By Bonnie HutchinsonIt’s been an odd week.
Returning from the float days of the holiday, regular life seemed long ago and far away, almost foreign.
Would have been nice to curl up in a quilt and get lost in a book or puzzle. On the other hand, I felt antsy and agitated; couldn’t settle into anything.
Events in the news seemed even more insane than usual. And oh yes–there was actual stuff to get done, things I’d promised. “Pushme Pullyou”–simultaneous inertia and wanting to move…
In that context, listening to an interview with Jamie Wheal, two words leapt out at me: “effortless effort.”
Flow Genome ProjectJamie Wheal is co-author (with Steven Kotler) of last year’s best-selling Stealing Fire and executive director of the Flow Genome Project. The website says, “Our goal is to help individuals and organizations experience more flow and the significant boost in performance it provides. We think decoding the neuropsychology of optimal performance and open sourcing our findings to the world is the best way to achieve that aim.”
In the interview, Jamie talked about the “flow state" – those moments of rapt attention and total absorption, when you get so focused on the task at hand that everything else disappears and all aspects of performance, both mental and physical, go through the roof. You’re in the zone.”
That’s when he used the phrase “effortless effort.”
Riding the waveTo describe the phrase “effortless effort,” he used the example of a surfer riding a wave. In the moments of riding the wave, surfing may appear effortless–just letting the wave carry the surfer. But, to acquire the ability to do that takes effort–training and practice. As well, to paddle to the wave takes effort. To the expert surfer, it may seem like effortless effort. There’s exertion but it’s just flowing, the surfer and the wave in harmony.
That phrase–effortless effort–was so appealing!
I remembered my own times of effortless effort–when I was totally engrossed in whatever I was doing, in a timeless time, fully engaged and fully present, knowing I was good at what I was doing, capable of setting the direction, and also wide open to whatever new possibility might emerge.
Some of those times were when I was doing something I loved. Some of those times were when I cared about something so much that for a time, nothing else mattered. I bet you’ve experienced those times too. They seem magical. The book Stealing Fire tells lots more about that state, and how groups from Navy Seals to transcendental meditators use it.
Ancient traditionThe Flow Genome Project has extensive research that shows exactly what happens in our brains and bodies when we’re in that flow state–what parts of the brain release what chemicals and what happens then. They can map it all. And they teach people how to get into that state.
It’s a twenty-first century approach to what mystics have been talking about for centuries. When I wanted to find out more of the science and googled effortless effort, the first thing that popped up was “5 Secrets to Wu Wei, the Taoist Principle of Effortless Effort.”
I laughed. Of course! Eastern cultures have been practicing this for millennia. In western culture, we encourage “strive drive” and place a high value on “productivity.” That’s not the only way to live and sometimes it’s even counter-productive. I liked a quote from Zhuangzi’s Basic Writings. “You can use the analogy of an artist or craftsman. The skilled woodcarver, the skilled swimmer...does not ponder the course of action he should take; his skill has become so much a part of him that he merely acts instinctively and spontaneously, without knowing why, and achieves success.”
Sounds good. Effortless effort is becoming my theme of the year.
***I’d love to hear from you! If you have comments about this column or suggestions for future topics, send a note to Bonnie@BonnieHutchinson.com. I’ll happily reply within one business day. read more