Lacking Motivation that a “Linchpin” Needs? Resisting your own Resistance in Seth Godin’s _Linchpin_ (Part Two)

“The Thing you most need to do . . . is the thing the resistance most wants you to stop” (131).

Returning to Seth Godin’s manifesto on Marketing, Linchpin: Are you Indispensable?,  I want to review in this blog Godin’s ideas on how you can gain the self-acceptance and respect of a linchpin paradoxically by doing the things you least want to do, and that you know you will do imperfectly. This work requires us to counter our own “resistance,” that comes from the “lizard brain” (in Godin’s famous term), if we are to create art.

Godin divides the human mind into two parts—the “daemon” (Roman for “genius”), an “inner or attendant spirit or inspiring force” (OED), and the “resistance.” He says that the world forces us to “trade our genius and artistry for apparent stability” (1). A painful truth is that creative work of all kinds can threaten one’s mental health, partly because we feel anguish from the conflict between our ideas and the outside world. And, more importantly to this blog, we exert mental energy and feel stress when we experience the clash between the work of expressing one’s inner artist (i.e. to record what the “daemon” says) and the insistent force of “resistance.”

“Resistance” is the enemy of the “daemon,” and the daemon has no control over it. At the same time, the resistance is “afraid” of what will happen “if your ideas get out” and “your gifts are received” (107). How many of us haven’t felt that love/hate ambivalence of taking on a new (difficult) client or landing that very demanding project?

As I’m foregrounding in these blog postings (parts two and three in a three-part series), Godin’s writing on “resistance” is incredibly powerful: if you ever lack motivation and courage, I recommend that you read the section of Linchpin named “The Resistance,” even if you read nothing else in the book.

Godin catalogs examples of “resistance” including pressures to fit in, by doing what your supervisor wants; declining to offer your peers criticism, because it’s uncomfortable at first; using a sales script with a client, because it’s easier than having to engage with them more deeply; spending millions of dollars and far too much time to create an office space that you “can defend;” following a manual for how to do something, rather than making your own rules; delaying on calling prospects because you feel unable to face more potential rejection; and generally taking a comfortable route through work that rarely gets you to the places of “engagement and change” that “discomfort” yields (115-116).

If we’re conscious about our motivation and psychology as Creatives, it’s obvious how powerful and pervasive in our lives the “resistance” can be: “Resistance seeks comfort [and] . . . wants to hide” (115), Godin says. The “lizard brain” that he sees as the source of “resistance” will “invent stories, illnesses, emergencies and distractions to keep your genius bottled up” (107).  Consider the Marketer who demonstrates the “shiny, new penny” syndrome of studying new fields, before finishing any single one. Or your assistant, who calls in sick when you most need his or her help.

The “lizard brain” seeks to procrastinate whenever possible, and that’s often. It drives us to use task lists and to look busy, even to the point of workaholism, when we are not accomplishing anything important. The “lizard brain” is the archaic part of the brain, housed in the top of your spine (the small “amygdala”), and it is always “hungry, scared, angry,” and lustful. It cares too much about what everyone else thinks, because the status of others is basic to primitive survival.

The “lizard brain,” Godin writes, was there with homosapiens in ancient history and first shows up in the womb. It keeps you alive. It’s in charge of “fight or flight,” and so is valuable in an emergency. But it conflicts with the neocortex, the part of the brain that has developed only in recent human history and that has “evolved to allow art” (109). This creative part of your mind “makes you a happy, successful and connected member of society” (109). But with it, we can’t beat the “resistance” of the lizard altogether. We must “seduce” the “lizard brain,” Godin says, by creating an environment that lulls it into sleep, so that we can create without the chatter of “resistance” undermining our creative efforts.

We can strengthen our creative voices against the “resistance” by keeping a daily journal, in which we don’t censor our own creativity.

“Wild animals have only a lizard brain” and not the neocortex, Godin writes. Animals equate survival with success, which should not be the case with us. He observes that “Survival interferes with the risk-taking needed to get through a day.” The “lizard brain” will “fight to the death, if it has to, but would rather run away”(107). It also “hates your genius and tries to stamp it out” (113) by the kind of negative self-talk and self-sabotage that writers and artists should guard against. Godin says that the best weapon against the “resistance” is consciously to overpower it, by bravely allowing your discomfort, fear and uncertainty to exist, while still doing your creative, risk-taking work.

So if you feel unmotivated at work, that may originate in something deeper than you first think. In the next (and final) blog of this series, I’ll explore further how the “resistance” works, which is knowledge that we need if we are to subvert it.

Your thoughts?  Feel free to write. I’d be pleased to hear from you. Good luck in the meantime in subverting your “resistance!”


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