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:


14 replies
  1. Sylvia Nibley says:

    I love this sharing Melanie and always love when we do get to hear from you in your newsletter. I’m right there with you living on the edge of the comfort zone. Since my joy and geekiness tends to focus around repatterning the subconscious mind, I got excited when you identified a limit in your ability to receive as the root of the upper limit. Bingo! I love to celebrate those finds, and appreciate your sharing because it helped me spot some of the same nonsense in myself. In my experience, once you’ve got that sneaky creator of resistance unearthed, it’s SO very easy to make changes at the subconscious level to create a big reboot. There are lots of ways to do this, and I believe creating a deep level of safety around receiving (more than you’re used to) is a great place to start. I’ll go do some of that right now… Lots of love to you!

    • Melanie Bates says:

      Aww thanks so much, Sylvia. My job here is done 😉 But seriously, I love that. And I think the “creator of resistance” may just have to do with worthiness (to Ming’s point below.) But, please tell me where I’m wrong there. Thank you, oodles, for reading and for sharing your wisdom. I’m grateful, and love to you too.

  2. Ming says:


    I so love reading your blogs. Glad you are back ! HA! Maslow, wow, now is that bringing me back to college right? Yeah, I used to so believe that, even made sense to me. But, when I look back on the 2 years of contrast I had, it wasn’t putting food that got me through ,, it was making sure my dogs were fed first.. and then it was my own self love. Where do you think self love fits? Because I believe it is the key to manifesting anything we want. Love to hear what you think .

    • Melanie Bates says:

      I think self-love (or worthiness – aren’t they the same in a sense?) absolutely fits in here, Ming. If we don’t feel deserving to receive that certainly creates a problem. If we start experiencing “success” and don’t feel worthy of that, of course we would sabotage it to come down to a level where we do feel we’re getting what we deserve. It always, always, always comes back to love. In everything, methinks. <3

  3. Morgan Sontag says:

    Hi Mel! This is super! Clever and fun to read! From the Hendricks’ frame, I personify my Resistor.. my 3′ Sea Hag of Resistance.” (I have a little paintiing of her!) She’s got briney breath, and pulls on my leg, my brain, etc. But not for long because I can feel the edge of her clutch. I throw her a can of sardines, and tell her I am in charge here. I acknowledge that she has assisted me here and there to rebel and protect by keeping life safe, status quo. But I can handle this now. Then I get back on track. So in a sense I don’t resist the resistor…my little buggy hag. Pressfields’ work for me in regard to resistance was more about growing up and keeping my word to myself…so don’t give my word or utter it unless I mean it… the process of recognizing high-schoolie habits, and lining up my personal integrity. I said I was gonna do this, so what’s in the way? Ah, my little sneaky hag! No need to analyze, figure it out! Once I give her a pat, thank her and throw her a fish… all is well and I am cranking away. xo

    • Melanie Bates says:

      Goddess, Morgan. If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a dozen times = I adore you. The Sea Hag of Resistance. BRILLIANT. I hope you’re writing a lot – you’ve got so much flare. And, yes, I think that’s the crux of Pressfield’s “Turning Pro.” It’s integrity to self, it’s not letting ourselves down. So important. Love to you!


  4. Jenni Bevill says:

    Hey, Mel! Whenever I think of resistance I think of the passage in the Desire Map where Daneille Laporte quotes the sports psychologist/coach who says that the moment of resistance comes just as our cells are about to actually change/shift to the new normal. I’m sure that I’m paraphrasing, of course, but I do think that resistance and the ULP are related. It’s like the ULP is how we resist the change that’s about to happen. Does that make sense?

    • Melanie Bates says:

      Hi, love!!! So nice to see you here. I so agree with that. I think Pressfield actually says something similar: “Resistance presents itself when you are ready to go the next level.” That’s something that I really loved about “The War of Art.” It makes me feel good to know that Resistance has so much goodness in it – a knowing that you’re on your soul’s right track; a knowing that you’re ready for the next level.

      I actually think Resistance is how we resist the change. I think the Upper Limit/Glass Ceiling is a product of our feeling deserving/our worthiness. UL is sort of how much we feel deserving to receive. At least I think that’s true. My exercise right now in life is to amp up my ability to receive. And, of course, to work out my deserving muscles. Love you!


  5. sarah says:

    Oh Melanie,
    I feel you. and we can talk about it. retreat about it. understand it. shame ourselves over it. clean around it. and suck it up through a straw…but the only thing to do is write anyway.
    I am glad you are writing. I’m going to do the same. right now.

    • Melanie Bates says:

      Ah, Sarah. Yes, indeed. That’s Turning Pro. It’s so good to hear from you, and I’M so glad YOU’RE writing, too. <3

  6. JEN says:


    I know this demon. Right now it infuses my soul.

    I now view those little resistances as the gnomes that exist to annoy. But, in the big scheme of things, come to be viewed as endearing little assholes that you just pat on the head and say… “you’re being little bitches right now and I’m just done with you”.

    The Big Resistances, and, yes, I’m acutely aware of Maslow’s hierarchy, the basic needs such as food, a roof over my head, etc. are at the forefront of my anxiety invaders, scraping my thoughts and emotions with razorblade claws.

    I’m literally drifting, a naïve Dory, in an ocean of desiring to do and be amazing things. I should’ve been more specific when asking the universe.

    I sit in a pot of amazing mediocrity, and maybe a more apt description of my feelings, taken from a business aspect, is the Peter Principle. A management theory put forth by Laurence J. Peter in 1969 which basically says a person is elevated, in this case, into new roles, based on how they’ve done so far, rather than on the ability to accomplish the tasks in a higher role. While this is a business idea, as a creative belief, taken with the ideas of big resistances, I find myself wondering if all I got is the base ability to do one certain thing. That maybe greatness and the “arts” are not meant for me.

    I’m literally going through my mid-life crisis. The kind that only seems to convey you were at your best a few years ago, you can’t go any further, and just because you desire to do new and different things, you’ve passed up all those opportunities decades ago. Maybe you should’ve been paying attention then.

    Why couldn’t I have gotten the one where I just waste tons of money on a Ferrari!?

    I’m writing an amazing thing, in my opinion, based on a known world, ideas and visions flashing through my mind faster than I can write them down. But has the likelihood of going anywhere as winning the lottery is.

    I have a thousand other “ideas” that sit there, limp, mocking me, with the potential of maybe attracting attention as an original thought. But alas, I have a little old hag, sitting in front of me, cackling, coughing up phlegm, gnarled, mole-covered index finger pointing at me, decrepit body shaking with glee about how uneducated, unintelligent, uninformed, I am about this burning desire to write.

    “Good luck my dear, you had your chance to be the best you could be at something, and you failed miserably. Enjoy your just rewards”.

    Maybe I should just be a stripper?

    Oh wait…. SHIT!

    • Melanie Bates says:

      Ah, Jen. Your only job (and I think I can speak here of your passion) is to apply ass to chair once a day. It doesn’t mean that you don’t go to a day job, it means that you meet with the Muse every day and perfect your craft. (Secret: I’m not sure we ever attain it – that perfection.)

      Sure, you could give up and become a stripper. Eventually, you’d end up that bitter old hag sitting in front of you. Or… you could cling to hope, show up, and for fuck’s sake: Be kind and compassionate to yourself. You deserve that love. You are a spark of divinity. You are of the stars.

      My only failure will be my death (and I don’t even believe that will be a failure), but it’s the only time I’ll stop trying to be the best me I can be, and do what my soul calls me to do.

      Love you!

  7. Laurie says:

    LOL! I’m sitting at my computer and I have the thought, I haven’t checked Melanie’s site lately. I wonder what she’s writing about? I need to do that right now – instead of staring at my blank page – or at the third draft that seems not to want to untangle itself. And in the magical ways of the Universe, you remind me to trust the process. Yes to resistance and upper limits walking hand in hand. And thank you for sharing thoughts that help me go back to the page I minimized with curiosity and willingness to keep traveling onward.

    • Melanie Bates says:

      Yay, Laurie! This makes me so happy – that even on the interwebs, I can help you to trust. I can’t wait to talk again and see where the Muse is taking you. <3



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