Law of Reverse Effort

1024 205 Augusta Kantra

Here’s a thought I’d like to share…

I have always been fascinated by the Law of Reverse Effort. Sometimes I call it the ‘Backwards Law.’ When you try to stay on the surface of the water, you sink; but when you try to sink, you float. When you hold your breath, you lose it…and so on.”

~ Alan Watts, from The Wisdom of Insecurity

The Law of Reverse Effort… the harder you try, the more the process becomes a tedious chore to be endured. It’s certainly possible to plug away at something you hate, or something you love until the drudgery of production-oriented thinking makes you hate it. Trying too hard to make something happen makes the effort mentally, emotionally and physically an uphill battle. Your motivation becomes negative motivation. Thoughts like, “I have to get this done… (or something bad will happen),” take root and spread like kudzu.  Yes, you may still accomplish your goal, but the end result may be far less satisfying than you hoped… perhaps even damaging or hurtful.

I’m reminded of something strange that happened in my dish cabinet a while back. Sometimes, when I have too many glasses to put away in the cabinet, I must resort to placing one on top on another… I’m sure none of you ever have this problem! 😉 So not too long ago I noticed there was a small, round glass inside a somewhat larger glass. It was lodged in there like a ship in a bottle.

When I tried to remove the smaller glass, it was immediately obvious that the opening of the larger glass was not large enough to allow the release of the smaller glass! Soooo, how exactly did the smaller glass get in there in the first place???

I spent some time considering the possibilities of how this happened… temperature change came to mind, perhaps due to seasonal changes or perhaps because the larger glass was warm from the dishwasher and the smaller one cold. I never really figured it out, but regardless, the smaller glass was STUCK!

So I tried warming the larger glass to expand its opening… no luck. I tried making the rim of the larger glass slippery with soap so the smaller one would slip through… no luck. So what did I do?  I tried to pull the smaller glass through the opening with increasing force, my thinking being, “I have to get this done (or both glasses are lost)!”  The result? The rim of the larger glass shattered.

Similar to the Law of Reverse Effort, when I tried to make something happen… when I forced the issue… when I HAD to get it done… the battle became desperate and the outcome was ultimately unsatisfying (and destructive).

Whatever it was that caused the smaller glass to be inside the larger one — it was not “force.” Instead, an interesting set of circumstances with just the right conditions “allowed” this anomaly to occur. And “force” wasn’t going to “allow” the glass to be released. But, in my mind, I had to get it done… and we know how that worked out.

Erich Schiffmann states, “Yoga is a way of moving into stillness in order to experience the truth of who you are.”  Yoga, like life, is a process of learning to allow, not force.  It is only through allowing that we can achieve more satisfying results, and ultimately, a more satisfying life experience.

May you remember the gift of allowing,



Augusta Kantra

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