The law of reversed effort: The harder you try, the harder you fall - Deepstash
Music and Productivity

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Music and Productivity

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The harder you try, the harder you fall

There are many moments in life when trying too hard is counterproductive. Aldous Huxley called this the law of reversed effort.

Try as we might, it is nearly impossible to consciously will yourself to sleep. Sleep comes to those who let their mind wander and focus on anything other than sleep itself. Count sheep, control your breathing, listen to an audiobook, or whatever — so long as it turns your mind from wanting to sleep.


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“The harder we try with the conscious will to do something, the less we shall succeed.”



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Combining relaxation with activity

It’s the idea that the more we try to do something, the worse we become at it.

Suppose, for instance, that you are learning how to ride a bike for the first time. You are told to hold the handlebars a certain way, to push off with this foot, to pedal at that speed, to sit in a specific position, to hold your balance here, and so on. There is a small book’s worth of micro-instructions when learning to ride a bike. When we ride a bike, we know all these things, but we do not try to do them. They just happen.

In Huxley’s words, it’s “combining relaxation with activity.”


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Wu Wei

Wu Wei

But, there’s a spiritual or holistic way of viewing the “law of reversed effort” as well. It’s something that has a much longer history than Aldous Huxley — it’s the Daoist idea of “Wu Wei.”

'The inaction'

The word “surrender” comes laden with negative connotation. Surrender is cowardly or weak. 

To surrender to a greater power — or a nobler, righteous one — is not an act of cowardice.It is an act of profound wisdom. There is nothing praiseworthy about swimming in a storm or punching a bear in the face. There is wisdom in knowing our limits, in embracing humility, and even in being pushed around.


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You can’t force it

There are many moments in life when trying harder makes things worse. When you have a mosquito bite, a broken bone, or a nosebleed, you leave it be. Picking, prodding, and probing only exacerbate the problem. So, too, with a lot of life’s major moments.

Perhaps it is time to step away from what you are doing and enjoy Wu Wei or inaction. After all, if I tell you not to think of pink elephants, there’s only one way to do it.


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By curating the content I consume, I document my journey through time and space.


Being stuck in overthinking and feeling bad about it makes it a vicious cycle. Sitting back and relaxing makes it easy.

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