Victory by Surrender: The Law of Reversed Effort

In a recent post we looked at the law of attraction ( and how we attract into our lives only those things that resonates with our state of being or energy vibration. We established that in order to get the things that we aspire for through the law of attraction, we have to be in a state of mind that we already have them which in effect will draw these things to us. The law of reversed effort takes an almost similar approach to the law of attraction; this law states that the harder we try to succeed at goal through iron jaw conscious effort, the less we are likely to succeed. The law of reversed effort suggests that the only way you can achieve a goal or an object of desire is by not trying.

Ever tried to think away a problem? Say there is this situation which has been a bother and you are trying hard through conscious effort not to think about the situation, have you ever noticed that the more you try not to think about the situation, the more you actually think about it? This is the law of reversed effort at work. Harvard University philosopher and psychologist William James gave examples through his book ‘The Varieties of Religious Experience’ of people who had for years unsuccessfully tried to rid themselves of habits like anxieties, guilt, or worries through conscious effort. He states that these people later realized that the only way they could succeed at getting rid of such habits is when they gave up the struggle to consciously do so. “The way to succeed” said James, “is through surrender…. by passivity, not activity, by relaxation, not intentness, “ He suggests that it is only by giving up the feeling of responsibility, releasing clutches on the hold, resigning the care of your destiny to higher powers, and being genuinely indifferent of the outcome that you can successfully attain whatever it is that you desire.”

A typical example of the law of reversed effort at work can also be seen through the experience of creative workers like musicians, inventors, writers, painters and so on; their ideas never come through forced conscious thought rather spontaneously in an automatic fashion, their ideas only spring forth when the conscious mind has let go of the problem and is thinking about something else.

So how can we get what we want by not trying to get what we want? It sounds like an absurd way to do things in a world where we are constantly on the move “chasing dreams.” The backwards law states that the more we go after things that we want, the more we are sub-consciously operating from a platform of lack. For example, if you are striving to be a millionaire believing that this will make you happy, it means that you will not only be chronically unhappy from the fact that you are yet to achieve this goal, you will also feel inadequate for not having achieved this goal yet. Mark Manson, bestselling author of the ‘subtle art of not giving a F*ck’ states that “pursuing something only reinforces the fact that you lack it in the first place. The more you desperately want to be rich, the more poor and unworthy you feel, regardless of how much money you actually make.” The trick therefore lies in being content with what you have even as you pursue and work towards more. Incidentally, even as you pursue more of what you want, it is best to surrender the outcome to the discretion of a higher a power who has the final authority on how it ultimately turns out instead of forcing your way through things which might end up achieving the opposite effect.

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