Resistance & The Upper Limit Problem in Creativity

resistance upper limit

Resistance has had my hands bound with anchor rope for the past few months. Maybe you’ve noticed. I haven’t written a blog since April.


But it’s more than just blogging. I hadn’t been writing on my novel either.

For those who don’t know the word in terms of creativity, or following your bliss, essentially it means you’re wholly sabotaging your efforts to do what you feel most called to do in the world. For me, that’s all things to do with writing. Steven Pressfield, in his amazing book The War of Art, describes the concept in much more depth than I ever could. Get thee a copy, posthaste. You won’t regret it.

Here’s how Resistance shows up for me.

Little Resistances:

The moment I sit down to write, I remember that I haven’t cleaned the grout in the shower since I moved in to my place in 2012. It’s absolutely imperative that I do so at that exact moment.

Or… I decide I’ve lived with the junk drawer as a junk drawer long enough and it’s time to abandon my writing, make a trip to the Container Store thirty miles away, and organize it. Pronto.

Or… as I sit in the chair with my feet crossed in my lap, fingers poised over my keyboard, the calloused bottoms of my feet rub my inner thigh and I head out for a pedicure. Immediately.

Those little insidious things that fill my mind to the point of distraction are just that — distractions. But they’re mild, really, in comparison with the biggies.

Big Resistances:

You know, things are going pretty well in your life, Melanie. You’ve written your first draft. You’ve written your second draft, half of your third, and started over on your fourth. The book is starting to come together. It’s taking shape. You’re even sort of semi-pleased. Sort of. And your business is booming. You’re doing work you love in the realm of writing. And your new rheumatoid arthritis meds appear to be working. Why don’t you join a hip-hop class?

Resistance: Oh yeah. We’ll see.

*Screeches to a Halt* I end up in the E.R. that night with some weird nodule in my knee bone. So then I see an Orthopedic surgeon. Then I go for an MRI. Blah, blah, blah.

Or… I try to blow up my relationship with my guy. I’m talking: let’s figure out in this nanosecond if the four years we’ve been happy together is enough or if we should call it quits. (More on that neuroses in a later blog.)

Blowin’ My Own Mind:

As the Universe so oft does, I was brought to a few books in the past few months that directly spoke to this phenomenon for me. One, of course, was The War of Art, but the other was The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks. I’ve started to ponder whether the Upper Limit Problem that Gay speaks of is the exact same thing as the concept of Resistance that Pressfield is famous for. Bear with me.

My understanding of the Upper Limit Problem from Gay’s work is that we have a baseline of what we’re comfortable receiving that’s established when we’re quite young. This includes happiness, success, joy, financial abundance, etc… When we approach that baseline and begin to climb above it, we subconsciously self-sabotage ourselves in order to get back to that comfortable baseline. Yep. Even if that baseline is really low and it sucks. We’re inclined to want to be in the space of what’s comfortable. Ever heard the phrase we’re creatures of comfort? Yeah, that.

So how does that relate to Pressfield’s Resistance? Well… both involve the employment of self-sabotage to baser levels of comfort. Let’s bring in Mr. Maslow, too. You know, just for kicks.

Most people remember Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs from Psych 101, right? A simple refresher: Our first priority is to take care of our most basic needs of food, shelter, and clothing. If we have that handled, we can move on to job security and a safe working environment. When we’re golden there, we can move on to feeling wanted and to a sense of belonging. Next up? Self-respect. Last… if all those lower needs are met, we can finally move upward to fulfilling our potential and achieving our dreams.

But what if we’re not comfortable up there in dream achievement and potential fulfillment? What if we’re more comfortable in job security or feeling wanted?

When we’re in Resistance, we are almost wholly focused on Maslow’s lower levels. My self-sabotaging always brings me down to my baser needs. Grout, anyone? Relationships, perhaps? Of course, I’m comfortable there. When I wander one foot over my baseline of comfort to the realm of pure joy (which is where my bliss is — where my writing resides), WHAM-O.

Obviously, I’m still noodling this out for myself. I don’t have it all locked down, and I’m not going to wait to post this blog until I do have it fully ciphered. That’s where you come in. I’d love to hear your thoughts around the subject. What’s your take? Do you see the connection between Upper Limit and Resistance? Is Resistance the effect of the Upper Limit Problem (the cause?) Are they the same?

I’ve written 1,000 words a day for the past five days. Twenty pages of pure, glorious bliss. The Muse definitely joined me on two of those days. She saw I’d been making effort and blessed me with her presence. My job is in “Turning Pro” (another golden nugget from Steven Pressfield, as well as a follow-up book to The War of Art.) It’s up to me to show up at the blank page, day after day, despite the Resistance, and to work on increasing my Upper Limit by allowing for more joy, success, and abundance. In other words, practicing my Receiving skills.

Thoughts? Alternatives? Arguments? Spot on? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

For my Visual Peeps Out There: