The Law of Reversed Effort

The law of reversed effort is summarized here: “Muddy water is best cleared by leaving it alone”- Alan Watts

Ever noticed that the harder we work at something the less effective we are? It’s called the Law of Reversed Effort.

A great example of this is the insomniac. Sleep is an entirely subconscious process. And ‘willing’ yourself to or ‘trying’ to sleep has exactly the opposite effect. The more you think about sleeping and tell yourself to get to sleep, the more awake you become.

There are countless other examples I can think of. The bottom line is that this law exists because our conscious mind and our unconscious mind are often in conflict, and the unconscious mind wins most of the time. (You can read more about that from theories of Sigmund Freud, An Impeccable Influence in Psychology).

Why does the unconscious win? Because it is our protector and it is rarely rational. The French psychologist, Emile Coue, described the law of reversed effort in the statement, “When the imagination and will power are in conflict, are antagonistic, it is always the imagination which wins, without any exception.”

Aldous Huxley states “The harder we try with the conscious will to do something, the less we shall succeed. We cannot make ourselves understand; the most we can do is foster a state of mind, in which understanding may come to us.”

So how does this affect our everyday lives?

I’m pretty sure we can all relate to this law, though it didn’t really have a name. But, I’ve noticed that when you try too hard at something, most times, chances are that you won’t get your way.

It was not until I completely let go as a person and started to blend relaxation with an activity that I was able to be more effective. I have a very long way to go; we all do. Enlightenment is not a destination but a journey.

Emile Coue says “the solution for this fear, is to relax, to let go and to think about relaxing things that can provide us with the confident feeling. From this confident feeling, when we feel fresh and secure, we can easily deal with anything that will appear less threatening”.

Learn the beauty in letting things go. Relax and chill, stop fighting yourself and smile. Remember the last time you took a test? You studied tirelessly; your stress and anxiety building until the moment you sit down and then… poof! You go blank.

The harder you search your brain for answers, the less you can remember. What happens when you walk out of the room? An hour later, when the pressure is off and you are relaxed, you remember everything.

The negative thoughts are apt to be more effective than the positive because the negative usually have more feeling with it.

Hard work will take you far in life, no doubts. Just know the difference between working hard and trying too hard. Forcing things to work in our favor is faulty from the explanation. Allow things to flow naturally and do your best but don’t kill yourself! In every aspect of your life, the key to success is in that.

Check out my recent article on Care Less and your life will be easier.


  1. Good read Maggie, the last paragraph resonates with me, it’s a gradual unlearning process because we’ve been taught if you don’t overcompensate in work , you’re not doing anything worthwhile. But now my mantra is “I cannot come and kill myself”.

  2. “Know the difference between working hard and trying too hard…” this statement for me i believe is the crux of the matter and the underlying truth. If we all can come to the point of giving fate a fighting chance, I hope we dance. Thanks Magdalene for coming out of your shell to enlighten us. You are cherished Ogyela

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