I’m Adding More ‘Wu Wei’ To My Life, You Should Too

I’ve been a compulsive planner for as long as I can remember. In high school, I swapped out the spiral agendas my classmates would pick up at Target for a Franklin Covey binder like the ones my parents used. To this day, every night before bed I open my notes app and write a checklist for the next day—it tends to be a copy of what I’ve already listed has to get done in my Asana app. At times, I even triple checklist by handwriting my to-dos in a planner. 

Don’t get me wrong, being organized has its perks. When it comes to work I get things done. It’s when you start feeling like every moment of your life should be written next to a bullet point on a to-do list that you realize: it’s time to lay off a bit.

I spent the past year and a half shaking off debris from broken plans. I had the “dream job” and a relationship and it felt like everything was going according to plan. Within a month of each other, both blew up in my face. I lost the job. I lost the guy. I lost the plans that I’d carefully constructed with each. It tore me up. To see my life in a way I never imagined. It couldn’t be. It couldn’t have happened to me. “I did everything right,” I’d tell my mom through tears and sniffles—at least once a week. As I tended to my broken heart and crushed dreams, I thought to myself: maybe if I wasn’t so obsessed with planning, this part wouldn’t hurt so much. If I hadn’t imagined everything fitting into the neatly lined pages of pretty planners then I wouldn’t feel this level of disappointment.

That’s why my addiction to planning is something I’m looking to ditch. I’ve realized in the last year that it holds me back more than it propels me forward. I spend so much time ironing out the details that I take away from time actually doing the thing. And the fun of doing is lost because everything is so SO planned. In my quest to relieve myself of this little problem, I stumbled upon an article about “wu wei.”

In the New York Magazine article “Mastering The Art Of Caring Less” wu wei is defined as “effortless action.” It means getting stuff done without really thinking about, or in my case, planning for it. It’s freedom.

I immediately felt drawn to figure out how I can make this way of life my way of life. When it comes to how to apply wu wei, the Taoist concept is broken down into two strategies. “The first is to recognize when it’s okay not to keep pushing forward when we hit an obstacle,” says Edward Slingerland, a professor of Asian studies at the University of British Columbia, who lends his expertise on wu wei for the article. The other strategy is to “create space in your life for spontaneity to happen.”

The whole point is that you’re not supposed to be actively thinking about applying wu wei, it’s supposed to just happen. All that you’re in charge of is giving it space and permission. Right now that’s what my heart needs, space to heal and permission to move on.

Since reading up on wu wei, I’ve been jotting down a lot fewer plans, putting a lot less pressure on my relationship status, and not getting hung up on what’s going to happen when. If my mom calls to invite me to Chipotle, even though I’ve already cooked, I go. When I’m asked on a date I accept without overthinking how it could play out years from now. Wu wei has become my new form of self-care. I’m tending to my future self by not getting tied up in knots now over what she’ll like, what job she’ll have, or who she’ll marry somewhere down the line. I’m living in the moment. I’m allowing myself to just do.

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