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Wu Wei Taoist Philosophy: Action Without Action

One philosophical notion from Taoism I find absolutely fascinating— that of “wu wei”— which means “action without action”, or “effortless action”. Here is what I think it means and how I apply it to my own life:

Don’t force yourself to do something when you’re not ready for it.

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“Procrastination is the soul rebelling against entrapment.” – Nassim Taleb

This is the first notion: don’t always feel like you must force yourself to be so “productive” all the time, against your own willpower and mood. I believe there is a trillion times more wisdom in our gut than in our mind. What does this mean?

Don’t do things when you don’t feel like doing it.

Like Taleb, I believe our body has some sort of natural filtering system of intentionally procrastinating on things which we don’t consider important or essential.

Why “force” yourself to work when you don’t feel like it?

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This is the insanity of modern times:

We must work for work sake, and to NOT be working and toiling away is to be actively “sinning”.

This notion comes from utilitarianism/Protestant work ethic:

In order to become a virtuous person, you must always be working for the greater good of humanity. Any moment NOT spent toward this goal is a vice.

Then we are taught to feel extreme shame for our leisure. We are shamed into always being active. When we talk to people, the default is to say we are “so busy” as a badge of pride. Also we have this false notion of “successful” people always being so busy.

A new measure of success


“The only measure I have for success is how much time I have to kill.” – Nassim Taleb (Bed of Procrustes)

Now, I strive to NEVER do anything I don’t want to do at a given moment. I intentionally procrastinate on superfluous tasks as long as I can get away with it, and as a consequence I’ve been MORE productive on the tasks which I personally care for.

And as a consequence, everything which needs to get done gets accomplished by its own accord! In its own time!

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