People who have mastered the art of Wu Wei in daily life usually display these 7 behaviors

Do you ever have those days when you wish that things would just magically fall into place? Like you don’t have to solve every single problem right here, right now? 

That’s the dream, right? For life to flow seamlessly. 

Well, let me wake you up from that reverie. You can’t Alohomora your way through life. 

But – you can do the next best thing: practice Wu Wei. 

Wu Wei is an ancient Daoist (also called Taoist) philosophy that involves quieting the mind, allowing ourselves to be in tune with the universe, and just letting things unfold naturally. 

There’s no exact translation for it in English, but a few terms have been ascribed to it: “non-doing”, “non-action”, non-forcing”, “effortless action”. 

I like the last two terms best because I feel it encapsulates the essence of the philosophy. Wu Wei is simply about effortless living, like swimming with the current instead of against it.  

People who have mastered the art of Wu Wei have an advantage over the rest of us who rush through life panicking and stressing. They behave in certain ways that feel counterintuitive to the less enlightened. 

Here are 7 of those behaviors: 

1) They are self-reflexive

Yes, you read that right – reflexive, not reflective. 

Reflexive thinking also involves reflective thinking, but goes the extra mile – thinking about how one’s actions impacts the larger world. 

It’s this quality that makes Wu Wei masters the perfect leaders. This study on Chinese managers who incorporate Wu Wei in their leadership style puts it so well: 

“To engage in Wu Wei, Daoism encourages people to reflect on and understand their inner self. In order to lead to wise introspection, Daoism values self-examination and judgement. Lao Tzu suggests that stillness may help people return from the outside dynamic, chaotic world to their internal static state. By doing so, they can manage affairs wisely without prejudice or bias.”

Imagine having a manager who reflects and asks himself the right questions so he can handle a matter wisely. Sounds blissful, doesn’t it? 

Anyway, whether you’re a manager or not, the point is, adopting the practice of Wu Wei helps you be more thoughtful and considerate. 

No longer will you make decisions solely based on what you want to do, you’ll be making decisions that will benefit the greater good. 

2) They let go of judgments and expectations

That capacity for self-reflection and reflexive thinking is precisely what enables people who’ve mastered the art of Wu Wei to let go of judgment and expectations.  

It’s how they arrive at wise and objective conclusions. 

You see, Wu Wei calls for a certain detachment from certain habitual patterns and ways of thinking. 

In fact, Wu Wei encourages us to let our minds rest and recharge so that we can find new perspectives and insights in the peace and quiet of not doing anything. 

I once had a moment like this when I was going over and over an issue at work. I couldn’t see what I needed to do to fix it, and I was just getting more and more stressed

So I decided to leave it alone for a bit and come back to it when I was feeling more refreshed. I went and did a bit of gardening, had some iced tea on my porch, watched two birds pecking at their reflections on a window…

And you know what? The solution came to me out of the blue! 

Does it sound like magic? Did I just Alohomora my problem? 

Of course I know it isn’t magic, but it certainly felt that way. Since then, I’ve learned to deliberately not act when I’m flummoxed over something. 

I can’t say I’m now a Wu Wei master, but I’m working on it, now that I know just how effortless and freeing it is!  

3) They don’t kowtow to societal expectations and pressures

Speaking of freedom, people who’ve mastered the art of Wu Wei definitely don’t feel the burden of societal expectations and pressures

Remember, Wu Wei is about flow. About effortless action. 

And doing things just because society has told us to do so is the farthest thing from that. 

These pressures are outside forces – man-made currents pulling us down – that get in the way of things unfolding naturally. 

For instance, consider how society says, “Choose a career that pays well. Buy your own home by X age.” Those who practice Wu Wei might recognize these as arbitrary constructs, not as rules cast in stone. 

Instead of succumbing to these pressures, they follow a path that feels natural and fulfilling to them, even if it deviates from societal norms

This could mean choosing a career that they are genuinely passionate about rather than one that passes society’s “prestigious/financially lucrative” standard.

 That’s why those who practice Wu Wei have inner peace – that’s what living an authentic life can give you.  

4) They don’t engage in pointless arguments

Or any arguments for that matter. Arguing with someone takes a lot of effort, and again, the key word in Wu Wei is effortless!

Don’t get me wrong, though. When something needs discussing, they do engage, just not in the usual way people argue – with loud voices and forceful tones and all that. 

People who practice Wu Wei simply lay out their points in a calm and composed way. 

This might sound alien to the more fiery of us who jump into a debate full of passion, anger and the need to be right. But here’s how they do it: 

  • They approach arguments with the purpose of understanding the other person’s perspective. Not to win or prove themselves smarter.
  • They avoid getting riled up because they know that it can cloud their judgment.
  • They listen more than speak
  • They don’t try to dominate the conversation or force their points in. Wu Wei is about flow, so they simply let the conversation flow naturally. 

And sometimes, yes, they simply take the path of non-engagement. If the argument seems to be unproductive, they’ll just opt out of it. 

As you can see, ego has no place in people who practice Wu Wei. Peace and harmony are their driving forces, not the need to “win”. 

I must remember this lesson the next time someone says something I don’t agree with.

5) They keep things simple

That non-argumentative mindset is just another testament to how people who practice Wu Wei keep things simple. 

I mean, the world is complicated enough, isn’t it? There’s so much to think about, so many problems to solve, so many relationship dynamics to wade through…

No wonder we have all kinds of anxieties and negative emotions inside us!

But for Wu Wei masters, life isn’t that complicated. Why? 

Because they embrace the philosophy of living in harmony with the Tao, the natural way of the universe. They understand that what makes a situation complicated is our perception or reaction to it, not the situation itself. 

As simple as it sounds, though, getting to that point isn’t easy. Wu Wei requires a lot of acceptance and patience – two things that many of us in the modern world struggle with. 

We’re usually focused on “what should be” rather than “what is”. And so we struggle, we rant, we have a sense of urgency to get to the outcome we want. 

Meanwhile, the Wu Wei master? They’re quite content to let things play out naturally until a simpler path and solution is revealed. 

Don’t mistake it for passivity, though. Because when you really look at it, deliberate inaction is a kind of action, too. It involves observing, waiting, and allowing life to reveal the right course of action.

It just sounds so counterintuitive because the world has trained us to feel pressured to act quickly and fix things immediately. 

6) They practice mindfulness

Observing and waiting sound like no-brainer jobs, don’t they? 

Wrong. If anything, they are harder to do than keeping ourselves occupied. As someone who regularly grapples with a monkey mind, I’d be the first to tell you that observing and waiting are two of my pet peeves. 

I’m sure I’m not the only one. Lots of people find it hard to wait and do nothing. Heck, that’s one of the reasons why we always have our phones in our hands. 

But there’s no getting around it – mindfulness is central to the whole practice of Wu Wei. 

People who’ve mastered this art have cultivated not just the ability to be present in the moment, but to be deeply aware of everything inside and around them. 

So, their lives might look a lot different from ours. Where we’re always in a rush to go somewhere, do something, be somebody…they’re all about: 

Slowing down. Being still. Feeling things. Intuiting where the flow is and going along with it. 

7) They limit screen time

Finally, here’s one thing you definitely won’t see out there – a Wu Wei master glued to their phone. 

It just runs against their mindfulness practice.

As I mentioned earlier, our phones have become crutches. They’ve become things we hold on to because otherwise…whatever would we do with ourselves?

I mean, I’m old enough to have grown up without a cellphone, yet I’m hard pressed today to think about what I used to do when I didn’t have a phone yet. It’s a bit startling to realize how dependent I’ve become on this device.

For someone practicing Wu Wei, however, the constant distraction and noise that come with smartphones are antithetical to their way of life. You can’t practice Wu Wei if you’re forever sucked into the digital vortex. 

This doesn’t mean they shun technology entirely, but they use it judiciously. They make phones and screens serve them, not the other way around. 

Like I said, it’s going to look counterintuitive in our modern, fast-paced world. But trust me, those folks are feeling nothing but harmony inside them. That’s something worth aspiring to, don’t you think? 

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