Unforcing Things

Saturdays nights are mostly movie nights for me, because I believe we need to make time for things that are important to us. Besides, I like the idea of watching one movie a week. For me, it only happens when it’s scheduled on the calendar, because how else do you eat an elephant if not one bite at a time?

However, there are times when I find myself doing something during the day that continues having my attention by nighttime. It just doesn’t feel right to abandon whatever is on my mind to watch a movie that night, even though it’s scheduled. Some days I watch the movie, some days I skip it, but I can’t say I have ever regretted not watching a movie because of whatever I was doing on those days.

The times when I do find myself watching a movie, despite the fact that I still have something on my mind…it doesn’t feel right. It’s almost as if I am forcing myself to make it happen, as its quite subtle, but it does feel abrupt in some way.

Put simply, it’s the feeling when you do something and you keep switching to several things, so there is no continuity in completing what you started. Instead of making a mile progress in one direction, you are merely going an inch in multiple directions.

Here’s another example. For the past few days, I have been thinking about climate change and watching documentaries most evenings to learn more about what I believe is the number one issue we as inhabitants of Earth need to work on right now—but that is a topic for another draft. The point is, it feels almost inorganic and forced to do something other than that, because that thing lingers in your mind, and doing something else feels abrupt at some level. It feels as if there is a cost to switching modes of thought. And, it’s almost as if you want it to take its own time to ease out of your mind in an organic way. I just want to keep thinking about that thing for a while and let it ease out on its own in time, without trying to “force” it to happen.

These are just a couple of examples that prompted me to think about the countless situations in my life where I have tried to force things to happen that were not in my control. During these times, it was as though I had been engulfed by the negative emotions which prompted me to react, rather than responding appropriately in those moments. Because I was so focused on trying to get something done, I let my emotions get the better of me with others, only to result in embarrassment and regret after the damage had already been done.

Whenever I try to force something, it never goes well. It could be as small as trying to do many things on a given day and feeling a bit rushed going from one thing to the next. It doesn’t feel right when I am doing it, and it doesn’t feel right after the fact. These are the days when scheduling things doesn’t work for me, because I have not yet finished processing or thinking about the thing I have been doing.

Whenever we try to force things to happen, particularly with others, only trouble ensues. This could involve wanting others to do something other than what they are doing now. It could also mean trying to reach an outcome you don’t have complete control over. Whenever we are forcing things to happen one way or another, it doesn’t turn out well.

Even if we are able to get the thing we want (or whatever thing we are trying to make happen), it’s not worth the effort to do those things because it comes at a high cost. Causing things to happen feels forceful and takes a lot of energy. It’s exhausting, even. Simply allowing things to happen feels more organic, natural, and right.

Here’s what I wrote in an earlier draft about some of the relationships in my life, where I ignored the value difference at my own peril:

Thinking back to some of the relationships in my life, it was quite evident when I had to explain things to others because I wanted to make things work, even at the cost of the obvious value differences that I chose to ignore. I didn’t realize at the time, but I was forcing it to happen. It was anything but organic.

Here’s what I wrote in particular about the one relationship where I had a fallout:

I refused to acknowledge the inherent value differences in that relationship at my own peril. I thought our situation would improve despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. I went against my instinct and paid a heavy price for it.

And this:

This should make us question if we are in the right relationship to begin with. It’s because we are “in love” that we tend to lose all objectivity. It could very well be that there’s a clear value difference, but when we try to “force” things to keep the relationship going, nothing good comes from it, and is inevitably doomed to failure.

This begs the question: Why do we force things to happen that are outside of our purview? Why don’t we let things take their natural course? Why do we fight our situations? Why do we resist change when impermanence is the only thing that is permanent?

We cling to our circumstances refusing to adapt to the times because we like having control over our present. That inevitably creates friction.

Many times, we keep holding onto old relationships in our lives despite our true feelings, but it’s hard to move forward while looking in the rear-view mirror. It’s as if we want these people with us while we evolve to something else. Of course, that’s wishful thinking, but we often learn things the hard way. Something’s gotta give in the end. You can’t have it all. In the end, you get to decide what you want to give up or commit to.

Why are we so obsessed with controlling things? Why do we crave control? Why can’t we let go of it? We use cameras and surveillance to track things and activities to prevent security issues, but could it be that we are solving the wrong problem?

Constantly monitoring things takes time, energy, and money, and is simply not sustainable. Rather than monitor things, we need to create environments conducive for our people to naturally thrive. Then, issues like security would be the last thing we need to worry about.

Here are some ideas for unforcing things (or going with the flow, so to speak):

Be content with yourself. Stop seeking the external. We need to accept ourselves the way we are without trying to fit into some ideal—and be comfortable with that.

We need to go with the flow rather than swim against the tide. We need to stop fighting our circumstances; to accept our situations and respond to them appropriately; to learn to deal with setbacks; to learn the art of letting go. We need to trust that whatever will happen will be for the best.

Stop trying to make things happen, and instead let them happen naturally. We often use force to exhaust ourselves and/or others, in the process we stress ourselves as well as others, but our problems can often work themselves out if we give them some time.

We need to stop seeking control. There is nothing that can be controlled in life. “Control” is but an illusion. The more we try to hold onto something, the more it will slip through our fingers. If something was truly yours, it will come back at you. If it doesn’t, it was never meant to be in the first place.

We need to learn to embrace change. We need to remind ourselves that impermanence is the only permanent thing there is. We need to adapt to our ever-changing circumstances. We need to stop resisting change and be more fluid in our approach. When others contract, we expand. When they expand, we contract.

As Bruce Lee famously said:

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

Find the silver lining in every cloud. Being optimistic is not about denying reality, but about accepting our situations for what they are and transcending them.

We need to learn to be in the moment. Trying to reach some arbitrary outcome in the future can lead to anxiety. Let’s try not to get ahead of ourselves. Let’s savor the present experience in all its stillness.

Let’s learn to keep our emotions in check. We need to exercise some self-control and not allow our negative emotions to get the better of us. Let’s be gentle and kind in our conversations with others.

I am reminded of another quote:

Nothing is gentler than water, yet nothing can withstand its force.

We ought to stay centered and take the Middle Path. Find a balance between structure and flexibility. We need to create space for this to happen.

We can improve our strengths rather than trying to fix our weaknesses. We can find others who complement our strengths and make our weaknesses irrelevant.

Here are some examples of how this plays out in our everyday lives:

When you have something on your mind, stay with it. Give yourself the space and you will naturally ease out of it over time, but try not to force your way out of it. Let it remain.

When you reach out to someone for support and you don’t hear from them, let it go. For instance, I contacted a couple of my friends—at least, I thought they were my friends—a while back, only to never hear from them. That was a tough pill to swallow overnight. I figured it was for the best and moved on.

When someone is rushing through a conversation with you on the phone, it’s probably best to let it go. Resist the urge to carry on a conversation when the other person wants to end it.

The same goes for listening. When you find yourself eagerly wanting to share something but your friend is talking to you about something else, let go of the need to share it, and make the effort to listen to what they are saying—even at the cost of forgetting the thing you wanted to share. If it’s truly important, it will come back to you at some point.

If you have to force things to happen, it’s probably not worth it. Even if you get the upper hand in a situation, you still lose. Making effort and striving for things is often counterproductive. We need to master the principle of unforcing things. When we stop striving for things to happen, we create the space for them to happen organically.

If you liked this piece, subscribe to the Weekly Newsflash to read my latest writing. Topics include mental health, simple living, and true success: