FORCE vs FLOW: How to Accomplish Your Weight-Loss Goals Through Strategic Passivity


When we have an effective process, we don't need to micro-manage it in order to get results.

"Make all the necessary changes and then let go. Things will happen naturally and in their own time. If you are too anxious and try to force things to happen, you will be going against the grain. Simply sit back, relax, and go with the flow."

Taoist Theory of Wu-Wei (a.k.a. the law of non-doing)

What does the above 'wu-wu' Wu-Wei statement mean?

It means: Let the system do the work.

Wu-Wei is an encouragement to focus on process rather than outcomes.

Make all the necessary changes and then let go = Strategic Passivity.

Eastern philosophy is based around FLOW; finding ways to implement process where a flow state is achieved and where effort feels effortless.

But in our Western culture, we are obsessed with FORCE; finding ways to push the process in order to guarantee results.

And it doesn't work; either we push so hard that we get the opposite effect, or we get what we want but the process is so stressful that it's impossible to maintain.

Let's use weight loss as an example because it's so relatable.

Western Weight Loss Method

GOAL: Lose 10 pounds.

STRATEGY - Part 1: Extreme measures with food. Drastically alter your nutrition in some manner; cut out entire food groups, track every morsel you put in your mouth, and greatly reduce your caloric intake.

Image Credit: Thought Catalog on Unsplash

STRATEGY - Part 2: Extreme measures with exercise. Kick your own ass; take up an intense and overly-ambitious workout regimen.

You suck it up and power through and in 30 days - miracle of miracles - you've done it!!! You've lost those 10-pounds!


You can't sustain that level of effort.

The changes you made and implemented all at once were too drastic, and frankly you're exhausted and hungry. You go back to doing exactly what you were doing before, and gain all the weight back, with a few bonus pounds for good measure.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

Wu-Wei Weight Loss

GOAL: Lose 10 pounds.

STRATEGY - Part 1: Identify the things which are causing the issue.

Now, you either already know what these things are, or you need to spend a few days tracking your habits in order to identify your pitfalls.

When it comes to weight though, most people kind of already know what they're doing that's hindering their progress; night-time snacking, not exercising, forgetting to eat and then overeating, eating only processed foods, etc.

STRATEGY - Part 2: Identify the change(s) you can make which will give you the most bang for your buck. That is to say, finding the one or two changes that you know will make the biggest difference in the attainment of your goal.

Don't try to change everything all at once; this is why most diet and exercise plans fail, because they're asking too much at the same time and that just isn't sustainable.

Let's say you're a night-time snacker who doesn't exercise. Maybe you've discovered that you snack on junk food at night because you don't eat enough (or at all) during the day, and you don't exercise because your mornings and evenings are way too busy to go to the gym. Your overall diet isn't great and could definitely use some improvement.

The biggest bang for your buck in this case would be to stop the night-time snacking, and to begin moving in some manner.

How can you do that? What's the easiest way to implement those two changes?

By taking a lunch break. Eat a meal during the day, and then take a quick walk; even if it's just 10-minutes around the block.

Image Credit: Noémi Macavei-Katócz on Unsplash

The proper food midday, as well as the endorphin boost from the fresh-air and movement is likely to lead to less urges to snack at night.

You're not changing anything else; you're not reducing or altering the quality of your food and embarking on a boot-camp-style exercise regimen. You're just eating a midday meal and taking a short walk.

This will not produce shock-and-awe results like "Lose 10-pounds in 30 days!" but over the long-term, the process will work. In the span of three months, with small consistent efforts, you might lose 6-8 pounds. Not a staggering amount, but it's more than if you had done nothing.

The process will work if you work the process.

And that's what is meant with doing by not doing; you're doing, but you're not forcing or micro-managing. You've identified strategies that you can reasonably implement daily, and over the long-term the process produces results.

Here's the issue most of us in Western culture have with implementing change:

1 - We're impatient and demand instant gratification; we don't have time to allow the process to begin working because we WANT. IT. NOW.

2 - We love to micro-manage shit; How many calories in that tic-tac? Will that supplement enhance my workout? Did I lose weight now? How about now? And now??

We love to micro-manage the process - to FORCE things to happen and to spend a silly amount of time fiddling in the margins.

But as stated above "If you are too anxious and try to force things to happen, you will be going against the grain."


Micro-managing and forcing is the opposite of flowing; it is anti-process.

You know who should micro-manage - at least in the area of weight and athletic performance?

Professional athletes.

Are you a professional athlete who needs to shave a nano-second off of their arrival at the finish line?

If yes, then by all means obsess about the possible performance-enhancing properties of Goji berries, or whether or not a tic-tac will throw you off your diet.

If you're not, you're fiddling in the margins, you're forcing instead of flowing.

How to Implement Change with Strategic Passivity:

Identify your goal.

Identify the one or two small changes that will give you the most bang for your buck.


When those changes have become a part of your identity - when you couldn't imagine not doing them - at that point you can decide if a further change ought to be made. go through the whole process again.


Here's what this looked like for me in the process of going from being the human version of a sloth who NEVER exercised, to the athletic person I am now.

Age 24: I started walking on my lunch breaks. Every day for over a year.

Age 25: I took a "Learn to Run" class and ran my first race. It was only 5-kilometres (3.1 miles), but I cried when I crossed the finish line because I was so proud of myself.

After the race, I quit running because I thought my goal had been to run that race, and since I'd done it, there was no need to continue.

Then I realized that my goal hadn't been the race; it had been to become a person who exercises, and this was a goal with no finish line. So I started running again.

Age 26: I kept running. I ran a 10-kilometre (6.2 miles) race on New Year's Eve. In winter, through the snow.

Age 27: I finally found the courage to join a gym. It took me over a year to stop feeling intimidated every time I walked through the doors. But I kept going, and although I kept running, I picked up a dumbbell for the first time in my life and started weight-training.

Fast forward to present day.

Age 42: I spin (interval train) twice a week to maintain my endurance without the impact of running, as well as to put a positive stress on my heart. I do a combined Hatha/Yin Yoga class once a week to maintain my core strength and overall flexibility. I weight train once or twice a week, almost entirely free-weights, not machine weights (I use dumbbells, barbells, and kettlebells) in order to maintain my overall strength and bone mass.

On days when I don't go to the gym, I still go walking on my lunch breaks. :)

It took me nearly four years to go from lunch-time walks to joining a gym.

But I did it.

And the amount of time the process took doesn't matter because guess what? The time would have gone by anyhow, whether I did anything with that time or not.

When we have an effective process, we don't need to micro-manage it in order to get results.

Identify your goal.

Identify the one or two small changes that will give you the most bang for your buck.


Then...go through the whole process again.

That's life, if you're doing it right.

Image Credit: Financial Simplified

One of Taoism’s most important concepts is wu wei, which is sometimes translated as “non-doing” or “non-action.” A better way to think of it, however, is as a paradoxical “Action of non-action.” Wu wei refers to the cultivation of a state of being in which our actions are quite effortlessly in alignment with the ebb and flow of the elemental cycles of the natural world. It is a kind of “going with the flow” that is characterized by great ease and awareness, in which—without even trying—we’re able to respond perfectly to whatever situations arise.

Wu Wei: The Taoist Principle of Action in Non-Action


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