Let Go for Spontaneous Success

UPDATED: May 21, 2014
PUBLISHED: May 21, 2014

Sometimes the harder you strive to do something well, the more you mess up. Edward Slingerland, author of the new book Trying Not to Try: The Art and Science of Spontaneity (Crown), suggests that winging it might not be such a bad idea.

Slingerland, professor of Asian studies at the University of British Columbia, explores early Chinese philosophers’ wu-wei approach of bringing body, mind and emotions into harmony. “We’re often at our best when we’re not trying, and interpersonal charisma and attractiveness are typically generated by people only when they are relaxed and un-self-conscious,” he says. Pushing harder or thinking more can actually take you farther away from where you want to be and derail happiness, he contends.

Slingerland presents several tools for regrouping so efforts become more fruitful. For instance, when you freeze onstage or at a crucial moment during a sales pitch or similar high-stakes endeavor, he says the letting-go strategy shines. Briefly empty your mind (a sip of water could cover the stall!) before resuming. In a challenging social situation such as a networking event, you should temporarily remove yourself for a bit of meditation or vigorous exercise. The wu-wei key is to empty your mind and let the flow of events pull you along.