The science of effortless action

For those who think my previous posts about doing by not-doing have been hokey mysticism, I recommend that you read the article on “effortless action” in the Science section of the December 16, 2014 issue of the  New York Times.

This article discusses the work of Dr. Edward Slingerland of the University of British Columbia.  Whereas Brené Brown’s research looks at not-doing in terms of “vulnerability,” Slingerland talks about “spontaneity.”  The NYT reporter quotes Jonathan Schooler, a psychologist at the University of California, Santa Barbara:

Psychological science suggests that the ancient Chinese philosophers were genuinely on to something.  Particularly when one has developed proficiency in an area, it is often better to simply go with the flow. Paralysis through analysis and overthinking are very real pitfalls that the art of wu wei was designed to avoid.

The article includes a good comparison between the Confucian and Daoist approaches to wú wéi, about which I have also posted.  The Confucian works at not-doing whereas the Daoist doesn’t.

Our culture is very good at pushing people to work hard or acquire particular technical skills. But in many domains actual success requires the ability to transcend our training and relax completely into what we are doing, or simply forget ourselves as agents.

Confucians emphasize the rubrics of training, technique, and social structure, but the Daoists tell us that all that doesn’t get you anywhere unless you let go.

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