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    Why Trying Too Hard Can Backfire On You

    enJune 03, 2024

    Podcast Summary

    • Letting go, effortlessnessIn some situations, trying too hard and forcing outcomes can hinder success. Relaxation and natural approach can lead to better outcomes in romantic situations and potentially other areas of life.

      While practice, grit, and determination are important for success, there are certain areas in life where letting go and effortlessness can lead to better outcomes. This paradox was explored in a recent episode of Hidden Brain, where they discussed research on the counterintuitive benefits of relaxation and non-attachment. For instance, in romantic situations, trying too hard to impress someone can backfire and make things worse. Instead, a more natural and relaxed approach can lead to better connections. This concept was illustrated through personal stories shared by the guest, Edward Slingerland, who recounted his own experiences of trying too hard to meet women and the unexpected success he had when he let go and approached social situations with a calm and genuine curiosity. So, the next time you find yourself stuck in a challenging situation, consider the power of letting go and embracing effortlessness.

    • Letting go, not tryingRelaxing and not trying can lead to success in various aspects of life, including social interactions and skill development. Understanding the balance between conscious effort and relaxation can enhance overall well-being.

      Sometimes, the best way to achieve something or connect with others is by letting go of conscious effort and trying not to try. This was evident in the speaker's experience with striking up a conversation with a woman at a Wim Wenders movie screening and learning to play tennis. In both cases, they found success when they relaxed and stopped thinking too much. This concept was further explored in the game "Mind Ball," where the only way to win is to not try to win. This tension between conscious effort and relaxation is a common theme in psychology, with the human mind operating in both system 1 (automatic, unconscious processes) and system 2 (conscious, effortful thought). By understanding these systems and how they work together, we can learn to harness the power of spontaneity and improve our overall well-being.

    • Hot cognition vs deliberate thinkingHot cognition, or intuitive thinking, is essential for optimal performance in certain situations, but deliberate thinking is necessary in others. Finding the balance between the two is crucial.

      While deliberate, analytical thinking is important, relying too heavily on it can hinder performance in certain situations. Hot cognition, or intuitive, automatic thinking, plays a crucial role in areas like music, sports, and improv, where complete relaxation and letting go of conscious control are necessary for optimal performance. However, in situations where the outcome matters greatly, such as job interviews or first dates, trying too hard can be counterproductive. The challenge lies in finding the balance between caring enough to put effort into these situations while also letting go and allowing natural responses to guide us.

    • Paradox of TryingTrying too hard to achieve a goal can hinder success and make us appear untrustworthy or unappealing. Instead, let go of control and allow the goal to come to us.

      Trying too hard to achieve a goal, especially in domains where spontaneity is key, can actually hinder success. This concept, explored in modern psychology, is known as the paradox of trying. For instance, in politics, overly controlled or effortful behavior can make leaders appear untrustworthy or unappealing. The late psychologist Daniel Wegner studied this phenomenon, showing that trying to think or act in a certain way can actually activate the very concept we're trying to suppress. This paradoxical relationship between effort and the goal can be seen in various aspects of life, from golf putting to emotional goals like happiness. Instead of trying to directly attack these goals, we need to let them come to us, allowing for a more authentic and effective approach.

    • Wu wei and moralityEarly Chinese philosophers valued spontaneous, effortless action (wu wei) as a desirable state for true morality and charisma, similar to the modern idea of flow but more expansive.

      The balance between effort and spontaneity is a crucial concept in understanding various philosophical traditions. The speaker shares how his encounter with a western philosopher's perspective on morality and hot cognition led him to explore Chinese philosophy. He found that early Chinese thinkers valued spontaneous, effortless action (wu wei) and saw it as a desirable state for true morality and charisma. This concept is similar to the modern idea of flow, but wu wei is more expansive as it includes being absorbed into something larger than oneself and radiating charismatic power. Ultimately, the speaker argues that human beings are attracted to relaxed and authentic individuals, as we are attuned to detect insincerity and ulterior motives.

    • Wu Wei and SpontaneityFocusing on something bigger than ourselves and engaging in full attention activities can lead to a state of Wu Wei, where our prefrontal cortex shuts down and our anterior cingulate cortex becomes active, resulting in a feeling of engagement and attention without effort or cognitive control.

      Understanding the concepts of spontaneity and wu wei, as described in Chinese philosophy, can help us live more engaged and authentic lives. These terms, which don't have direct translations into English, offer a unique perspective on the relationship between effort, attention, and engagement with the world around us. A study on jazz musicians shows that when we enter a state of wu wei, our prefrontal cortex shuts down, but our anterior cingulate cortex becomes active, resulting in a feeling of engagement and attention without effort or cognitive control. To enter this state, it's recommended to focus on something bigger than ourselves, such as nature or physical activities that require our full attention. Additionally, intense exercise can also lead to wu wei by shutting down the prefrontal cortex, allowing us to be fully absorbed in the experience. While alcohol can be used as a metaphor for achieving a whole spirit, it's important to remember that it's not the only way to reach this state. By incorporating practices that help us let go of self-focus and immerse ourselves in the world, we can live more fully and authentically.

    • Subconscious learningTrusting our intuition and letting go of top-down control can lead to effortless and effective learning, as seen in infants learning languages and the power of selfless acts.

      Allowing our subconscious mind to take the wheel can lead to effortless and effective results, as discussed by Edward Slingerland in his book "Trying Not to Try." This concept is particularly evident in the way infants effortlessly learn languages during their early years, despite adults' struggle to do so through deliberate effort. By letting go of top-down control and trusting our intuition, we may unlock new possibilities and achieve things that might otherwise seem out of reach. This idea is explored further in the Hidden Brain episode titled "Letting Go," available to subscribers on Hidden Brain Plus. Additionally, a story from the sister show, My Unsung Hero, highlights the power of selfless acts and their far-reaching impact on individuals and generations.

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