The Opposite of Trying

April 14, 2023
How much of your life do you spend straining and efforting only to spin your wheels and ultimately burn out? In this episode, Joe and Brett peel apart the layers between 'trying' and effortless action. They acknowledge the value of each way of being across various life contexts and discuss the role emotional fluidity plays in freely navigating the spectrum — from trying to its polar opposite.

Episode Intro: Welcome to the Art of Accomplishment where we explore how deepening connection with ourselves, and others leads to creating the life we want with enjoyment and ease. I am Brett Kistler, and I am here again with Joe Hudson.

Joe: Hey, Brett. How is it going?

Brett: It is going well. Today we wanted to talk about the opposite of trying. This is a thing that I really love and is one of my favorite and simplest demonstrations that you did when I first met you. It really comes into any aspect of our lives, to be able to find where the trying is and what that feels like that and what other options are available to us. I am really excited to get into this in more detail.

Joe: For those of you who haven’t been through this with me, somehow or another, it always happens in early interactions with me when somebody talks to me about trying. It is a very simple thing. You can do the exercise at home right now. Put your two hands together, palms in front of you, like you have a prayer sign that’s happening. Then what I ask people to do is I tell them to try to pull their pinkies apart, and what people do is actually pull their pinkies apart. I say no, I didn’t say pull your pinkies apart. I said try to pull your pinkies apart. Then the person really puts a lot of effort into pulling the pinkies apart but doesn’t actually pull them apart. If you are at home, do that right now. See what it is like to really try to pull your pinkies apart and not do it, and then without thinking for a moment, without using your head at all, take this feeling that you have and then feel the opposite of it.

Brett: As I am doing that right now, I am just noticing this separation between efforting and action.

02:00 Joe: For me, the main purpose is when you feel that feeling, the opposite of trying, the whole system relaxes. You could call it maybe allowing or receiving or listening. You are in far more of a flow state, but there is deep allowing or receiving that happens. What’s interesting about almost everybody I work with, especially when I first start working with them, they are constantly thinking the solutions are in trying or in effort. What do I have to do? That’s the question. Oftentimes, the answer is the opposite of the doing. It is the undoing that’s important. It is the opposite of the trying. It is the allowing or the receiving that’s important.

It is one of those things that is this super power when you get it. We almost never consider it. As a society, I notice we almost never consider it. As a society, I notice we really don’t grok the full power of the opposite of trying. That’s what I was hoping we could talk about today.

Brett: I can’t let us get any further without bringing Yoda into this. Do or do not. There is no try.

Joe: Yes! I love that saying. I remember that as a kid and how much it affected me. There is this deep truth. You are either doing or you are not doing. You are not trying, which is a pointer also to the flow. The thing about flow is that there is a deep receiving in it. If you are in a flow state, there is no trying, but also you are listening. It is more like being a channel. The experience of being a channel. I am receiving and maybe I am a conduit. That isn’t in that quote, which I think is an important thing because it allows you to get out of the trying.

A lot of the time somebody is talking about how to do that, and I will ask how you drop a hot frying pain. But it still makes no sense to them because they are so in that world. Oftentimes, it is just receiving or allowing that lets it happen.

Brett: Bringing this beyond the workshop party trick that it is, the initial iteration where it feels great. I don’t have to try to pull my hands apart. I can just pull them apart. What about solving my financial crisis or having my partner not abuse me or other things we are working with in our lives that don’t feel like not trying is going to resolve? What makes this so fractally applicable and important in our lives?

Joe: What’s interesting to me about it is there is a time for trying and then there is a time for receiving. The major issue is not that one is good or one is bad or one is the way or one is not the way. The major issue is most of the time we don’t see the option of not trying. There is a really cool Daoist story about this. The Daoist tradition in general has a tremendous amount about trying and not trying and what they call the way. I love this story.

A prince comes into a butcher shop, and he asks a butcher how often he sharpens his knives. The butcher says he doesn’t sharpen his knives, and the prince says that that is ridiculous and that even the best butchers that work at the palace have to sharpen their knives once a month. He said he didn’t have to. He said his knife finds the space between the bone and the meat, and if there is ever a place where it doesn’t move through with ease, he just sits there and waits. It eventually comes undone.

That’s the story of this butcher. I think it is a Zhuang Zhou story. It speaks to it so beautifully, and the other way to say this in more practical terms is letting go doesn’t happen by telling yourself to let go. It happens by clearly seeing the pain of holding on. From here, the mind lets go when it is ready. There is no doing in that. Particularly with psychological pain, the work is often in the letting go. It is not in the doing anything. It is not in the trying or in the effort. It is in the receiving.

Brett: If you allow the pain of holding on, then your body, your emotions and your soul´s natural response is to do something different.

Joe: How do you drop a hot frying pan? You feel it. That’s all you have to do, just feel it, and you are going to let go.

Brett: Then of course there is the fork in the electrical socket. There are other metaphorical examples where it would be better to drop it, but you actually hold on tighter because that’s what kind of response you have. I feel like it would be valuable to point to some kind of wisdom in that. What had us adapt in such a way that would have us hold on, grip and try?

Joe: That’s exactly it. The way we hold on tighter is we ask how we do it, how we fix it, what’s wrong with me, how I can improve it, and what I can do. There is a lot of ego in that, and there is a lot of doing in that. There is not a lot of receiving or allowing in that. That is exactly the methodology that we use to hold on tighter, and there are times when that makes a lot of sense. If I am on a life raft, that’s what I am going to do. There are ways in which I would use my will both in business and in relationships or coaching with somebody where I would use will for that exact purpose. There is no problem with that. Like I said, I think there is a time and a place for that.

The thing is you can’t really know when the time and the place is unless you really understand the other tool and you really understand what it is to receive, to allow, to let go and to listen.

Brett: Give me some practical examples of this.

Joe: None of these are perfect, but I want to be really specific about them. Listening is a great example and how that can change your life by the way you listen. The resilience that comes from allowing the pleasure that comes from allowing peace. Authenticity, joy, all of those things really don’t respond to trying very well at all. Occasionally there are certain ways in which it works, but generally all of these things prosper through the allowing process.

As an example of listening, we do this exercise on one of the courses where you have somebody talk to somebody and they listen in one way. They listen with skepticism, and then they listen in another way, as if that person is the wisest person in the world. What people often notice in that exercise is different things are shared. The way we listen or basically how well we receive or how well we allow the other person to be will create different stories that we hear. We will get different levels of honesty, intimacy and transparency. Our whole world will be different by the way we listen.

However, I very rarely ever see anybody ask how they are going to listen in this next meeting. They also think about what they are going to say, how they are going to present themselves, or what the slide deck is going to look like. They never think about how they are going to listen though listening can have a much deeper effect than what you say in a meeting. That’s a really great example of how much power you have just in the receiving as compared to the doing. If you don’t believe it, spend one day going around listening to everybody with skepticism and then take the next day and listen to everybody like they are the wisest sage speaking to you. Then you can see how your work changes in a day.

Brett: I just had the mental image of a child running up to you at the front door to show mommy the mud pie they made. They are covered in mud, and they are all excited. The mom is just standing there with her arms on her hips, and the immediate deflation. The quality of the listener does directly backchannel and impact the way that we share. That’s a really interesting observation. We go into a meeting preparing for what we can’t possibly prepare for, which is how the other person is going to be listening, rather than how we are going to listen. What is the quality of our presence while we are sharing and exchanging ideas?

12:30 That’s for listening. You went through a list there, listening, and resilience was the next one. How does that work there?

Joe: Resilience is a really interesting one because it works a little sideways there. If you look at, for example, economies that are highly planned and that don’t have allowing in them, they are fragile. They might grow for a while, but they become fragile and weak, whereas if you have a non-planned economy where people are following their inspiration, you are going to have a lot of allowing. That allowing creates a lot of resilience, decades and decades. It is not like 30 years of an economy. It is hundreds upon hundreds of years of economy. That’s an example.

In business, another example would be the resilience of an open-source platform versus a non-open-source platform. The same thing with Uber, the more they allowed people to drive how they want to drive and when they want to drive, it becomes far more resilient than a taxi service which is far more controlled. Allowing people inside of a company very much creates that resiliency. Internally, that same resiliency is created by allowing the emotional experiences we have and by not managing and constricting on those. They help us get through transformation much quicker. They help us heal much quicker. They allow us to make decisions much quicker as we have talked about on other podcasts. It is that allowing that creates resiliency in us and in our companies. You can see companies that are more decentralized oftentimes are more resilient and also win competitively, not in all cases but in many.

Brett: I can also see that helping with pivots, responding to market changes, and then internally responding to changes in our own selves, our own capacities and our own environment, allowing us to update our identity with what who we are now rather than a lagged behind idea of who we have been and then insisting on maintaining that.

Joe: If you really want to geek out, there is a book called Reinventing Organizations that talks about a structure of a company that allows for a lot of allowing and listening. It has a very particular way in which it moves in the world. If you really want to geek out on company culture, that’s another way to check in to it.

15:20 Brett: How about pleasure?

Joe: Pleasure, that one is the easiest one to explain. Men and women obviously are different, but if you just take it sexually, there are definitely a group of people that can’t have an orgasm if they really try to have one. Orgasm is something that the more you try, the further it goes away. Even for those people who can have an orgasm through trying, the orgasm is usually tight and short instead of what people would call valley orgasms or something like that where they can have long, extended, pleasurable experiences through not trying.

If you want to take it out of sex for a second, try to find pleasure without allowing.

Brett: Try to enjoy the sunset.

Joe: Try to enjoy a breath. The way I define pleasure and the best way I’ve heard to define pleasure is observing the movement of your sensations in your body or the movement of energy in your body. That’s what pleasure is. It is listening to the sensations of your body. If you are trying to get there, it just doesn’t work, whereas if you are allowing the pleasure of a breath in, that can be an incredible experience. If you are trying to have pleasure in a breath in, it is a lot less pleasurable.

We have this exercise that we have done in masterclass where it is about how to enjoy. People find out enjoyment is the undoing. It is not the doing of things, like pleasure is. That’s such an easy one because everyone can viscerally feel that.

Brett: I am thinking about a deep tissue massage or body work as well. One thing you had mentioned there is it is allowing the sensations in our body. That statement has no valence. It is not allowing the positive sensations in the body and enduring the negative ones or ignoring the negative ones or suppressing them or having their be negative ones in the first place. It is just allowing the sensation in your body, which is bringing that back into a massage.

Joe: It is being aware of the movement of sensations in your body. Specifically, the awareness is important and feeling the movement of it as well, just for pleasure. It doesn’t have anything to do with the allowing part, but those words are precise on that one.

Brett: Allowing is the thing that happens when you are in the opposite of trying.

Joe: Exactly.

18:10 Brett: What about on a more psychological or spiritual level peace? This was in the body. What about our general orientation towards the world and towards reality?

Joe: The best way I’ve ever heard anybody talk about peace is in a war with yourself, you always lose. It is really about dropping the war, and that’s an undoing. It’s not a doing. Trying to force yourself to do something doesn’t create peace. Trying to force yourself to eat the right foods and exercise in the right way and meditate the right amount, none of that brings you peace. People know that because they have been doing it for decades, looking for peace, and it doesn’t come.

Peace actually comes from the allowing, from the receiving of it. What I notice is that some people try to get peace in the opposite way, by avoiding conflict, but avoiding conflict just creates a war inside yourself. That doesn’t work either. It is an allowing. It is not an avoidance. Any moment you have had in peace, it has been received. It hasn’t been something you have forced yourself into or tried to get into.

Brett: Double clicking on that statement about avoiding the conflict to keep the peace, you are creating conflict in yourself, an example is if there is something going on with your partner and there is a need not being met, rather than letting that conflict arise and saying there is a need that’s not being met and letting that enter the space between you, then the conflict between your need and not having it met exists entirely within you, not entirely because it leaks out in different ways.

Joe: Passive aggression.

Brett: Downstream effects of the world inside yourself. Rather than having it be in yourself, you can just allow that there is conflict. If you are with it in the way you just described about being with pleasure and noticing the movement of energy in your body or energy or emotion in a relationship or noticing the flow of power or disempowerment or needs and wants in a team, then you don’t need to be in a way with yourself. There may be conflict. There may be disagreements. There may be intensity.

Joe: Not maybe, there will be. Without that tension, life doesn’t exist. We sit in nature, and we can feel the peace of nature. There is tension in every cell around us, every animal, every tree around us. Tension is what creates life. There will be. Peace isn’t created through lack of tension. It is created through the allowing of it. The Buddhists have a saying around this, too. Life is painful. You can’t avoid that. I am paraphrasing, but life is painful and you can’t avoid that but you don’t have to suffer. It is pointing to the same thing.

Brett: Now that you bring nature into this, I am imagining a tree sprout growing through the crack in the concrete and I don’t imagine there being any trying occurring there. It is just happening.

Joe: That’s the thing. People think trying is required for evolution, but the truth is that evolution happens whether we are trying or not. Growth and movement happen whether we are trying or not, and oftentimes it happens quicker just like it does in a child. There is a lot of not effort in a child and a lot of growth.

Brett: What’s the relationship between trying and tension? If tension exists in all of evolution and all of life, what is the difference between that natural tension and the trying we are talking about here that we humans and maybe some other complex nervous systems have evolved as a strategy?

Joe: Again, I am not trying to say that trying is bad in some complete sense. Trying is appropriate in some moments. Just to make sure that it doesn’t become a binary situation, but in general the trying that is ineffective usually happens because we are trying to get out of an experience. The trying is not hugging the cactus. It is trying to get away from the cactus. It is the avoidance of it. It typically creates the trying. We are trying to get towards something or away from something rather than allowing it. That’s when the trying becomes counterproductive. If we are embracing the intensity, if we are loving and allowing for the intensity, trying may arise but it is not in a way that creates suffering. It is not through the craving or the aversion. That’s the way the Buddhists would say it. Not that wanting is bad, it is just that our suffering comes from that experience.

Brett: I am just picturing having hugged the cactus and having a bunch of needles in me and trying to get them out. If you have ever had a tiny little cactus needle in your skin and it breaks off, whatever it is called to go in there with tweezers and very carefully trying to get the thing out, that could be considered trying. You could also do it with or without tension or suffering. It sounds to me that what you are describing as trying here often involves resistance to the experience that makes it trying.

Joe: That’s right. That’s a great way to say it.

Brett: There were a couple other examples you had mentioned.

Joe: I think there were two more.

24:40 Brett: Authenticity was one.

Joe: I think joy was the other. What I mean by authenticity here is not just saying the first thing that comes to your mind. I think a lot of folks think that that is what authenticity is about, but that can be conditioning or trauma or a lot of responses that aren’t particularly authentic. When I think about authenticity, it means I am not avoiding being myself and I am not defending being myself. If I am avoiding being myself, then I am clearly not okay with myself. That’s clearly not authentic. If I am defending myself, I have to agree there is something wrong with me. I don’t mean defending as protecting. Obviously, sometimes you need to protect yourself. I mean that feeling of defensiveness, that wall up, that non-open heartedness.

To me, the only way to be authentic is to allow yourself, to listen to yourself, and to receive who you are and let that express. It is, again, like being a channel. It is not a doing. I had to really try hard to be authentic. It just rattles the brain when you think about it that way. It is very much receiving or listening. The trying comes in the defense and the avoidance.

Brett: I am also imagining that now. As it becomes a strategy and it gets from our body up into our head, then there becomes a lot of trying. If I am operating from a core belief that I can’t be seen as wrong or bad and it would be bad for me to be seen that way, then I need to figure out how to defend myself and manage other people’s story, all of the other downstream effects of that, like tracking other people’s opinions and needs rather than my own feelings. All of that disconnection occurs downstream.

Joe: That’s right. Our main reason for not being authentic is because we want a certain reaction from other folks, which means we are not allowing them to be themselves either. The more I move from my authenticity, that’s all I really want from others. I don’t want them to agree with me, to tell me how great I am or to give me attention. The biggest joy I have in interacting with others is their authenticity and being authentic together. That’s what actually feels deeply intimate.

27:30 Brett: Beautiful. How about joy?

Joe: Joy, I’ve said this a lot before, which is joy is the matriarch of a family of emotions, and she won’t come into a house where her children aren’t welcome, aren’t listened to, aren’t allowed or aren’t received. It’s the same idea. That deep welcoming of our emotional experience is what allows for joy. You see it all the time, especially in the 20s where you decide to just smile because that will make you happy. Joy doesn’t come through force or effort or because I am going to be positive all of the time and not have any bad emotions. I have worked with plenty of people who hit 40 and realize their whole fucking life is miserable and they have only been positive.

Joy comes because we allow all of the emotional experiences to be and then they clear out. They move, and when that dock is empty, joy moves in. Joy comes. It is the one that likes to settle in place. All of the other ones want to move. The undercurrent of our emotional experience is joy unless something is wrong, and then that can move through.

Brett: This has been a really big one for me, even lately. As I have been starting another company and there are slide decks, presentations and conversations with people and we are continuing to do the podcast and preparing for that, I’ve been noticing over the past couple of weeks that there have been times when my joy has been decreased. I am doing things I would normally be enjoying, but I am just not really there. It is because some part of me is in the trying and thinking this has to get done that way. There are a bunch of moving pieces. Then I think I am juggling so much. Just noticing that, if I notice the absence of joy, then that’s a place where I can look and think where I am trying right now. Where am I in resistance and not allowing what’s happening? What that moves, I realize this thing doesn’t need to be perfect. It needs to be an authentic expression of what I am doing right now in the time that’s available. It is an iteration. We get to come back to those principles of being in connection and in iteration.

One of my principles of the recent Decisions course that I came out with is I am already free. I notice when I feel like I am not free because I am dependent upon how some situation goes, I get to just remember that. Then the trying releases, and then the joy can come back.

Joe: The interesting thing you are saying here that I think is really important because I remember the first time I heard some idea like this. I thought I have got to try some things. I’ve got to get gas in the car if I am going to make my business work. When we say trying, we don’t mean doing. That’s back to the Yoda thing. If anybody is lost there, that’s a really important thing.

I also really dig what you are saying about freedom. I am already free. There is something that happens in the receiving, which is the recognition. It is a really cool little point you are making right here, which is that our capacity to recognize and to have the epiphany happens far more in the receptive place than it does in the trying place. When you say I am already free, there is the recognition that allows for this movement to happen, whereas if your principle was I can be free, it doesn’t do the same thing.

Brett: I can be free if try hard enough. That’s what it would become.

Joe: Exactly, instead of I am. It is a great principle. That’s cool. I dig that. That’s the joy part.

Brett: Another way that I am thinking of intellectually slicing up this trying concept is that when I notice I am trying, it is generally that there is something I am not wanting to feel. It might be helplessness. I am not feeling that fear or that helplessness, then I am go into focus and not necessarily a productive focus but a blinders focus, a fear, fight flight state. When I am in that state, I have less capacity to be authentic, for joy, and for peace. I find myself in the struggle with reality, in the fight.

Joe: It also just takes a fucking ton shit of energy. You and I have seen this with people who have gone through some of the courses, and they have this moment of realizing they can allow their emotional experiences. Then they have so much energy. They have a hard time sleeping for a couple of days. Once you experience that realization that you managing, trying and controlling all of this stuff requires a lot of energy that could be going towards getting a lot done, and what I have noticed is nowadays one of the thing that people think as they work with me is I do such stuff and I get so much done and it happens quickly. Some people complain about not being able to keep up. It is not that I am moving quickly, in my experience. It is just that I am not wasting my effort on trying or managing my experience or trying to make it different or resisting the experience.

What I think is hard for people to grok until they fully feel it is you get a lot more done in the not doing than in the trying.

Brett: Thank you, Joe. I enjoyed this.

Joe: Thanks for being with me again, Brett. Awesome.

Thank you everybody for listening. If you know somebody who might appreciate what you heard today, please pass this along and share what resonated for you. We love your feedback so hit us with comments or questions through our website, Circle community or tweet us at artofaccomp. You can reach out, join our newsletter or check out our courses at

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