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The Law of Reversed Effort

The Law of Reversed Effort

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

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    Lately, I have been thinking about The Law of Reversed Effort.

    Simply put, the harder we work at something the less effective we are.

    A great example of this is the insomniac. Sleep is an entirely subconscious process, and ‘willing’ yourself to or ‘trying’ to sleep has exactly the opposite effect. The more you think about sleeping and tell yourself to ‘get’ to sleep, the more awake you become.

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    Or think about it this way, when you are swimming, if you want to float what happens? You start to drift and sink. If you want to sink and push down, your body fights against you to push you back toward the surface. If you want to sink, you float.

    This law exists because our conscious mind and our unconscious mind are often in conflict, and the unconscious mind wins. Why? Because it is our protector and it is rarely rational. The french psychologist, Émile Coué, defined the law of reversed effort and said:

    “When the imagination and will power are in conflict, are antagonistic, it is always the imagination which wins, without any exception”.

    Imagine if I laid a board on the ground and asked you to walk on it. You would do it without reservation, right? After all, it is just a board and to walk on it from one end to another is no problem at all. You can consciously tell your body to do it and it will.

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    But what if we took that same board to the top of the highest two buildings in your city? I placed one end of the board on the tip of building one, and the other end on the tip of building two. Now I ask the same of you: will you walk over the board? It is the exact same physical action as before. One foot in front of the other, just walk down the board. But your unconscious mind will fight you with everything it has. You will be scared, anxious, afraid to fall, and the more you try to “will” yourself to not feel this way the worse it will get.

    See, you have no more a chance of stepping off the board in the air as you did on the ground, but your mind imagines all sorts of scary scenarios and stops you from being able to complete the task.

    “The harder we try with the conscious will to do something, the less we shall succeed. 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)

    So how does this affect our everyday lives?

    I can tell you from personal experience that I fall prey to this on a daily basis. I am a real estate teacher and coach by day (which I love and have a passion for) and a writer/speaker/community organizer by dream. But why by dream? I have always wanted to write, have always felt like I had something to say. My conscious mind says “I can do that. I can share, speak and write” but then what happens? My unconscious mind for years has sabotaged it with doubt, and insecurity, and fear. My imagination of what may go wrong was stronger than my will to make it happen.

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    It was not until I completely let go as a person and started to blend relaxation with activity that I was able to write and speak and share. I have a very long way to go. Enlightenment is not a destination but a journey. At best, I am hoping to just stop fighting myself. 

    Is some form of this happening in your life right now? The agents that I coach have amazing talent. They are wonderful people whose stories are compelling, genuine, and true. Yet, many are hindered by self-doubt. Their conscious mind has set a goal and their unconscious mind sets out to sabotage that goal.

    Take a moment and take stock of yourself. Are you continuing to fight this fight?

    Émile Coué says:

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    “The solution for this fear, is to relax, to let go and to think about relaxing things that can provide us with the confident feeling. From this confident feeling, when we feel fresh and secure, we can, easily deal with anything that will appear less threatening.”

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      Relax and let go. Stop fighting yourself. Smile. Remember the last time you took a test? You study and study, your stress and anxiety building until the moment you sit down and then….poof. You go blank. The harder you search your brain for the answers, the less you can remember. What happens when you walk out of the room? An hour later, when the pressure is off and you are relaxed, you remember everything.

      The negative thoughts are apt to be more effective than the positive because the negative usually has more feeling with it.

      Take your goal into contemplation and focus on relaxing, letting go of the negative feelings associated with not achieving this goal. Set up a positive image about the goal, then put feeling with it. Nothing is simple, but everything is worth trying.

      More by this author

      Glenn Killey

      Author, Motivational Speaker, Mindset Coach

      What Is Your Defining Mental Picture? What My Teenage Daughter Taught Me About Simplicity What An 86 Year Old Man Can Teach Us About Procrastination The Randomness of Life: 3 Steps to Take Back Control The Law of Reversed Effort

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      Last Updated on September 10, 2018

      Overcoming The Pain Of A Breakup: 3 Suggestions Based On Science

      Overcoming The Pain Of A Breakup: 3 Suggestions Based On Science

      We thought that the expression ‘broken heart’ was just a metaphor, but science is telling us that it is not: breakups and rejections do cause physical pain. When a group of psychologists asked research participants to look at images of their ex-partners who broke up with them, researchers found that the same brain areas that are activated by physical pain are also activated by looking at images of ex-partners. Looking at images of our ex is a painful experience, literally.[1].

      Given that the effect of rejections and breakups is the same as the effect of physical pain, scientists have speculated on whether the practices that reduce physical pain could be used to reduce the emotional pain that follows from breakups and rejections. In a study on whether painkillers reduce the emotional pain caused by a breakup, researchers found that painkillers did help. Individuals who took painkillers were better able to deal with their breakup. Tamar Cohen wrote that “A simple dose of paracetamol could help ease the pain of a broken heart.”[2]

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      Just like painkillers can be used to ease the pain of a broken heart, other practices that ease physical pain can also be used to ease the pain of rejections and breakups. Three of these scientifically validated practices are presented in this article.

      Looking at images of loved ones

      While images of ex-partners stimulate the pain neuro-circuitry in our brain, images of loved ones activate a different circuitry. Looking at images of people who care about us increases the release of oxytocin in our body. Oxytocin, or the “cuddle hormone,” is the hormone that our body relies on to induce in us a soothing feeling of tranquility, even when we are under high stress and pain.

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      In fact, oxytocin was found to have a crucial role as a mother is giving birth to her baby. Despite the extreme pain that a mother has to endure during delivery, the high level of oxytocin secreted by her body transforms pain into pleasure. Mariem Melainine notes that, “Oxytocin levels are usually at their peak during delivery, which promotes a sense of euphoria in the mother and helps her develop a stronger bond with her baby.”[3]

      Whenever you feel tempted to look at images of your ex-partner, log into your Facebook page and start browsing images of your loved ones. As Eva Ritvo, M.D. notes, “Facebook fools our brain into believing that loved ones surround us, which historically was essential to our survival. The human brain, because it evolved thousands of years before photography, fails on many levels to recognize the difference between pictures and people”[4]

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      Exercise

      Endorphins are neurotransmitters that reduce our perception of pain. When our body is high on endorphins, painful sensations are kept outside of conscious awareness. It was found that exercise causes endorphins to be secreted in the brain and as a result produce a feeling of power, as psychologist Alex Korb noted in his book: “Exercise causes your brain to release endorphins, neurotransmitters that act on your neurons like opiates (such as morphine or Vicodin) by sending a neural signal to reduce pain and provide anxiety relief.”[5] By inhibiting pain from being transmitted to our brain, exercise acts as a powerful antidote to the pain caused by rejections and breakups.

      Meditation

      Jon Kabat Zinn, a doctor who pioneered the use of mindfulness meditation therapy for patients with chronic pain, has argued that it is not pain itself that is harmful to our mental health, rather, it is the way we react to pain. When we react to pain with irritation, frustration, and self-pity, more pain is generated, and we enter a never ending spiral of painful thoughts and sensations.

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      In order to disrupt the domino effect caused by reacting to pain with pain, Kabat Zinn and other proponents of mindfulness meditation therapy have suggested reacting to pain through nonjudgmental contemplation and acceptance. By practicing meditation on a daily basis and getting used to the habit of paying attention to the sensations generated by our body (including the painful ones and by observing these sensations nonjudgmentally and with compassion) our brain develops the habit of reacting to pain with grace and patience.

      When you find yourself thinking about a recent breakup or a recent rejection, close your eyes and pay attention to the sensations produced by your body. Take deep breaths and as you are feeling the sensations produced by your body, distance yourself from them, and observe them without judgment and with compassion. If your brain starts wandering and gets distracted, gently bring back your compassionate nonjudgmental attention to your body. Try to do this exercise for one minute and gradually increase its duration.

      With consistent practice, nonjudgmental acceptance will become our default reaction to breakups, rejections, and other disappointments that we experience in life. Every rejection and every breakup teaches us great lessons about relationships and about ourselves.

      Featured photo credit: condesign via pixabay.com

      Reference

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