How to Overcome Procrastination as a Filmmaker

How to Overcome Procrastination as a Filmmaker

What you're about to learn in this episode of the Filmmaker Freedom Podcast might be the single most powerful concept I've found for living a productive, meaningful life as a creative.

The episode is ostensibly about beating procrastination and doing your work. And by the end of it, you'll certainly have strategies for exactly that.

But the underlying idea here has an uncanny ability not only to help you get your work done, but also transform your psychology.

If you've been listening to the other episodes in this season, you already know that most filmmakers are held back by their psychology in some way. Their fears, insecurities, bad beliefs, and egos are working in the background to sabotage their efforts to get ahead in the world of film.

And if there's one thing I've learned about changing your psychology for the better, it's that you can't just meditate a little bit and say nice things to yourself.

You have to take real-world action that embodies the internal change you want to make, and you have to do it consistently. Anything else is like putting a bandaid on a stab wound. You have to go for the deep fix, not the quick and effortless one.

Which brings us to the topic for today's episode. The art of beating "Resistance" and "Turning Pro."

Here's a quote from Steven Pressfield, whose book the War of Art is featured heavily in this episode, and which is perhaps the single best book ever written for creative people.

If tomorrow morning by some stroke of magic every dazed and benighted soul woke up with the power to take the first step towards pursuing his or her dreams, every shrink in the directory would be out of business. Prisons would stand empty. The alcohol and tobacco industries would collapse, along with the junk food, cosmetic surgery, and infotainment businesses. Domestic abuse would become extinct, as would addiction, obesity, migraine headaches, road rage, and dandruff.

It's a great quote, right?

And even though it may seem a bit hyperbolic, I've found Pressfield's prescription has worked wonders in my own life, and in the lives of the other filmmakers I've worked with. 

It's a big promise, for sure, but that's the power of Turning Pro.

So without any further ado, here's the episode.

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Practical Takeaways from Today's Episode

Resistance, the mortal enemy of ambitious creatives

If you've read any of Steven Pressfield's non-fiction books, you know about the concept of Resistance.

If you're not yet familiar, here's a little rundown of this concept in the form of another quote from Pressfield (there will be a lot of those in this episode).

"I define Resistance as that self-created self-perpetuated, invisible, impersonal, indefatigable force whose sole aim is to prevent us from doing our work, from becoming our best selves, and from rising to the next level of competence, integrity, and generosity. That force never goes away. In fact, it becomes more protean and more cunning as we advance through the levels of professionalism."

In other words, Resistance is a big overarching category for all of the ways we sabotage ourselves in the pursuit of our goals.

And as a general rule of thumb, the more we care about a project or a calling, the more it stretches our abilities, the more it requires delayed gratification, the more viciously Resistance will show up.

Here are some of the ways it shows up in our psychology.

For starters, procrastination and perfectionism are the most common and easily identifiable manifestations of Resistance. Fear, in all its different incarnations, is Resistance. Having low confidence and feeling like an imposter or a fraud, that's Resistance too. Bad habits and addictions that stop you from getting you work done, whether it's social media, TV, food, sex, or something more sinister. Totally Resistance. And the list doesn't stop there.

Basically, any time you find yourself unable to do your important work because of your thoughts, emotions, or actions, that's just Resistance.

The magic of labeling your psychological issues as Resistance

Now, you might be wondering why I'm going out of my way to explain this model of thinking, especially considering we have individual episodes this season about a bunch of psychological setbacks.

Because once you put all of these things into the category of Resistance, they essentially become one problem. And when you think of it as one problem, you can use one solution.

That's huge. Because instead of having to think about your psychological holdups in a fractured, disconnected way, where you're trying to solve 10 different problems at once, you can simply focus your energy on beating Resistance, one day at a time.

It takes something that could be overwhelmingly complex, and makes it simple enough for us to actually take action, which again, is the only way for us to make substantive changes.

Now, make no mistake, Resistance will show up in all sorts of cunning ways, even more than the ones I listed above. That's why you get all of the additional strategies that are laced throughout this season. Because you never know how Resistance will show up on any given day, and you want to be as prepared as you can for whatever it's going to throw at you.

So that's Resistance in a nutshell, and why we should use it as an all encompassing term for the various internal battles we'll fight as ambitious creatives.

The way to overcome Resistance, Pressfield tells us, is Turning Pro, which we'll talk about in the second half of this episode.

Why we must defeat Resistance

Before we jump into the art of "Turning Pro," I just want to briefly talk about why it's so damn important to defeat Resistance in our liv

Here's another quote from Pressfield.

Ambition, I have come to believe, is the most primal and sacred fundament of our being. To feel ambition and to act upon it is to embrace the unique calling of our souls. Not to act upon that ambition is to turn our backs on ourselves and on the reason for our existence.

In other words, it's our duty to try our very best to live up to our potential. That's how we live good, fulfilled, meaningful lives, where we make it to our deathbeds without regrets for the things left undone.

That's heavy stuff, but that's what at stake here.

When we let Resistance get the better of us on a consistent basis, we do ourselves and the world a massive disservice, because we're not living up to our potential, and we're not getting work out into the world that has the potential to impact others.

So if you care about living up to your potential, and you

Turning Pro, the Antidote to Resistance

Alright my friend, it's time to get to the good stuff.

We'll start with a very quick definition of what it means to Turn Pro.

Turning Pro is about forming a new identity, one centered around an ironclad, lifelong commitment to showing up every single day and chipping away at your most important work.

It's a commitment to do that work, no matter how you feel, no matter how your psychology, your circumstances, your relationships, or your bad habits are holding you back.

In other words, it's a commitment to take consistent action in spite of the Resistance you'll undoubtedly feel.

If you can do this one thing, and do it consistently, I think you'll find, as many artists and entrepreneurs have, that the voices in your head quiet down. Your fear will begin to subside, your confidence will skyrocket, and your ego will quiet down.

And most importantly, you'll make consistent progress on whatever it is that's most important to you. Whether it's a specific project, or your career as a whole.

It's the compound effect in action.

Doing your "most important work" every day

Now, the mechanics of how you turn pro are entirely up to you. I recommend building a rock solid daily routine around your most important work, ideally early in the morning or late in the evening, since that's when we tend to have the most control over our time.

All that matters is that you intentionally carve out time each day to chip away at work that

Here's what I mean by that. It's shockingly easy to work hard on things that make no difference whatsoever. So your most important work is whatever it is that truly moves the needle for you in your endeavors. It can also be work that helps you build new beliefs, or cement changes into your psychology. More often than not, though, it's something related to filmmaking.

Since filmmaking is multidisciplinary, your most important work will be a combination of writing, pre-producing, shooting, editing, and perhaps most importantly of all, building and maintaining relationships that will move your career and work forward.

There's no one size fits all answer for what Turning Pro looks like within the context of filmmaking. So be your own best judge, and figure out

Two foundational steps for Turning Pro

As you're getting into this, there are two things I recommend above all else.

  • First, Start Small. Don't try to start with a routine that requires 4 hours of work every single day. It's great if you can work up to that, but you have to train yourself to get to that point. If you try to start there, you'll fall off the wagon quickly and you won't be particularly motivated to start again because it feels like such a daunting task. So start small.

  • Second, Focus on consistency above all else. If you can't be consistent with your routine as it is, make it smaller. Even 10-20 minutes a day of focused intentional work can move the needle if you do it consistently. And once that consistency is firmly locked in place, then you can start building up a more rigorous routine.

Now, if you want to go way deeper into this stuff, I've got an entire course dedicated to turning pro as a filmmaker. It's called the Filmmaker's Guide to Success, and I designed it not only to teach you a boatload of useful stuff, but to actually build a routine around your important work. Just by going through the course, you'll have a routine at the end of it, as well as a roadmap for building a film career you love.

If you're interested in that, just jump on the Filmmaker Freedom newsletter by clicking that link in the header.

Four super important mindset shifts for Turning Pro

If you couldn't already tell, Turning Pro is about far more than just showing up every day and doing the work.

Sure, that's a huge part of it, but perhaps more importantly, it's about waging war on Resistance. It's about staging an internal revolution and becoming, in every sense of the word, a professional. It's a mental and spiritual change that manifests itself in your actions.

This is where I'm going to break off from Pressfield a little bit and talk about useful mindsets and philosophies that have helped me overcome Resistance in the moment, and Turn Pro in my life.

Mindset 1: Getting comfortable with discomfort

A lot of our bad habits are the result of us prioritizing the things that are comfortable.

It’s easy and comfortable and fun to watch TV, browse instagram and facebook, hang out with friends, drink, surf the web, etc. These things make us feel good, so it’s no wonder we’re tempted to do more and more. We’re biologically hardwired to seek pleasure and avoid pain.

On the other hand, difficult work—the kind that moves us ahead in our careers—is almost always uncomfortable. It stretches our abilities. It forces us to learn new skills. It requires that we sacrifice time we could be spending on comfortable activities for uncomfortable work.

For a lot of people, myself included, that’s a hard trade-off to make. But when we’re ok with it, we become far more likely to prioritize the work that matters rather than the comfortable activities that get us nowhere.

Just remember: real progress lies in making yourself uncomfortable in the present so that you can enjoy rewards in the future. Once you’re comfortable with the idea that it’s ok (and even preferable) to be uncomfortable, you’ll start favoring activities with a long-term payoff.

Mindset 2: Shift from “consumer” to “producer”

This next mindset is basically a corollary of the previous one, but it's my favorite of the bunch.

A lot of us spend our days consuming work from other people. Whether it’s movies, shows, social media posts, products, or anything else, a majority of our time and energy is spent on consumption.

But I think we all know that the greatest rewards in our society go to those who produce more than they consume. After all, you can't become the filmmaker you want to be by sitting around watching Netflix and scrolling through social media.

So what if you flipped that paradigm around, and instead of consuming, you focused the majority of your energy on producing? Would your procrastination issues persist, or would you start to get all of your important work done and then some?

For me, it was the latter. As someone who used to spend ungodly amounts of time on facebook and Netflix, this shift has made such an incredible difference.

Now, here's my favorite part of this mindset. In any given moment, you get to make a choice. Will you choose the easy comfortable path of consumption, or will you choose to produce something? If you care about living up to your potential, that's an easy choice to make.

Mindset 3: Identity-based action

This next model is another that's been useful to me. It comes from Eric Greitens in his book Resilience.

For most of us, our actions are determined by how we feel in the moment. And if we act based on our feelings enough, our identity will be formed around the outcome of those feelings.

So that's the first model, the one many of us unconsciously subscribe to.

Feelings → Action → Identity

Which is a recipe for disaster.

If we're feeling bad, or if we're letting those negative voices in our heads get to us, and we act based on those feelings, we're not going to take the right actions. More than likely, we'll opt for comfort or pleasure in some way or another, and our important work won't get done.

If we do this enough, it creates a self-perpetuating cycle of shittiness where we eventually form an identity around not doing our work. If we come to believe deep down that we're the type of person who doesn't get their work done, we've created a massive, overwhelming internal barrier for ourselves.

That's why we need to flip that model on its head. Instead of feelings, action, identity, we need to go...

Identity → Action → Feelings

We need to decide ahead of time what identity we want to adopt in our lives. For artists, that's most likely going to be the identity of a professional, someone who shows up day in and day out to do the important work. Then we make our decisions and take action based on that identity. It won't always be in line with how we feel, but the more we take action in spite of that feeling, the more we'll eventually feel how we want to feel.

And eventually, we'll have built an entirely new identity, based on our actions, that serves us and helps us reach our potential instead of holding us back.

It's powerful stuff. I recommend you try it.

Mindset 4: Win your fight-thrus

In one of my favorite productivity/performance books of all time, Organize Tomorrow Today by Jason Selk and Tom Bartow, the co-authors dive into one of the missing elements in the process of building new habits and routines and making them sustainable.

In that book, they break out habit change into three different sections. There’s…

  1. The Honeymoon

  2. The Fight-Thru

  3. Second Nature

The Honeymoon and Second Nature are both pretty self-explanatory. The first is that period when you first start something new when you’re exicited and motivated. The latter is when your new habit has actually taken hold and it’s more or less completely automatic.

It's that middle stage, the Fight-Thrus, where the true magic happens. It’s here where your new habit lives or dies.

These are those individual moments where you can either win or lose the battle for the day. You can either let the Resistance beat you, or you can push through the discomfort and get on with your routine.

Here's the cool part. Every time you win a fight-thru, you make it easier to win the next one. On the flip side of that, every time you lose a fight-thru, it becomes easier to quit.

That’s why every single fight-thru you encounter is important.

We’ve already covered a few different mindsets for winning your fight-thrus. However, Selk and Bartow have one more very powerful technique for winning in those moments.

You simply have to ask yourself two questions. How will I feel if I win this fight-thru? And how will I feel if I lose it? Answer these as specifically and honestly as you can, and it should give you the emotional fuel needed to push through and win.

Turning Pro means "paying the price" for what you want

Let's wrap this thing up with one more quote from Steven Pressfield, as if we didn't have enough already.

Turning Pro is free, but it's not easy. You don't need to take a course or by a product. All you have to do is change your mind.

Turning pro is free, but it's not without cost. When we turn pro, we give up a life with which we may have become extremely comfortable. We give up a sense of self that we have come to identify with and to call our own. We may have to give up friends, lovers, even spouses.

Turning pro is free, but it demands sacrifice. The passage is often accompanied by an interior odyssey whose trials are survived only at a great cost, emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually. We pass through a membrane when we turn pro. It hurts. It's messy and it's scary. We tread in blood when we turn pro.

It's not exactly a rosy picture Pressfield is painting here.

But if you care about following your ambition wherever it takes you, if you care about reaching your potential, Turning Pro is the only way to get there.

And for that reason, it's always worth it, no matter how messy and uncomfortable the process may be.

Further Reading & Resources

Books: The War of Art, Turning Pro, & Do The Work - Steven Pressfield

This is the trifecta of Steven Pressfield's non-fiction books. Each one's a little different in its focus, but they're all fundamentally about defeating Resistance and Turning Pro. I'd recommend starting with War of Art first, then moving on Turning Pro and Do The Work subsequently.

Book: Organize Tomorrow Today - Jason Selk & Tom Bartow

This is without a doubt my favorite productivity/high performance/habit change book out there. It's where the concept of winning your "fight thru's" comes from, and there are a bunch of other tremendously useful tools in here.

Book: Resilience - Eric Greitens

Eric Greitens may be a disgraced politician these days, but that shouldn't diminish how incredible this book is. I'd honestly recommend it to anybody who's having a difficult time in life or who's given up on the prospects of a better future. Lots of empathetic wisdom here.

Book: Die Empty - Todd Henry

The subtitle of this book is "unleash your best work every day," and it's kind of like a more practical version of Steven Pressfield's books (not to say those aren't practical, but they're very philosophical). This one is basically a game plan for showing up every day and filling the world with your very best work. That way you "die empty" with nothing important left undone.

Book: The ONE Thing - Gary Keller & Jay Papasan

This is my second favorite productivity book behind Organize Tomorrow Today. This one is particularly useful for those of you who are stressed and busy, and who need to find your "most important work" so that you can focus more of your energy on the things that matter, and less on the things that don't.

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