I learned a lot about how to AVOID inner war by reading the “Art of War” by SunTzu. I read the book because I wanted to better understand why “war” is so commonly used as in our culture as a metaphor for personal growth. In my opinion, gardening and cultivation is a far more accurate metaphor for how personal growth really works.
To my surprise I found that Sun Tzu actually teaches that war should be used only as a last resort. How interesting that so many people have misinterpreted or distorted his work or perhaps haven’t actually read the book in it’s entirety.
How unfortunate for us that war metaphors as so commonly used to teach self-development. Teaching people to use war as a primary way of interacting with themselves, like “Conquering Your Inner Critic” or “Battling your Inner Demons” is a recipe for fostering chronic frustration, insecurity, depression and anxiety.
Another popular example of using war as a metaphor for engaging with the parts of ourselves we don’t understand is the book, “The War of Art“ by Steven Pressfield. He refers constantly to our inner resistance as “our inner enemy.” This is not just a word problem. It’s NOT TRUE.
In fact it’s worse than not true, believing you have an enemy inside you feeds and worsens the problem you are trying to solve. The truth is that you have inner opposition and you NEED that part of you so that you can learn and grow.
Enemies tend to hate you and not have your best interest at heart. Opponents may challenge you but may also be your friend who cares about you deeply and wants you to succeed. It is FAR more helpful to your personal relationship with yourself (and to your personal growth) to view your inner resistance as a challenging friend who is trying to give you difficult feedback but doesn’t have the right words.
Listening to that friend instead of fighting or trying to silence it is far more valuable to your personal growth, don’t you think? Even if you disagree with it, there is value in being challenged to fine-tune your thinking, and to become more creative and agile in your problem-solving, isn’t there?
Sun Tzu teaches that the most effective way of winning is never going to war. It is a far superior strategy to avoid war and to turn your opponents into allies.
Another common myth is that The Art of War is about how to deal with enemies. Interestingly, I found that he used the term “oppositional forces” and “opponents” rather than enemies. According to Sun Tzu, hate or disrespect for your opposition actually makes YOU weak…not them.
Thinking of your inner resistance as your natural opposition to “over-controlling” or “over-pressuring” makes a lot more sense. When someone doesn’t listen to you and just tries to order you around, you resist, right?
If you are not listening to the part of yourself that isn’t “READY” to do what you are telling it to do, naturally you will resist yourself. Wouldn’t it be more effective to engage in a conversation with your resistance than to start a fight?
When you are resisting doing something you think you “should” be doing, try asking yourself one of more of these questions that help you “agilize” potential solutions instead of fighting a war you can’t win.
– What would help me feel more “ready” to do this?
– What time of day might I more naturally be inclined to do this?
– What’ would make this feel easier?
– What is the really value of doing this?
– What will the impact be? in the short term?
– How little of this could I do and call it good enough?
– What assumptions am I making about when, where, how, how much, how long, with who, how perfect, how many?
– What could I redesign to make this more attractive?
Focusing on readiness to do things rather than “pushing” or coercing yourself is much more effective and satisfying in the long run. Try it a couple times.
See how your resistance changes when your creative brain kicks in. : )