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The Value of Effortless Action

Personal Perspective: Are you tired? Stop "swimming" against life.

Key points

  • Life is like a river: It's easier and more beneficial to go with the natural flow rather than fight against it.
  • Many people exhaust themselves by pursuing goals that don't fit their personalities or psychological needs.
  • When you can tune in to what you really want, you can make healthier decisions that make your life easier.
Source: Anja/Pixabay

I think a lot of people are tired right now. I used to visit my cousins who lived up in Minnesota near a river. In the summer, we went inner tubing on the river. This would entail getting an innertube that you could either rent or bring. They are very comfortable, and you just lie in the innertube, relax, and flow down the river. It was enjoyable, it was relaxing, and it was a pleasant experience in life.

You didn’t have to worry about which way to go. The river would just take you. Once in a while, you might get close to a branch or the river’s edge, and you’d have to push yourself away. But mostly, the river would carry you, floating for hours sometimes. It was such a relaxing, beautiful experience.

Even when the rapids came, it was still enjoyable. You knew you were safe; you knew the river would take you where you needed to go, even with the bumps and bounces that were coming.

But sometimes, we’d get separated from each other, and I’d have to jump out of my innertube. Then I’d swim upstream against the current because my family wasn’t beside me anymore. And I remember those times were exhausting.

So, why are you tired?

You may be tired because you’re fighting or “swimming” against life. When we swim against life, we do get tired. The river is truly a beautiful metaphor for life because our goal in life is to achieve effortless action. We do want things to happen (the action part), but the effortless part is doing things with which we must flow.

It’s like flowing down the river. I was moving somewhere when I was on that innertube. I was moving down the river. I had a direction. There were bumps along the way, but they were fun and sometimes enjoyable. The few times that I had to get out and swim against the current were the times that I wasn’t engaged in effortless action. I was engaged in activities that were exhausting. I was tired.

We are like that. We have the choice of going against life or flowing with life. If we go against life, we are going to get tired.

What does it mean to go against life?

What is the opposite of effortless action? Let me use an example:

Let’s say that two people finish high school and are trying to decide what to do with their lives. One of them says, “I want to make lots of money. That’s important to me. People will respect me. I can buy many cool things. I can do many amazing things. So, I’m going to get a job, go to business school, and make a lot of money. Even if I have to work many hours to make that money, then I can have the freedom and prestige that this money can bring me.”

So, let’s say this happens: You work hard and amass a lot of money. But you are tired. You’re delaying gratification, and you’re looking for others to make you feel good through their appreciation of what you’ve achieved. You’re definitely not flowing with life. It’s a business you’re doing, but you’re not really interested in it. It pays well, and that’s why you do it. So, you may turn to alcohol to numb yourself. You may have affairs because you feel like life is meaningless, and overall you’re miserable. You don’t even get to spend time with your children.

You are so focused on the specific goal of amassing a lot of money that you don’t think of the costs it may have on your soul. You don’t think of how exhausted you will be. You’re fighting against the currents of life.

The currents of life for you may say, “I want to be a musician, but I’m a business owner.” You’re exhausted, and even if you were a musician, you don’t want to work 80-100 hours a week. You’d want to play an instrument, maybe 30 hours a week, and have free time to spend with friends and relax. And even working hard with what you love can go against the currents of life. And if you don’t love what you do, you’re fighting life and putting many hours into something you don’t even like.

Let’s look at that second person who graduates high school. This individual asks, “What do I like?”

You spend time looking into your heart and asking, “What brings me joy? What can I do that fits my personality, brings me pleasure, and does not cause exhaustion at the end of the day?”

What flows well with who you are? You may like people, realizing that you’re more of an extrovert than an introvert, and you like helping people who are struggling with life. So, you go to school and become a social worker. You’re not going to think of how much money you make because you’re happy. And you can discover what you want to do with a social work degree.

There are many single parents out there making it on their own, and it’s hard. You can help them find housing, food stamps, and many other things to make their lives much better. And you may enjoy doing that because you get to meet wonderful people and improve their lives.

Then, at the end of the day, you can say, “Wow, I enjoyed that.” And maybe you don’t get paid as much, or you must live at home for a little bit longer, maybe into your 30s, to save up for a down payment on a condo. Or maybe you have to live with a friend, but you can come home at night and cook meals together, laugh, and enjoy life.

People may not be as impressed with what you do, but you love what you do. You’re flowing with who you are and flowing with your desires. You’re letting what works with your heart be the goal.

What puts happiness in your heart?

The only way to find out what brings happiness is by listening. If we’re constantly moving, being so active that we never stop to listen, then we won’t know what is truly good for us. We will just have end results and no effortless actions.

Effortless action is a lot about listening to our hearts and flowing with that. It’s about choosing a path. The road is much easier to go down when it doesn’t require so much effort. And when we choose this path, we’re not tired afterward. Or we do not need to numb ourselves afterward.

Did you know that the “weekend warrior” usually hates their work? They cannot wait for the weekend to come, so they can get plastered and not think about work for 24 or 48 hours. That is not effortless action. That is an addiction. So, if you’re coming home every day and need to smoke pot or drink a few glasses of wine, or do something to alter your mood, you’re not engaging in effortless action.

Making changes

Your life may be complicated, and there may be factors that make it difficult to change. You may have a family situation that needs support, or you may have debt. But we can make small changes.

To know which direction to make changes, we search for the path of effortless action. This is found by listening. Our hearts will speak to us when we don’t numb them and when we’re quiet. They tell us what to do and where to go. You will be amazed at how clear and obvious it is to do what it takes to have an effortless life.

When you’re just constantly moving and fighting against the current of life, you will be exhausted. Everything is just too much, and that’s why we numb ourselves. When you listen, it’s clear what you should do.

How do we begin?

We can find the way to effortless action in our lives by listening every day. The heart will speak loudly. Then we listen and begin to make small changes that turn into big changes. With time, we will find that if we follow the path of effortless action, flowing with the river of our lives, we will not get exhausted. We will be able to do what we want to do for decades.

I have been a clinical psychologist for decades. I love what I do. But I listen to my heart, and I make sure that every day, throughout the day, I check in and ask, “Am I on the right path? Am I flowing with life? Do I need to make subtle adjustments?”

Effortless action is worth it.

That takes time. That takes effort. And yes, it is challenging today with all the distractions in life. How often do we check our phones? How often do we fill the silence with something? How often do we go to nature and just be still? How often do we meditate?

When we don’t do these things, we struggle. When we listen, we flow with life. Effortless action becomes a way of life. And that way of life is beautiful. We can do this if we stop fighting life. It is a good path and one that we all are capable of taking. The only person who can keep us from effortless action, the current of life, is ourselves. Once we realize this, we are free.

Each night when we go to bed, we will not be exhausted. We will say, “That was a good day.”

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