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The Law of Reversed Effort. 

The law of reversed effort was originally described by Aldous Huxley who noticed the fact in life sometimes the harder you try the less likely you are to succeed.

I like to think of the law of reversed effort as being similar to the Zen teaching about clarity and muddy water quoted succinctly by Alan Watts;

“Muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone”. – Alan Watts

Because sometimes the more we try and do something, like stamping our feet in a muddy puddle, no matter how hard we try, the only answer to get clarity is to do nothing.

Some things in life only sort themselves out only when we don’t do anything, taking the concept of the Law of Reversed Effort a bit further, it sometimes refers instead to a state of mind, a state of  mind of ‘not doing’, perhaps this is akin to a flow state of automatic action, a mindset of effortless concentration that only resides when we are present and ‘in the now’, because if we try and mentally push things too far in this mindset we just get the opposite result, for those of you who meditate you will know how this feels otherwise all you need to do is remember the last time you lay awake at night trying too hard to get to sleep.

An example from real life was that recently I consulted a chap with second order anxiety, he couldn’t remember what had actually caused the stress and anxiety he was feeling in his life, and most of the stress and anxiety he felt was actually caused by wanting to rid himself of his stress and anxiety, and the more he tried the worse things got.

Here is the original quote from Huxley about the Law of Reversed effort.

“The harder we try with the conscious will to do something, the less we shall succeed. Proficiency and the results of proficiency come only to those who have learned the paradoxical art of doing and not doing, or combining relaxation with activity, of letting go as a person in order that the immanent and transcendent unknown quantity may take hold. We cannot make ourselves understand; the most we can do is to foster a state of mind, in which understanding may come to us”. Aldous Huxley (The Law of Reversed Effort).

Sometimes the harder we try the harder things get and the further we move away from what we really want to achieve, perhaps acceptance and a state of mental relaxation is the only way for clarity to be achieved, so the next time you have a problem perhaps, let go, let the muddy water clear and maybe the answer will come to you, and this is the law of reversed effort. (Of note see also The Backwards Law).