When You Attempt to Force an Outcome, the Universe Will Resist

Follow the “law of least effort” to do more of what works

Brianna Wiest

Capitalizing on what comes easily is how successful people tend to get ahead. It’s also part of the success story that’s often left out because it’s almost impossible to talk about without it becoming misconstrued.

Successful people don’t work hard (that word, “hard,” has the wrong connotation). Successful people don’t keep throwing effort at dead ends. They also don’t force what’s nonviable, ineffective, or just simply not working out. They work consistently where they see the most results, and the reason they are able to work so often—usually much more than their peers—is because the work comes somewhat naturally to them. If it didn’t, they’d be exhausted, burned out, and left with minimal results.

Conventional wisdom tells you not to give up—ever, no matter what. But people tell you all the time that good things tend to happen when you stop trying so hard to make them happen. The most popular relationship advice is that our partners will show up when we stop looking for them. For many couples, the moment they stop trying to get pregnant is the moment they conceive.

When you try to force happiness, it eludes you. If you don’t, it tends to happen on its own. The work you end up doing in your life is almost never Plan A; it’s Plan B, which is what you started doing when you gave up on what didn’t come naturally. When you try not to think about something—like a white elephant—it’s all you can focus on. The more you try to avoid something, the more you see it everywhere. The more you try to grip a fist full of dry sand, the faster it slips through your fingers.

There are things out of our control that sort of redirect us to outcomes greater than we would have initially chosen for ourselves.

People generally don’t want to misattribute their successes in life to chance, fate, or pre-existing conditions because, of course, those aren’t the only factors at play. But to not acknowledge them at all is to deprive others of vital insight. Success is more than just how “hard” someone works because a lot of people work hard. You could argue that people in the service industry work a whole lot harder than the people who own the establishment they’re working in. They see different results because their energy is directed toward different things. Work becomes hard when we have to force ourselves to do it, and we have to force ourselves when it’s inherently uninteresting or unappealing.

When we commit to doing something we are inclined to be good at or have a natural interest in, we start an immediate feedback loop that strengthens quickly. When we put effort toward something and immediately receive positive results, our energy is reinforced. We become disciplined when we see results and when we trust those results. For this very reason, some people suggest that the things we enjoy most are often just the things we are good at.

Flow” is that peak performance state when you lose track of time and become fully immersed in your task. This is often when we produce the best work of our lives, and those who can do it every day often position themselves for incredible long-term success. But it’s almost impossible to achieve a flow state doing something you have to force yourself to do.

Any successful person will tell you that—although they have certainly worked a lot—there is almost always an element of effortlessness at play. The work is learning how to show up, get out of your own head, and allow it to happen without your doubts and anxieties stopping you.

The law of least effort is more than a productivity hack. It’s not a quick, easy success scheme. It’s a constant, often frustrating, part of our lives. It’s an element of how our natural laws are governed, and it’s in some ways a force greater than we are, one that we want to understand and have work in our favor.

Nature follows a blueprint. Our bodies heal themselves when we don’t interfere with the healing. Our lives tend to function the same way. When we talk about what we “can’t control” in life, it’s almost always negative—like bills or loss or illness. But it works the opposite way too. There are things out of our control that sort of redirect us to outcomes greater than we would have initially chosen for ourselves.

Within each of us is a completely unique set of strengths and weaknesses, curiosities, passions, distastes, and wounds. Where these intersect tends to be the most fertile breeding ground of our lives. We often look back and can see that each of these seemingly random factors played a role in where we ultimately ended up. They weren’t random; they mapped a blueprint of who we fundamentally are.

You need to clearly understand the end goal and then break it down into smaller steps. This isn’t magic. This is how we make progress.

Our choice is whether we activate the latent potential. Our bodies and our lives are like energy systems. When we clog them with stress, they start to malfunction. It’s like a fault at the bottom of the river of our psyches—the water still ripples at the top. We need to clearly understand our end goals and then break them down into smaller steps. This isn’t magic. This is how we make progress.

But forcing things in a way that wreaks havoc and distress holds them back. Wanting something puts you in the energy of not having it. Being overly attached to an outcome makes you so obsessed with perfection and your own timing that you end up sabotaging what really matters, which is the end result. We miss the fact that success is not something the world gives us; it’s something we offer the world and then reap the benefits of doing so.

Success starts with us. Our interests, skills, and passions; our trauma and our grievances; the chips on our shoulders and the dreams in our hearts are not random. The place where they intersect is our calling, and it is wholly and completely unique to each of us. We don’t have to force it. We don’t have to compete for it. We simply have to respond to it, start showing up to it, and then, like the sand in our palms, learn to loosen our grip, and allow it to be.