Ancient Teachings on Achieving GoalsWhat the Taoists and Stoics can teach us about working effectively and achieving goals
To express and bring a vision to life is intrinsic to human nature.
What does not come innately is how to execute an idea so that you may achieve your goals as effortlessly and effectively as possible.
When executing an idea, we are almost guaranteed to encounter obstacles or the actions we take don’t yield the results we desire. It feels like two currents are running in parallel — there are the outcomes we hope for and then what life gives. When we can’t fulfill what we set out for we get frustrated and create the mental conditions for further failure.
We are creative creatures operating in a world largely out of our control.
Failures can pile on each other. When nothing clicks into place, we feel like fate must be against us.
Anyone that has set out to achieve a goal has experienced this.
Fortunately for us, our wise ancients confronted this very dilemma and provided practical advice for doers and achievers.
Understanding the Taoist concept of Wu Wei shows an approach to work that is less about striving for a goal and more about putting in the work with a present and quiet mind.
Some athletes call this a “flow state” where the mind goes silent and actions take over. Work that needs to be done at the moment is carried out without worrying about the results.
“Wu Wei is based on the knowledge of the tide, the drift of things, going with the flow. It is the art of sailing rather than rowing.” — Allan Watts
When building a project, these are a few things one can do to achieve Wu Wei —
- Working in a state of Wu Wei requires a clear understanding of the best next step to be taken
- Tune in to how you feel at that given moment. Do your body and mind feel ready to take on the task? If not, what kind of work are you ready for? Understand when you are feeling creative or would rather take the time for some curious learning. Sometimes you are better off doing repetitive and less expansive tasks.
- Create the right setting and dedicate uninterrupted time to your work
- Liberate yourself from the pressure to deliver at a set standard. Doing the work is the goal itself; there is no right or wrong outcome.
When the work is done, and you sit back to evaluate the results, we can look to the Stoics and adopt their teaching of Amor Fati.
Amor Fati translates to ‘loving your fate’. It comes from the understanding that we don’t know enough about the big-picture plan and that whatever happens is for the greater good.
The outcome is the best for you, even if it’s not the one you hoped for.
This type of radical acceptance of everything that happens opens you to life and the current it flows with.
Amor Fati allows us to keep our peace and joy regardless of our circumstances.
This philosophy maintains our clarity and focus so we can adapt and continue to do the required work.
“Do not seek for things to happen the way you want them to; rather, wish that what happens happen the way it happens: then you will be happy.” — Epictetus
Sometimes what we want is different from what life allows. At the same time, we have to create and express what lies within us. Being in tune with the stream of life and going with its flow is the secret of the ancients for effective work.