I have a tendency to obsess over certain areas of my life, especially around anything that has to do with money and success. These days I obsess about the company I run, Moblized. Most days my attention is consumed with looking at website data, brainstorming ways to improve the business, phone calls, emails, and incessantly talking about it to everyone in my life.
On reflection, I see my obsession is driven by feelings of insecurity and my thirst to eradicate those feelings. I want some peace dammit! However, the company is a startup and refuses to provide that for me.
So I obsess, strive, and work my ass off to get out of it. Eventually, this thinking and behavior leads me to a new place. It’s not what you’re thinking. Instead, it’s a wasteland where the walking dead dwell — Burnout Valley.
I reached that land this week and asked myself, “how did I get here again?” Every time I arrive at the same answer: I forgot about the Law of Reversed Effort.
What is the Law of Reversed Effort? Aldous Huxley, the originator of the concept, put it this way: “The harder we try with the conscious will to do something, the less we shall succeed.”
In other words, the more we obsess and strive, the further away we get from our objective. Imagine, you’re in the water and you work to stay on the surface. What happens? You sink. But when you try to sink you float. It’s a paradox.
Alan Watts addresses the effect of striving in his book The Wisdom of Insecurity, “It (the law) maintains that this insecurity is the result of trying to be secure, and that, contrariwise, salvation and sanity consist in the most radical recognition that we have no way of saving ourselves.”
It’s my constant efforts to eliminate the negative (uncertainty, failure) that cause me to feel so anxious, insecure and eventually burned out.
There’s an alternative approach that involves coming face-to-face with, perhaps even embracing, many of the things I spend my life trying so hard to avoid. It’s called surrender.