn’t a one-day-one-thing, the-next-day-another affair. I’m almost always working on some long-term enterprise. Resistance loves long-term enterprises. They’re so easy to sabotage. Resistance can derail them at the start, at any point in the middle, or at its favorite ambush site—the end.
Maybe that’s why I wake up so grumpy.
Resistance has seen me coming. It knows exactly where I’m going to be. It can take up a concealed position beside the road and wallop me broadside as I trot past.
What I’ve found is that if I can get past my bad-tempered, pissed-off self early, I can make the day go my way.
Once I’m working, I’m fine. In the groove, all moodiness vanishes. I’m cheerful, I’m upbeat, I’m ready to contribute and primed to help.
I have two friends, women, each of whom has confided to me recently that they wake up with severe anxiety.
I wonder if this is Resistance.
I wonder if my friends are like me, only their Resistance takes a slightly different form. Both women are artists. Both have high aspirations and both care deeply about their work. Both define themselves, to some extent, by their art and their enterprise.
Maybe I’m projecting my own stuff onto my friends, but if I were either of them, the first thing I’d tell myself is that that anxiety is not you . . . it’s Resistance. It springs from your fear of the day’s work and your passion to make of it something great.
Don’t dwell on that anxiety. Don’t overthink it.
Get up. Get moving. Do whatever you have to do to seize the reins of that chariot and to take command of those four unruly horses.
Fiery chargers are good. Horsepower is what we want. We just have to learn how to gain control of those magnificent, passionate beasts and to get them to take us where we want to go.
Steven Pressfield was born in Trinidad, B.W.I. and educated at Duke University. He is the author of The Legend of Bagger Vance, Gates of Fire, The War of Art and a number of other historical novels, set mostly in the ancient world. In 2008, the city of Sparta in Greece made him an honorary citizen. He lives in Los Angeles.