Do we really constantly have to push the membrane of reality? Or is there a way to spend more time in flow and to live more effortlessly? Hugo and Seph discuss the topic of effortful being and its opposite: effortless being.
Seph: Hello and welcome to the fifth positivepsychology.com podcast. My name is Seph Fontane Pennock and this morning I was having a conversation with my friend and colleague Hugo Alberts about a very interesting topic that we’ll introduce soon. But first, Hugo welcome back to the show.
Hugo: Hi Seph, it’s good to talk to you again.
Seph: Yeah, well, we were already talking with each other this morning off the phone about a topic that’s very close to your heart and that I’ve also had some personal encounters with over the past couple of years. So, yeah, let’s just dive in and introduce the topic for today.
Hugo: So the topic is called effortless being and to understand what it really means, I think we have to consider the opposite. So effortful being and I think when we consider that term, I think many of us will resonate with it because it’s something that at least I’m very familiar with. Effortful being, to me, is a state in which we’re not at ease. We’re fighting with reality, we want things to be different as they are. We feel not at ease, we feel like there’s something we need to do to make things right.
Hugo: Actually it’s basically a position in which we lack trust. That we don’t have faith in how things will evolve, so we’re in this control state where we are constantly focused on getting things right, making it work. It’s a very I would say tense state to be in if you know what I mean.
Seph: Okay, and on the other hand, there is effortless being which is perhaps a bit more difficult to define?
Hugo: So effortless being, to me, is a state in which you’re actually living in synchronicity with the natural pace of life. You’re not forcing things, you’re not moving faster than you should and actually you’re connected I would say with life as it as. And I noticed that often I am not in this relaxed state of being. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a state in which we’re not being productive. You can be very productive in effortless being mode, you can do a lot of things. But the way of doing it is fundamentally different from an effortful state.
Hugo: So in an effortful state, you could say you are pushing the membrane of life. You’re constantly trying to shape things, mold things into something they are not. And an effortless state of being, you just let life unfold. You trust life and because you trust it, you have faith, life will unfold naturally.
Seph: It sounds to me like you’re going against a couple of very popular streams of thought here, one of which is that you have to have a lot of persistence and work really hard in order to achieve great things.
Hugo: Actually I did my PhD many years ago on this topic of willpower and the more I read about it and the more I explored it in my own life, the more I got convinced that willpower itself is not positive or negative. I think we glorify, well, willpower and I think this is unjustified. And I can explain why because I think willpower itself means that we try really hard and we overcome obstacles and so on, but in many cases, I guess, the question is not what are you trying to overcome, but it is worth overcoming? You see what I mean?
Hugo: So in many cases, you could call this blind persistence, is I think not very likely to promote wellbeing. I think the beauty of persisting is if there is a deeper layer underneath it. If there is something that is connected to your own personal values, something that is meaningful to you. But if there is a lack of that, if you try to overcome obstacles because, for instance, you want to impress other people. Also, I think a form of effortful being, trying to impress other people. To look good or whatever is something that is extrinsic. I’m not so sure if it’s really worth it.
Hugo: So, in the end, I think, if your whole life is characterized by willpower, struggles and so on, the question is what is the quality of life in the first place? Because I think life itself is nothing more than the moment-to-moment experience that we have. You know see what I mean?
Hugo: So sometimes people tell me like, “Yeah, I work 60 hours a week and I do this and I overcame this and I’m really pushing my boundaries.” And then this all sounds beautiful, right? It sounds like a person to envy. But the question really is how is this person feeling from moment to moment? And if this is a state of effortful being, this is exactly what we’re talking about here. So, there’s a constant pressure, a felling of, “Oh my god, things are going to collapse, I need to do this or working against the clock. There is a deadline too.” You can feel the tension in this day.
Hugo: There is impatience, you’re irritated, frustrated, a lot of tension going on. I think if this is the consequence of your persistence, I’m not so sure if you’re better off than somebody who is not acting so much on willpower. So I think the interesting thing about willpower to me is that I think many things can be accomplished without willpower. I don’t believe that willpower is necessary for a lot of things.
Hugo: I think one of my biggest passions in life is music and honestly I think 98% of it is not created based on willpower, it’s because I love doing it. There’s not so much push here, so willpower, to me, is a lot of pushing and pushing against the membrane of life to making it work. But I think when you’re connected to your values, to something that you truly love doing and that is worthwhile doing to you, I think you don’t need so much willpower. Willpower is not even an issue there.
Seph: Well, yeah, let me ask you a question. Do you need willpower in order to get into a flow state? No you don’t, right?
Hugo: I don’t think so, no.
Seph: There’s no willpower involved in a flow state, so what does that tell us?
Hugo: A flow state is one of the most beautiful examples in which we are actually confronted with the fact that we can produce beautiful things that we can align with life. To me, flow is like an alignment. It aligns with your strength, with the things that you find meaningful in life and then you align with something you do so actually you become in sync, I would say, with the activity at hand. So you and the activity become one, it just starts to sync.
Hugo: And in that state, there is absolutely no willpower. It’s in a way even effortless, many people that are in a flow state say, “Well, it was as if somebody doing it. It wasn’t even me, it was effortless creation.” I think this flow state principle, and this is why I love flow so much, we can have this in many things in life. So, typically an area in which we lack this is is work because we feel there is so much pressure from the outside that creates this tension in ourselves, this effortful being. This state of effortful being.
Hugo: And I think, personally, I had this personal experience, I think burnout in some case if not many cases can be the cause of a constant effortful being state people are in. This strenuous state in which we feel not at ease.
Seph: Only now, I heard you talking about it like this, it almost sounds like we’re putting effortful being at the cause side of a lot of maybe negative effects, but I don’t see it as being the cause. I see something deeper is lying beneath the surface that makes people live life in an effortful way so there has to be some kind of motivation. Some kind of carrot at the end of the stick that makes people live in this way because I don’t think people would go through a lot of effort or live in an effortful way if there wasn’t some sort of reward. Do you understand what I mean?
Seph: So what do you think the real reward is or the motivation behind this is?
Hugo: It’s driven by fear and it’s something that we have learned, I think it’s learned behavior, I think truly that your default state, your true authentic state is a state of relaxation. I think you’re most authentic when you’re relaxed. Just picture yourself among people you don’t know and you try to engage in impression management and you don’t feel at ease, I think this is a state in which you’re not being very authentic. I think most people will agree that in that state and that situation you would not feel very authentic.
Hugo: In contrast, if you’re relaxed, you feel at ease, you feel capable of doing what you do, you feel like you can express your true feelings and so on. I think this is a state of relaxation. I think the more we become relaxed and at ease with ourselves and with others, I think the more we engage in effortless being. But the problem is, to get back to your question, when we grow up, we all have this idea of what we said, willpower is glorified. We all have this idea you have to work really hard, those are cultural ideas. Like the American Dream, “I’m a self-made man.” You have to go through all of this grabbing, you have to work really hard and then things will start to happen.
Hugo: So there is a pervasive idea in many of us that you really have to work hard to get somewhere. And dreaming and having ideals and doing what you love, that’s something for kids and as you grow up, you have to get real, right?
Seph: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah.
Hugo: And so soon we lose our dreams because we feel that this how the world works. I’m not sure about you, but when I grew up, I heard many times this is not how it works. When you grow up, you will know. This whole idea of you’re still a kid and you cannot do what you love doing, this is just something that’s not how the world works. So I think many of the causes of effortful being come from beliefs from our childhood, from our parents, from our culture.
Seph: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah.
Hugo: But also because of irrational mind. We live in a culture in which there’s so much emphasis on rational mind. We teach people what to think, how to think, there is a lot of emphasis on thinking in many aspects of life. And what is actually worrying, I think worrying is a beautiful example because if we worry, we’re being in an effortful state. I think a beautiful example of effortful being is worrying. You have this constant tangent and your head tries to resolve it. What do I need to do, how can I resolve this? Oh my god what if, you create future scenarios so you’re creating an effortful state of being. Now what is rumination? It’s the rational mind’s way of dealing with fear.
Seph: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Because it’s trying to prepare itself for everything that can possibly go wrong mentally.
Hugo: Exactly. So basically worrying is the way of the rational mind to gain control and the control stems from the fear that things are or will not be okay. So it reflects resistance to the natural way things are evolving. So if we talk about effortless being, you trust the natural way. You trust how things are evolving. There is this deep faith that it will be okay. So on a deeper level, when we worry, we resist things. And on a deeper level, the fears that life, as it unfolds, will not match the picture it has created about life. So the mind resists anything that deviates from this preconceived image of life that we have created in our heads.
Hugo: And so we continue ruminating and why does it happen? Why is it so common to live in this effortful state of being? Because many people have not learned any alternative. I’m not sure about you, but I didn’t grow up at school learning how to deal with my emotions or to see thoughts just as thoughts or to get all that valuable information. That’s something I learned 30 years later.
Seph: I think there is also self-efficacy and self-fulfilling prophecy aspect involved there. It’s where if you don’t have the belief that effortless being can be a default state for you in life or in your working life, if you don’t even believe that that is possible to attain, then you’re probably not going to achieve that because, of course, those beliefs that shape the reality. I remember one of the things during my university studies, one of the things that I heard from, I don’t know, older family members and other people, people who had already graduated and moved on to have a job was that, “Oh, the time that you’re a student, that’s the best time of your life.” Like my college years, my university years are those best time of my life?
Seph: And I heard that from quite a lot of people which made me and a couple of friends of mine think, okay, after this, after these five years, real life is going to start and it’s not going to be any better than life is now. So we better prepare for this. That’s like one of these and for me, by the way, that hasn’t been true at all. I like my working life so much better than my life as a student for a lot of reasons. This is something you hardly ever hear someone say as well.
Seph: So point being, I think these pervasive beliefs also shape that reality of effortless being not even being an option for people. Not even being something they consider possible in work.
Hugo: No, exactly and the problem with many things is, if things become a habit it’s really hard to recognize it. So if everybody’s in an effortful state of being, if it’s so common, if everybody around you is stressing out and worrying about things and constantly making a living by building a reputation and blah, blah, blah, that kind of stuff. It’s just the standard, it’s a norm that you try to live up to that and you don’t know any alternative.
Hugo: And I think what many people experience when they start traveling is that they suddenly enter a different realm. This different reality in which there is no agenda, they start to see that there are different ways of living. In my own life, when I traveled to different countries and even different cultures, to the east and so on, I saw that the pace of living was way lower, right?
Seph: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah.
Hugo: You get there and you say, “Well, my God, whoa.” I remember once I was in Indonesia for a month or so and when I came back here, I had to adjust to the pace of living here.
Hugo: I remember I was in a grocery store, I was just taking it easy, just choosing. Making a decision what to buy and so on and next to me was a guy who was hurried and he was rushing and I was like, “Dude, relax. What’s going?” But the funny thing is, like a week a later I was that same guy again. I was him. I was back in the flow in that effortful state of being in which time is precious and we have to move on and oh god, there is this constant-
Seph: The greatest culture shock ever was when I flew from Denpasar from Bali to JFK airport New York and the contrast, it was beyond amazing. I went from being … and I just spent a week or two riding in Ubud in Bali, of course one of the more spiritual, very calm toned down place, a very relaxed atmosphere. And then to land on JFK airport where people were handling my luggage and I had some camera equipment and stuff with me and they were just throwing on a conveyor belt and looking at me very aggressively.
Seph: And everywhere there were posters saying if you see something, say something and then with an Arab looking guy or something on the poster where the suitcase … I was like, what is this? It was a big culture shock and then two days later, all of that relaxed atmosphere and the mood that I was in was just completely gone. So, yeah.
Hugo: So those are actually beautiful examples I think of how it easy-
Seph: The environment matters a lot.
Hugo: Yeah, exactly, it’s contagious, right? It’s contagious to be in an effortful being state. If everybody around you is, I think it’s really hard to stay in an effortless being state. So this is why it’s so important, I guess, to choose your company wisely. I think a question that you can ask yourself also if you want to tune into your own state is how do I feel when I am among these people? How do I feel when being with you, for instance, and so on and the beauty I think of running your own company and I think this is what we also have experienced ourselves is that you can choose the people you work with.
Hugo: One of the first things you do is you ask yourself how do I feel with this person? Do I enjoy his company, can I be relaxed, can I tune into my own authentic relaxed state of being while being with this person or is there some kind of a tension or whatever is going there?
Seph: That is literally what I’ve been doing yesterday and on Friday, I spoke with a ton of applicants on Skype that were applying for the new customer support position we’ve got open and the number one question I ask myself during the call was how am I feeling right now during this call. And that has actually been super helpful. Because with some there is just either not a connection or something feels slightly off and every time I go with their CV or their prior work experience and I pass by my intuition, every time two months later I regret it.
Hugo: Exactly, but I think that this is the beauty of tuning into your experiences. Let’s assume, right? Let’s assume that your default state is a relaxed state of being, an effortless state of being. I think some evidence comes from kids, have a look at kids how they behave and how they are. They do not play to demonstrate their ability, they play because they want to play. Their play is effortless, they’re living this whole effortless being state.
Hugo: So I think when we were very young, we still quite connected to this effortless state of being, but as we grow up and with all the beliefs and all this stuff we enter this different zone in which we all believe that we have to become somebody and that we have to become successful. Just that idea that there is something like absolute success and that some people are winners and some people are losers.
Seph: Yeah, and that it’s a zero sum game basically, yeah.
Hugo: Exactly, something like that. I think that puts a lot of pressure on people and as we grow many of those pressure creating belief that we’re exposed to.
Seph: But all of this makes me wonder, how do you think it’s possible for someone in the western world, let’s say, who doesn’t completely disconnect or doesn’t flee to Southern Europe or to Indonesia, but just stays within his or her normal circles as well to still create this way of effortless being. To still be very, well I’m already giving the answer here, to be very mindful of that without escaping.
Hugo: I think it all starts with awareness. I think the easiest way to begin with is to notice when you’re not being in an effortless state of being. So to notice when there is tension, when you feel that life is not moving fast enough. When you experience impatience, frustration, irritation, all that stuff that actually tells you you’re fighting reality. I think what I noticed myself often, if I worry or if I’m in a state of impatience, I have trouble accepting the, you could say, the suchness of things, the way things really are. I want things to be different and because I want things to be different, you can hear it when I talk now, there is this tension created by myself. Reality is A and I want it to B.
Hugo: And because of that, I already create tension. So the first step is, I think, to notice when this is going on so, “Whoa, what’s going on here? Hold on for a moment. What am I doing? Why am I doing this? How am I doing this?” How am I creating the tension that I feel? So what am I feeling? Tension and maybe if you go one step further, how am I creating this tension? Because really it’s about you. Life has his own ways, I think. Many things are beyond our control, we talked about this earlier.
Hugo: So I think when you ask yourself how am I deviating from my effortless state of being here, I think you’re halfway. Because first you take responsibility, you see that it’s really you who is doing this.
Seph: Okay, so let me challenge you for a moment because someone may wonder, okay, so in the effortful being mode, there are a lot of desires often unsatisfied, right? You said reality is A and you want it to B, but what about going from this effortful state, let’s say A, to this effortless being state, B. If there is still the desire there to live in an effortless way, it’s the same as with mindfulness and meditation, people can then start getting frustrated if they can’t make it to the effortless state.
Hugo: Beautiful, beautiful. No, the thing is and this is the beauty, of course, with all of these constructs, they’re paradoxical. So, you cannot say, this is also why I started with the awareness part, you cannot say, “Well, no, I’m really trying hard to become in an effortless state.”
Seph: Yeah, exactly.
Hugo: “I’m going to force myself to get in there, I’m going to try really hard.” No, it doesn’t work like that. So, actually in the east they call this not doing. So the first thing to do is to not strive, so how do you not strive? Well basically by letting it be. By just not trying to become anything at all and this is really difficult because the rational mind cannot engage in not striving because it’s a product of irrational mind, right? Striving is something that is done by a rational mind because it has to has a goal to strive, but a goal doesn’t exist, it’s a mental image.
Hugo: So striving, per definition, is a mental process because you have to have some idea where to strive for. So, the solution is never found in the mind. So the solution is always found at a different place and I think the solution is found in this present moment. So when I noticed myself that I’m engaged in a tensed way of living, in an effortful state of being, I just start to breathe. I start to breathe in, breathe out, connect again to the present moment. And if my thoughts, which are present then, they tell me like, “Oh my God, there is so much to do and it’s not working out and you should and this and that.”
Hugo: I get back to the present moment and I try to, I don’t know, just breathe in and breathe out. It’s basically the most nothing I can do at that point. And of course it also helps to have people around you that are also aware of that state that can help you to notice it. Sometimes people tell me like, “Man, just relax. Take it easy.”
Seph: One of the things this makes me think about is play and the importance of play because oftentimes the way I get out of this effortful being state which, don’t get me wrong, I’m still in most of the time, right? Because I’m earth and fire and I want to manifest and really it’s hard for me to not be productive. Super hard. One of the most difficult things for me to do is not be productive.
Seph: But one of the things that makes it easy for me not to be productive is play. Like when I’m engaged in, I don’t know, just playing games whether it’s card games, video games or just with people hanging out and playing silly games or something. That immediately puts me into … well, it’s different from a flow state, I would just call it a play state. You know what I’m talking about?
Hugo: Absolutely and I tell you, this state that you’re in when you’re playing games with your friends, I think you can have this very same feeling when it comes to work. So the question is why don’t we experience this playfulness at work? I think that we grow up with this idea that there is play and there is work and work is serious and it has to be done and it’s 40 hours a week, or 50 or whatever, and outside there is time to play. Your hobbies and that kind of stuff. So there is a very rigid separation of work and play.
Hugo: But I think the magic happens when work starts to become play. And this is I think the most beautiful creative part of life. And, again, what we want to learn from this effortless state of playing because that’s what play is. There is nothing at stake, you can just whatever, do whatever you want and not care so much about the result. We paradoxically often create the most beautiful things, right?
Seph: Yeah, that’s so true.
Hugo: It is so true [crosstalk 00:27:40].
Seph: I also think about the musicians and the entrepreneurs and then sometimes, it’s very rare, but sometimes you see someone and they’re playing the game of this and playing the game of music. They’re trying stuff out and they don’t really mind that much if they fail at something, they don’t even see it as failing, that will be a strange word to use for them. And those people I find most inspiring. You can just see that they’re having fun, they’re playing the game.
Seph: And often times or at least with the entrepreneurs that I’ve seen and come across with this mindset, I would call them the most successful ones and I’m not even necessarily speaking in terms of financially. Yeah, if that’s what your working life looks like, then that’s one of the most enviable things ever, of course, because they’re either having fun playing or they’re not working in that sense. They are never working, they’re always just living in a playful way.
Hugo: I think for the first time in my life, I have this experience of play during my work since we started our own company because there are so many things that I just enjoy doing. And when my son asked me in the morning, “Daddy do you have to go to work again?” I often reply to him, “Yeah, but I also want to go. It’s fun.” And this reminds me of my own childhood in which I was always confronted with people that hated their work and this idea that work is very serious and having a job.
Hugo: When I look at my own son, I see him play and I see the way he does things, I learn so much just by looking at him. He is, as I said before, he’s not playing to show his abilities or to feel competent, he’s just playing because he plays. He’s so not concerned with being productive or whatever, he is effortlessly playing. And I seriously believe that we can have the same playful way of being in our job, but it requires I think honesty. I think it requires that you’re being honest with yourself.
Seph: Yeah. Is it possible for everyone? Looking at the numbers, what was it like, one third of people or something are actively disengaged at work or maybe 25%, two thirds, are just disengaged and there’s only a very small percentage that is actively engaged in their work. So just looking at those numbers, is it possible for everyone to regard work in this way because maybe it’s easy for us to say this now that we have our own business and have created situation for ourselves. But what do you think for a person working a more regular daytime job, what is it that they can do I wonder to change the daily reality of their working life?
Hugo: A great question. I don’t take this for granted, by the way, I’m really grateful that we have created this situation.
Seph: Yeah, of course.
Hugo: And I don’t say that it’s easy or that everybody can easily do it, but at least, I think, you can reduce effortful being. I think there is always a way, regardless of the circumstances, to stop fighting. To stop fighting the suchness of things. I think that’s the easiest way to at least get closer to this original state of effortless being. I think a lot of pain is not caused by the work itself, but the resistance. The fact that we just hate it and we constantly remind ourselves and other people that we hate it so much. I think that’s a great part of the suffering that we create which creates automatically tension. It creates this constant feeling of reality is not what it should be.
Hugo: I truly believe, I think, once we start to do that, I think once we start to get rid of the tension that we create for ourselves, regardless of the circumstance, I think we can resonate with a different reality. I think you cannot create what you are not. I think, maybe I said this before as well, I think you cannot create something that is characterized by love and abundance if you are in this state in which you’re hateful and you feel that everything belongs to you and you’re not willing to share hands on.
Hugo: I think basically it’s impossible, it’s incongruent. So I sincerely believe in helping people to create a different moment-to-moment state that resonates with what they truly want. And I think if you want to become more playful and to enjoy your work in a more playful way, I think the best way to do that is to start removing all the things that prevent you from doing that yourself. Including your beliefs about how work should be, about how others are better off than you are, how life is not treating you fairly or whatever is there. I think when we start to see how we create tension for ourselves and we take responsibility for that and we start to explore different ways.
Seph: Yeah, and one of the things you said earlier is that the effortful being state is driven by fear.
Seph: So, what about looking at this fear and maybe finding ways of relating differently to this fear because if that is what’s behind effortful being, then I see with dealing with that fear as one of the highest leverage things you can do in order to get closer to that state of effortless being.
Hugo: But the fear can go very deep. I think at the deepest level, it’s the fear of dying. It’s a very existential fear that we all carry. And because of that fear, we try to control life. To give you a personal example, a few years ago I suffered from a severe burnout and it happened out of the blue, basically. Everything was going fine, I was living in perfect control. I have control about a lot of things in life and then suddenly my son got born, things went off, he was in a bad health condition and stuff like that.
Hugo: And at a certain point in life, the things you did no longer work. So I was working a lot of hours every week, everything was under control. So there was no problem at all, but when my son was born, I lost control and everything fell apart. I couldn’t sleep anymore, everything that I used to do wasn’t working anymore. And the biggest lesson that I learned back then because I was controlling a lot of things because of fear, I was actually I think without knowing it, I think I was engaged in a very effortful way of being.
Hugo: And as it happens, when you take some time to stop because life forced me at that time to stop, I couldn’t work anymore because I couldn’t sleep. I had to go to the hospital, actually my life was put on hold. And I think [inaudible 00:35:23] it’s a bit similar to going on vacation. If you go on vacation, you start to notice how fast you were going in the first place. As soon as you hit the brakes, you know how fast the car was going in the first place.
Hugo: So once we stop, we often notice how effortful our being was in the first place and this happened to me as well. And what life taught me in those difficult times is that I had to surrender. I had to surrender to life again and to see my own limits of control. So a lot of effortful being, I believe, comes from our own inability to see our limits of control. To see that there is so much that we cannot control and yet we believe that we hold all the answers and that we can do everything to make everything work.
Hugo: My biggest lesson in life is that there is a beauty in surrender and when we surrender to life and we acknowledge that there is very little that we can do, I think life starts to breathe again. There is room for life to unfold again and we don’t feel this urge anymore to control everything and because this urge is not present anymore, we can connect to an effortless state of being. Because the urge to control things and the urge to make things happen as they should be is all tangent. It’s all effortful being.
Hugo: So, I think it’s all that comes down to dealing with that fear and the question is where does this fear come from. So I think it’s because we are afraid that if we don’t do anything, everything will collapse and life will turn out miserably. And the beauty is, it’s nothing like it. And that’s so easy for me to say, but it’s what I experienced. I experienced this very paradoxical process of surrendering and letting life unfold through the process of not being able to sleep.
Hugo: I suffered from insomnia, I couldn’t sleep sometimes for like four days in a row and at the end I couldn’t read anymore. My whole brain was messed up and I was really afraid. You know what helped me to get back to sleep again is to surrender. To not do anything again. At a certain point, I gave up. I couldn’t do anything to fall asleep actively so I had to learn that it was beyond my control and when I gave up, and actually when I surrendered to life when I said, “I tried everything I could, everything.” And when I gave up, at that very moment, I started to fall asleep again.
Hugo: So you could say when I started to give up, relinquish control, let it flow, I started to gain, paradoxically, control but not by actively trying to get control, but by letting it go. So to get back to your initial question you asked me, what can we do to connect again to effortless being. One way to do it is by allowing yourself not to do anything about things and see what happens if you don’t constantly try to control everything. Just see it as an experiment, see what happens if you just let things be and not try to make everything turn out your way. What would have happen if you would do that?
Hugo: And this, of course, requires some kind of a faith, some kind of trusting the process. But you cannot gain trust if you never tried, so this is I think the lesson here, I think, if you just experiment a bit with that. Let’s say you start with whatever is that you’re trying to control so much that is causing you so much of an effortful being state, let’s see if you could tune it down a bit. And just for a moment or for a day or whatever, just not do anything about it. Just not try to control it, influence it, manipulate it, whatever and see how that turns out.
Hugo: And maybe you will see that things will turn out fine even without you trying to manipulate it or control it. So in this process we can learn that many things don’t require constant willpower or your attention or your control and so on. So Seph, I’m wondering because we’ve been talking about the distinction between effortless and effortful being, how do you know that you’re living in an effortful way?
Seph: Oh yeah, several ways. I can usually tell by how tense my body is. How shallow my breath is. It’s more faster and if I did chest breathing as well, so those are some physical ways in which I sometimes catch myself that I’m very tense because I’m trying to get a lot of stuff done in a short amount of time. So what I usually do when I notice that is that I breathe in for four seconds, breathe out for four seconds then hold my breath for four seconds and I repeat that cycle just two or three times. And I immediately feel a bit calmer so that only takes one minute, but it really helps to get in a calmer state.
Seph: Also, what I try to do is I try to take off some of the pressure by saying, okay, this is one thing you wanted to get done today, the most important thing. As soon as that’s done, it’s all good. Then everything is a bonus, basically, on top of that. And that really helps to take off some of the pressure for me. So, to not be too ambitions and to pack too many things in a day which is I think one of the most common reason, at least for me that I get into a state of effortful being. Where there’s just maybe there’s 20 things I wanted to do, but if I only have 10 things and one of them being the most important thing, that’s a thing that I can keep up long-term. Whereas 5 days in a row of doing 20 things, that’s a way to get burned out or to really need the weekend or to really need to recover from that.
Seph: So, yeah, being slightly less ambitious and trying to listen to my body as well.
Hugo: Beautiful, so the beauty here as well, we’re talking about willpower and you can use a lot of willpower to get there, right? You could say, well you could do it, you could set your targets for the day that high and still achieve it if you push enough. But the question is not if you could make it, the question is how would you feel if you would do so. So here again, we get back to that whole willpower issue, like I don’t care so much about willpower if it means that you feel lousy all day because of it.
Hugo: So what I noticed in our collaboration, I think, and we’re all quite ambitious. I think both of us, we have so many dreams and things that we want to accomplish and we sometimes just want to move faster than is possible. Sometimes things need to unfold. You cannot create everything at once and often, I think, what we also have learned is that when time passes, you can create something way bigger and way more beautiful because you’ve learned so much and you met the right people along the way than when you do it quickly and fast.
Hugo: So sometimes it’s really better to trust life and the pace of life rather than to make it go fast, right?
Seph: Yeah, this is one of the most important that I’ve learned from you throughout the years and that I’m still learning from you because especially, I think, when something goes wrong or doesn’t go my way, my regular coping mechanism is more action. Throw more solutions at it. I go into this infinite problem solving mode that I don’t stop until all of the problems are solved. And where there is a lack of trust of things naturally or more slowly, at least, solving as well and this is something we’ve recently seen as well when we did the rebrands and lost a lot of traffic through the website. For the better part of two months, I’ve just been actively trying to solve this problem.
Seph: And then the funny thing is that you at some point when it was all going up again, you said like, “See, I told you everything was going to be all right.” And then I was like, “Yeah, I worked two months for that only for you to make that remark.”
Hugo: So the real trick is to stay relaxed and let other people do the work, that’s I think a beautiful conclusion of this talk.
Seph: Yeah, exactly.
Hugo: Let other people be effortful, engage in effortful being and you just stay relaxed, I think that’s the trick.
Seph: Yeah, that’s it, man, that’s it. But seriously, no, more and more I’ve been keeping myself in check and I’ve been thinking, we of course we have this metaphor about the speedboats versus the, what do you call it, the tank ship with all the containers, right? One goes slowly but steadily and the speedboat goes super fast and then at some point it’s out of gas and then the big container ship will pass it by.
Hugo: Yeah and also I think the ripples caused by the speedboat are way different than those of the big ship. The big ship is huge, it’s everything, you can see that. It’s slowly, but it’s creating real waves sometimes. The speedboat does something, but it’s not traveling very far and this is a thing, the difference between moving really fast and pushing things through, yeah you can do so and you can use willpower to get there. But the effect of it will often be short-lived whereas if you go slowly and with attention and in a playful way, effortful way of being, I guess you can make way bigger waves.
Seph: Yeah and one of the things if someone is listening to this and recognizes this as well, this need to manifest and to get a lot done in a week is one of the things that has helped me is to change my time perspective a little bit and to look back on where we were one year ago. Or where I was in life one year ago and then compare my present situation to that instead of looking back two weeks or one month. So if you change the time perspective of it you see that, oh wow, we got a lot done in a year and we’ve built a way better platform and we’ve created so many cool things.
Seph: Where if you just look back at the last couple of months, it may feel like nothing much has happened even though it has, but I think there is some sort of bias here where you don’t notice the things that you’ve done recently or something. So yeah, that’s something that helps.
Hugo: Yeah, what helps me also is something I learned from my brother. He said like, “What’s a week in a lifetime? It’s nothing.” So sometimes we’re pushing ourselves to get this deadline and so on and I’m not saying you should always postpone deadlines, what I’m saying here is that you can create a lot of pressure for yourself. And the pressure is often because of a few days. Then so what? Then we’ll postpone it for seven days. If that gives you more peace, what’s the deal? What’s the problem? There’s no problem.
Hugo: It’s just seven days, come on, man. But we tend in our mind we make everything absolute. Everything is problematic, one day or one hour is so problematic, but really it’s not. So zooming out can also help to create this more effortless state of being often. To just put things in the right perspective. Because really that’s what’s going on. I think we lose perspective when we are in an effortful state of being.
Seph: Exactly. And it reminds me of this story of a guy cycling to work and then he would take … he was always trying to optimize his speed to get to work faster, so at some point he was down to where it only took 13 minutes to cycle to work. But he was really making an effort and taking chances here and there and just cycling very hard. And then at some point he, I don’t know, maybe he read some of your blog posts, Hugo, about mindfulness and he felt like, “Oh, okay. I’m going to try this thing.” And he took it easy, he was listening to the birds, he looked at his surroundings, he did stop for a red traffic light and all of that. And then he arrives at work and he looked at his watch and it took him 15 minutes instead of the regular 13.
Seph: So only 2 minutes slower whereas the experience was totally different. And I think this is a beautiful metaphor to end this podcast with. The one state being effortless and the other one being effortful, but the effortless state being not even being less efficient or effective. Maybe just by a little bit, but the experience being vastly different.
Hugo: I think what you, I think, beautiful mentioned here is the impact of time. Actually time doesn’t exist, it’s a grid that we place over reality and actually we segment reality. We say there are segments of minutes, seconds and so on, but that doesn’t exist, of course, it’s just mental creation. But that very mental creation can create so much stress, right? That whole idea of time and time pressure and limited time and that kind of stuff. I think the example that you mentioned here is beautiful, I can see how this guy got trapped by minutes and seconds and what it did with his experience. I think it moved him away from effortless being.
Seph: Yeah, yeah, exactly, exactly. Well, nice one.
Hugo: Thanks man, let’s call it a day.
Seph: Yeah, absolutely. Talk again soon. Thanks a lot.
Hugo: Okay man, take care, bye bye.
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What our readers think
Hi Guys! I’m really looking forward to this Podcast as the topic is one my wife and I have been busying ourselves with for a while now-actively. I’m kind if pressed for time and can’t get to it right now, but one of the other things I can’t help being excited about is to hear whether or not the subject of Crossfit comes up wink emoji. I heard one of you mention in Episode 1 that you had started Crossfit, and was wondering if you were going to avoid the subject entirely, since there is nothing effortless about that…Keep up the good work!
Thank you for this inspiring podcast. It made me think and reflecting about my behaving and experiences during the last weeks.
My experience with Willpower now in the quarantine:
My life changed completely, from moving the whole day to being locked down in a small apartment. What now? How can I get my daily movements? Directly after the lockdown was enforced, a lot of my dancing friends started texting me “hey, I found this class here, it’s so cool do it!” In the beginning I was quite motivated and put different things related to my training on my to do list. Like learning a bit more from the Limón dance technique or Graham technique, follow some of the invitations of my friends, creating our own piece with different tools in a group. I started with a classmate. Spaghetti was the theme. I did my video and sent it to him, but I never got his interpretation. He was to busy with different things, and somehow I felt the same. There are so many things to do and I did not know how to structure and put my priorities. I was trying to push myself everyday and do exercises at home to strengthen my muscles, keep the flexibility and the conditions I had. Soon I realized that I am not motivated at all and that I am doing the exercises cause I thought I have to. One day I just did not do any sport. I was a bit anxious that I wont find the motivation again when the quarantine is over and that I can not keep on dancing because I got kind of lazy. The next day was amazing. I woke up, did some yoga with my flatmate and suddenly I started dancing. I danced for two hours and enjoyed it a lot. I was so creative and loved to be in my body. Having the possibility of expressing all my feelings and thoughts with this dance made me feel so grateful. I used one special music and I could not stop improvising. (“East London Street”of hidden orchestra)
This was the key for the following time. I started to listen to my body. I am just doing what feels good, what my body is telling me. It feels if I really created a healthy relationship between my body and my soul. They are walking hand in hand and that’s what makes me happy, what gives me the possibility to enjoy everything I do, because I don’t have to, I want to. Somehow I reached the effortless being.
Just wanted to add one more thing to my last comment. Because you can interpret that like I was saying “If you do a lot of effort – especially on a cognitive/thinking-level – you can also get into this effortless being state”. And, as you already said in the podcast, that’s not how it works.
And that’s also not how it worked for me, although doing meditation and mindfulness every day really helped me. And seeing my own (great!) resistance also was really useful. And yes, I also did challenge my own thoughts about myself and about how life “should be”, but that was actually more the result of going through really painful emotions. That naturally happens if you surrender. If you surrender after having felt really tough resistance for some time, you find out that life changes in a positive way and I guess that makes you change your own thoughts and beliefs about yourself and about life. I think this is the best way I can describe how I went from the “effortful being” to “effortless being” state.
I can give you a clue of when the chances of transformation and the chances of getting into this “effortless being state” are the greatest though. They are the situations that you fear most.
It could be something like losing your job (and being afraid you will not find a good/nice/well paid job or another job at all), being forced to quit with your company that you’ve (subconsciously) totally identified yourself with, or, even worse: going bankrupt. Going through a divorce or otherwise losing someone that’s really dear to you. Being forced to sell your really nice house. Losing your health. Things like that, that are really confronting. And that make you feel like you’re not going to survive that financially, physically and/or emotionally.
But the good news is: These really hard circumstances are really the greatest chances for transformation. I’m really thankful for having to go through tough times because it brought me so much! I really feel incredibly rich now, and – as I said before – in a way that has nothing to do with my bank-account. So what I learned from this experience is that EVERYTHING is already there, INSIDE of you: great wealth, a feeling of abundance, a continuous flowing love, great happiness (all feelings included, because feeling sad with good contact with yourself and in staying in the “here and now” actually is absolutely not something “negative” but rather a perfect healing experience) and I guess everything most people actively strive for when in their “effortful being”. But to me, if you are in effortful being, you can maybe indirectly or “cognitively” experience things like wealth if you look ‘outside yourself’ (e.g. to your bank-account), but really you don’t need this ‘outside proof’, because everything is already here, inside of you. And if you can experience the wealth, love and abundance on the inside, that’s a very profound and lasting way of experiencing all the good! Then, you’re totally independent of life circumstances having to make you feel rich, loved and so on.
Well, I guess this topic really made me engage! I guess I have to start writing my book about all this now. 🙂 I just really love the topic!!!
Again, thanks so much Seph and Hugo for eliciting this in me. Really love you guys!
In addition to my previous comments I would like to add that to me if you’re in an effortful being state, you’re mainly connected to your rational, thinking mind. And if you’re in effortless being, you’re aligned with your soul.
Most of us however don’t learn from our parents, from school or from the culture we grow up in that this soul actually exists, let alone how to listen to it or how to (re)align with it again. As you also tell in your podcast, when we are kids, we’re still connected to our soul and we usually don’t live so much by fear. But as we grow older, our rational, thinking mind takes over the rudder, our identity is shaped and the division between “you” and “me” becomes bigger, especially in the individualistic Western culture that is highly influenced by neoliberalism. We then feel we have to “become” someone, work hard to achieve things, be successful etc. And maybe we do live up to all our ideas, desires and successes, but it comes with a price: most of us have completely lost the connection to their soul by then. Actually, I would argue that the more we live up to our own wishes and expectations, the more our identity is actually strenghtened instead of challenged. Failing miserably at whatever is important to you is a way faster road to get rid of all the crazy ideas that reside in our rational, thinking mind about ourselves and about how life should be. But that’s a road we try to avoid by all means, because that is a great threat to our ego, to our rational, thinking mind that likes to control everything.
So, we’re stuck in our rational, thinking mind and I would argue that that becomes the prison most of us live in. If you’re lucky, at some point in your life, life throws so many things at you at the same time that you resist so much, that the only thing you can do in the end is: surrender to life. Just give up all the resistance that your mind is creating. And if you surrender, you’re connected to your soul again!
You immediately feel when you’re connected to your soul again. Life feels so different. You feel at ease again, the stress is gone, you feel the humbleness for the greatness of life, the gratitude for having had this experience, the abundance in your heart, you feel the wealth inside of you that has nothing to do with your bank-account. Your heart feels like a well or a fall of continuous love for everyone and everything, there’s a lot of synchronicity going on to point you in the right direction.
You feel you don’t have to force anything anymore, you just know that life has it’s own pace and things will evolve when the time is right. You just trust life again. And that makes you totally relaxed and fearless, just like when we were little kids playing.
I’m really grateful for having had this experience. It certainly hasn’t been an easy road and I’ve had to let go of so many ideas about myself and about life, I had to face all my fears until they were all gone. Now I feel peace and I feel at ease. No more worries, no more hurry. Just let life unfold. It knows what it’s doing. 🙂 My soul leads the way again.
If you would ask me the question: “What can I do to also be in this effortless being state?” I would probably say: embrace everything you resist and dive into your resistance. Of course, that starts with being aware of your resistance at all. Mindfulness and meditation helps a lot with that. Every time you feel there’s something you don’t want or things don’t go “your way” and you feel frustrated or impatient about that: that’s resistance. Then, try to see what’s behind the resistance.
Dive into that until you get to your fears. See your own thoughts that create this fear. And then, realise that your thoughts are just that: thoughts. Nothing more than that. You can change your thoughts and, at the deepest level of being, nothing changes about you. At some point you become a master in this and it gets easier and easier. If you find it difficult: meditate. (I’ve been meditating every day for over 2 years now using the Headspace App.)
Now I cherish my soul, I honor my soul and I nourish my soul. How? Well, for me music and especially singing is a good way to strenghten my soul-connection. Singing is also like a breathing exercise and you immediately hear and feel when your breathing is right. Or wrong, of course. 😉 I don’t know much about “core stability”, but somehow I think my “core stability” is really strong when I sing in the right way, from my belly. I feel an immense power in my body then.
(Re)connecting to your body is another way to at least get “out of your mind”. Doing any kind of physical activity helps. For me, when cycling in nature, it’s even easier to connect to the greatness of nature and to feel humble.
So, there are many things you can do to more connect to your soul, or at least, connect a bit less to your rational, thinking mind and to get a bit more into “effortless being”. However difficult the way was for me, it was definitely worth all the struggles I had to go through.
By the way, what Hugo tells in minute 33-39 of this podcast is also the answer to the question you pose in podcast #4.
Experiencing something like that makes you humble! To me it automatically paves the way for everything Positive Psychology is talking about: a lot of humbleness and awe, gratitude, trust in life, (self-) compassion, forgiveness, and, above all, a lot of love! Why? Because you lose your fear in the process and love is all that’s left!
So, then you can also create with love (without fear in the background) and that’s effortless creation!
I truly love you guys and I truly love your podcasts! To me, this #5 podcast was the best so far. In the first or second podcast you already touched this subject of effortless being and I hoped you’d get back to it. So now you did and you certainly didn’t disappoint me! Actually, the part between 33 and 39 minutes touched me to tears. I so much recognized what Hugo said and it’s so true!!! Sometimes life makes you surrender. You simply have no other choice. And if you do, you find out that actually… life turns out for the better! So why do we not just trust life always? I think we should. And it’s kind of silly that you only seem to learn that lesson after having to surrender after a period where you try to control everything and you miserably fail. Now, I’m so incredibly thankful for having had this experience. I guess due to this process I lost a lot of fears down the road and that’s also something to be so thankful for! Hugo and Seph, thanks so much for everything you do and for your great inspiration. Really love you guys!
Please join the discussion! Do leave a comment here to let us know what you think 🙂