Lessons in Life: Fighting resistance with The War of Art

TAGs: Editorial, Lessons in Life

Lee Davy returns with his Lessons in Life column applying his own little volley of bibliotherapy to poker with this week’s focus on The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.

I have interviewed enough professional poker players to nail down the one thing that will improve your game above anything else.

Age, gender, and race are irrelevant – the answer is always the same. The swiftest way to improve your poker game is to talk through your hand histories with someone better than you.

But they are all wrong.

It’s not the ‘one thing.’

The ‘one thing’ is beating Resistance, but before we can beat it, we need to understand what it is?

The War of Art

 In years to come, our children will talk about the influence of The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, in the same way, the old folk bang on about Think & Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill.

It is that important.

With his writer’s head on here is Pressfield’s nutshell view of Resistance:

“There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t, and the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.”

Resistance is what prevents us from leaving our Monday to Friday sort of dying to try and become a professional poker player. Resistance is what stops us from having those conversations with better players. Resistance steers us towards the bars, strip joints, and Michelin star restaurants. Resistance keeps us going back to people we hardly know with a bowl in our hands and an Oliver Twist-style grin as we ask for more.

Lessons in Life: fighting resistance with The War of ArtYou cannot see Resistance. You cannot hear it or touch it. But you can feel it. Resistance is the butterfly in your gut, the banging in your head, and the sharp pain in your heart. It lives within you. It haunts you. It is you.

Resistance oscillates.

All pro poker players once fought Resistance and won. You sat down and saw a flop instead of fixing the old dear’s washing machine. You moved all-in instead of repairing the lamp in the old man’s bedroom. And you played 24-tables simultaneously instead of sliding your fingers through greasy hair coated in the snowflakes of dandruff.

Resistance told you to take The Path of Least Resistance, and you told it to fuck off.

And you ended up at the poker table.

You won some money.

You lived life on your terms, and you forgot about Resistance.

 And then your graph started to point south like an old man’s pecker. The heat dissipated. You were running so cold stalactites hung from your nose.

What was the problem?


Resistance is variance.

It’s not variance. It’s you. Resistance – parading around disguised as Variance is preventing you from sitting down and studying. It’s stopping you from asking for help. It’s stolen your voice. It’s robbed you of your self-esteem. It is your ego, your narcissism, and your do it yourself mentality.

And the hole gets deeper.

You can’t see the table.

But you keep lending.

You keep playing.

There is always someone dull enough to hand you the shovel.

 When to Leave The Game?

 There are some beautiful people in poker, but it’s also a breeding ground for the corrupt. Writing on his Facebook wall, Dusty ‘leatherass’ Schmidt, one of the pre-Black Friday online stars, said to trust nobody in poker, and that he had never seen this kind of corruption and carnage in the golf industry, for example.

Resistance is corruption.

Resistance is carnage.

Resistance may live in your heart, your mind, and your soul – but it doesn’t care about you. Its job is to destroy you, and the best way to do that, when your poker game is falling apart, is to keep you playing.

Poker isn’t a game.

Poker is a way of living.

Once you are in, Resistance won’t let you open the door.

You are stuck.

All of your friends, your relationships, and your identity is wrapped up in this card game. Poker shields you from the real world and Resistance helps to keep the blinkers on.

There is another theme that arises from my interviews with poker players, and it goes something like this:

“Once I win ‘x’ amount I am going to leave and do something more meaningful with my life.’

 No, you won’t.

Resistance won’t let you.

You think you are unstoppable because you can play poker for 24 hours straight? You’re not. Everyone has to sleep. Even Phil Laak. Resistance doesn’t sleep. It doesn’t blink. Resistance doesn’t need a time bank; it always knows what to do: keep you on The Path of Least Resistance.


 “For Every Man a Religion” – Ian Brown.

 Where does Resistance get its energy?

We feed it.

We are its fuel.

Resistance is not without a sense of irony.

Resistance is always smiling, and it’s our fear that pulls the corners of its mouth upwards into that stupid pose.

We fear the face of our backer when the mountains of makeup become our Sisyphean boulder. We fear to throw our deck out of the pram. We fear to find something else and to work hard. We fear the face of failure, losing our place on poker’s hierarchy, and slipping into supermarket shelve stacking oblivion.

You failed.

You couldn’t do it.

It wasn’t for you.

You weren’t good enough.

Don’t be so hard on yourself.

Paraphrasing Morpheus for a moment:

“Resistance is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.”

 And you know this.

You have felt this.

“What you know you can’t explain, but you feel it. You’ve felt it your entire life, that there is something wrong with you. You don’t know what it is, but it’s there, like a splinter in your mind, driving you mad.”

 And now you have a name for the splinter; the omnipresent force that prevents you from finding true meaning and purpose

by chopping your legs off at the knee.

But, you are not alone.

Nobody can escape it.

“You know, Hitler wanted to be an artist,” writes Pressfield. “At eighteen he took his inheritance, seven hundred kroner, and moved to Vienna to live and study. He applied to the Academy of Fine Arts and later to the School of Architecture. Ever seen one of his paintings? Neither have I. Resistance beat him. Call it overstatement, but I’ll say it anyway; it was easier for Hitler to start World War II than it was for him to face a blank square of canvas.”

 So if Hitler couldn’t defeat Resistance, how can you?

The answer is: by Turning Pro, and that’s what we will cover next week.


views and opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of