The Law of Reversed Effort.

— 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

However to be exact Alan Watts was actually talking here about The Backwards Law when he used this quote which is a very similar concept to the Law of Reversed Effort.

But lets not be too pedantic all we really need to worry about is that some things in life only sort themselves out when we don’t do a thing, taking this concept of reversed effort a bit further sometimes it refers refers instead to a state of mind, a state of  mind of ‘not doing’, perhaps this is a flow state of automatic action, or a clarity of effortless concentration that only resides when we are present and ‘in the now’, and then we try and mentally push things too far we get the opposite result. (For those of you who are students of meditation you will know how this feels).

A recent example that comes to mind of the law of reversed effort, was of a patient I consulted with second order anxiety, he couldn’t remember what had actually caused the stress and anxiety he was feeling in his life at that time, most of his stress and anxiety he felt was actually caused by wanting to rid himself of his stress, 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, let go, let the muddy water clear and maybe the answer will come to you, and this is the law of reversed effort.


Clinician, Speaker, Blogger, Writer and knuclehead who jumped in at the deep-end a long time ago.