The Art of Effortless Work: Wu-Wei & The Secret of 'Flow'

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From the outside looking in, I think that most people believe that I must have an insane level of discipline to be able to work as I do for days, weeks, and sometimes even months at a time, and yeah, sometimes I do need discipline, sometimes I am overwhelmed by the constant chaos and unpredictability that is inevitable when one pursues excellence in so many different areas, but only when I stray from the teachings of the philosophy that quite literally saved my life

That philosophy is Taoism, and when I live by it’s principles, which I do more and more with each passing year, life becomes effortless. 

I wake up and within 30 minutes I’m at my desk with a warm cup of hot chocolate ready to start working on the days tasks. I start my day working on NelsonQuest, my passion project, and then around 9am I shift my focus to AgentFire (my business), for the remainder of the day. Within my day are always at least two one hour blocks reserved for my various physical and expressive pursuits, one in the morning and then one later on in the afternoon 

When I’m in my “zone”, working entire days is not something that requires discipline or dedication, instead, working entire days becomes effortless. My essence is greatness, and when I’m in my zone, it actually becomes more difficult for me to not exist in this way. Now I think that we’ve all experienced “being in the zone” at some point in our lives, but until I discovered Taoism, it never occurred to me that it was possible to simply exist in this state. 

It’s been about 8 years since I dedicated myself to a careful study of “The Tao Te Ching”, the sacred text of Taoism. Hidden within its teachings, I found the tools that I needed to combat the many mental afflictions that were wreaking havoc within my mind and preventing me from being able to express my essence.

In this article, I’m going to introduce you to the Taoist concept  of “Wu-Wei”, the beautiful art of living without friction. I’ll show you how I’m able to apply Wu-Wei  it within my own life to quickly achieve incredible, effortless results in virtually everything I do. 

And by the end of this video, especially if you’re an entrepreneur, or someone who is moving down the path of self-development, you’ll understand how to replace the toxic “hustle” mentality, with a power far superior. 

A power that can enable us to actually get more done, without actually doing anything. 

Let’s begin.

Growing up in New York,  the “hustle” capital of the world, it was essentially hard-wired into my DNA that if I wanted to get ahead, if I wanted to achieve “success”, that I needed to work harder, to sleep less. That we need to push ourselves as far as we can past our limits, and when we can’t go any  further, to drink some coffee or pop some amphetamines. 

In my late 20’s, when I decided to start my own business and embark down the path of self-development, this “hustle” mentality was all that I had ever known, and it nearly destroyed me. 

By the second year of my business I had so much accumulated stress, anxiety and fear, that I couldn’t even sit in a chair for more than a few minutes before it felt like my shoulders were on fire. I spent that entire year working off of a mattress on the ground, my whole body hurt, and I could now drink a double shot expresso from Starbucks and still feel exhausted.

What I’m describing is the inevitable end-game of “hustle” mentality, burnout

It was around this time where, out of desperation, I discovered the philosophy of Taoism and the essential concept of “Wu-Wei”, which roughly translates to  “non-doing” or “non-action”, action without action. 

I was initially very resistant to this idea for obvious reasons, it seems to be the exact opposite of the hustle culture to which I was a disciple, but here’s the thing, Wu-Wei doesn’t mean to be lazy or to just sit around and not do anything, quite the contrary. Wu-Wei means “effortless action”. 

It means that regardless of what task we’re engaged in, whether it be writing a script for a YouTube video, working on a new ad campaign for our business, or even training past our perceived limits, that we engage with these tasks in a way where, instead of “pushing” or “forcing” ourselves to do these things, that we simply “become” these things.  

Where the “task” is simply an expression of who we are and what we’re striving towards, without focusing on the result or even striving at all, so that we can perform the task, at a high level, in a way that “sustains” our energy instead of burning through it. 

To exist in a state of “Wu-Wei” is essentially to exist in a state of constant flow. There are lots of metaphors that can be used to explain the practical application of this, but my absolute favorite is that of “The River”. 

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Wu-Wei explained through the metaphor of the river

We are all, at every moment, floating within the river of life. When action feels effortless, it can be said that we are moving with the flow of the river, when action feels difficult, when it tires us out mentally, it’s because we’re swimming against the flow of the river. 

In the west, we’re essentially hard-wired to swim against the flow of the river. A lot of this has to do with misunderstanding the nature of “control”, we mistakenly believe that we need to control everything around us, if we look carefully, there’s actually a surprising amount of stuff that we can’t control, nature is one of those things. Most of what happens around us, and even within us, is beyond our control, our blood flows by itself, our wounds heal without us having to manually intervene, even thoughts themselves, more often than not, simply “come” to us. Which brings us to the first part of learning to move with the river, making sure that the water is clean and free from blockages. 

Keeping the river clean

“Free from desire you see the mystery”
Chapter 1, Tao Te Ching translated by Stefan Stenudd

Thoughts actually flow much in the same way that water does, and when we over consume things like social media, junk food, video games, and porn, the neural pathways within our brains actually change to motivate us to consume more of these things, instead of motivating us towards the things that are actually consistent with our essence. 

Our rivers become polluted and full of blockages, and so we need to start here. 

When we limit or abstain from the consumption of the things that pollute us, the river becomes clear and moves freely. This is why, when we value health and avoid sugar, we find that the river moves us towards healthy food and away from junk food, when we value strength and avoid activities that numb the mind, the river will move us towards physical activity, and away from laziness, and when we value success, security, and freedom, the river will move us towards occupational pursuits. 

But there’s still something we need to understand before this action can become effortless. 

Be present “within” the river

“The sage does not strive to be great, thereby he can accomplish the great”
Chapter 34, “Tao Te Ching” translated by Stefan Stenudd

Within the act of “striving” it’s implicit that we are striving towards a result. The results exist in the future and the past, and therefore, when we focus on them, it implies that we are leaving the present, where we do have control, and entering a future or past where we have no control, a future or past where we encounter feelings like stress and anxiety, worrying about things that have happened or that may happen.

What we can control is how we act in the present moment, that is, whether we choose to move with the river, or against it. This is why you often hear successful people say things like “don’t focus on the money, focus on creating value”, money is a “result” and people who focus all of their energy on the “result” of money, rarely have any. 

Instead, those who choose to do what they do, to do things with love, will always produce a better result than the person who forces themself to do what they do because they see it as being necessary to achieve a certain result, i.e. a paycheck. 

Move like the river

“Supreme good is like water.
Water greatly benefits all things without conflict.
It flows through places that people loathe.
Thereby it is close to the way.”
Chapter 8, “Tao Te Ching” translated by Stefan Stenudd

The final step to learn how to “move with the river” involves being as water is, which is to say to to be soft, to be “yielding”, water does not stop when it encounters obstacles, it simply moves around them, water is an essential part of all creation, yet it has no specific goals or desires, without it, all creatures would perish, and so by benefitting all creatures without conflict, it represents the virtue of humility. 

This part is perhaps best encapsulated in the immortal words of Bruce Lee. 

“Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.”

Alright guys, time for a quick summary


“Wu-Wei” is a state of effortless existence, where self-development and working towards goals simply becomes a natural expression of who we are, no “forcing” or “pushing” required. 

This is most commonly understood within the west as a “flow” state, and as it turns out, it’s a state that, with practice, we can actually exist in, instead of just occasionally experiencing it. 

Wu-Wei as a concept is much easier to understand when explained through the metaphor learning how to “move” with the river, which I’ve broken it down into the following 3 parts:

Part 1: Keep the river clean.

The same way garbage and debris disrupts the flow of the river, things like junk food, video games, and porn disrupts our neural pathways and redirects them towards meaningless consumption. Without them, moving with the river becomes easy and natural.

Part 2: Be present “within” the river.

Stress and anxiety in the past and future, neither of which we can control. To be present within the river means to focus on the things we can control, like the actions we take right now in the present moment. 

Part 3: Move like water.

Water is humble, and yielding. When faced with obstacles it gracefully moves around them. By being shapeless, it effortlessly adapts to whatever situation it finds itself in. 

This video was a really special one for me, I’ve been in a pretty bad place these past few weeks, and in writing this script, which I spent over 25 hours writing between Saturday and Sunday, I was able to reconnect with the primary philosophy that has guided for many years, that I had for whatever reason, I had forgotten. 

I hope it’s able to help you as it’s helped me. 

If you want to see how I implement this philosophy in my day to day, within everything that I do, make sure to follow me on instagram @NelsonQuest. 

And if you haven’t already, make sure to subscribe, and click the,  lovely bell icon, to be notified first when I release new videos. Next one will be a deep dive into the philosophy of Bruce Lee. 

This is the path. Ciao and see you guys in the next post!


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