Act Without Effort, and You Will Not Fail

Hanoi, 2016 #cindyproject
Hanoi, 2016 #cindyproject

This concept is a Taoist one— whenever you try to force things, you will fail.

But the counter-point, whenever you don’t try (wu-wei), you will succeed.


One of the main concepts of the Eastern philosophy of Taoism is “wu-wei” — action without action.

For example, you don’t need to “force” a river to flow water. It just does.

In your life and work, you shouldn’t need to “force” yourself to do certain work you are passionate about. Rather, your passionate work should be effortless. That doesn’t mean it will be easy, it just means that it will naturally flow from you.

For example, I’ve found in my photography — my best photos shoot themselves. Whenever I see a person or a scene that I want to photograph, I find myself instinctually grabbing my camera, and overcoming any of my shyness to approach someone to photograph them. And I get into the “zone” — I will take lots of photos of the person, without any fear, or without any doubts. This is me in a state of “flow” — or “wu-wei photography.”

How I’ve applied “wu-wei” in my life

Tokyo, 2016
Tokyo, 2016

I’ve found the concept of “wu-wei” to help me in other ways in life.

Not sure who your real friends are, or who you really love? See who you naturally contact without effort. Those are your real friends and loved ones. You shouldn’t need to “force” yourself to call or contact people you don’t really care about.

If you really enjoy a book, you should effortlessly read it. Even if the book is difficult, challenging, and 500+ pages— you might consume it all in one sitting.

Kill distractions in order to focus

SF, 2015
SF, 2015

I also try to write by “wu-wei.” I don’t force myself to write. I only write when I feel like it.

The best way to enter a state of “wu-wei” for me is eliminating distractions. For example, whenever I want to get writing done, I turn off wifi, I uninstall distracting apps from my phone (better yet, turn off my phone completely), and setup myself in a situation where I cannot be interrupted.

I know this goes contrary to almost all “productivity” advice that we are told in the west. But this strategy might not work for you — just experiment, try it out, and see if it works for you or not.

Better yet, just experiment, and take the pieces that work for you and don’t work for you.

Of course your taxes aren’t going to file itself. There are some things we have to do in life that we have to force ourselves to do. But once again — when deadlines for taxes are quickly approaching, somehow I don’t need to “force” myself to do my taxes. My taxes (before the deadline) magically tend to finish itself.

That also means to have “strategic procrastination” — what you generally procrastinate on isn’t very important or urgent to you. Once something becomes important or urgent, you will do it (without needing to “force” yourself to do so).

Follow nature

Hanoi, 2016
Hanoi, 2016

Nature has all the rules.

Nature changes seasons, causes rivers to flow, and the sun to rise and set. Nobody forces mother nature to do any of this.

And everything works out just fine. The world existed before we were born, and will continue to exist after we die.

Don’t take your life too seriously. In the grand scheme of things, we are just another grain of sand on the beach. And the earth is just another grain of sand on the beach (when compared to the other galaxies and universes out there).

But the fact that you are still alive is a blessing in itself. So don’t waste your life doing things you don’t want to do, to gain the approval of people you don’t care about, and don’t fear too much for yourself. Everything will work out fine in the end.

Try to embrace more “wu-wei” or “flow” in your life, and you will not fail.


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