The Magic Of Wise Effort

By Minji 

"Wise effort means tuning into your own wisdom and the natural rhythm of things. As you practice cultivating wise effort in daily living, you’ll also be able to discover more joy in everything you do." 

Do you sometimes find yourself overdoing something and stressing out over every detail – even things outside of your control?  Or maybe you’re more inclined to underdo things and often end up wishing you had given it more care. 

Regardless of where on this spectrum you fall, I think most of us would agree it’s not so easy to do it just right and give things the appropriate amount of effort.  Whether it’s tasks at work, that exam you’ve been studying for, cultivating a relationship or even perfecting your skincare routine, it’s never easy to exert a level of effort that you’re content with.  

Especially in the workaholic culture many of us grew up in, striving, dreaming big, giving it your all, never giving up, going that extra mile, have all generally been considered virtues at the sacrifice of any time and energy left for selfcare. 

I don’t know about you, but for me, this kind of striving and overdoing things has become such an ingrained long-term habit now that I often have to stop myself, take a deep breath, and seriously contemplate whether I am engaging in wise efforting. 

Are you familiar with the term “wise effort?”  It really is one of my favorite phrases these days and I think the first time I heard it was on a silent meditation retreat.  It’s a concept that originates from Buddhism and in the mindfulness world is often used to describe the right amount of effort to exert in your meditation practice. 

Apparently, the Buddha himself struggled with over efforting – there are famous stories of him meditating endlessly while eating only one grain of rice a day and nearly dying of starvation! He realized that he needed to find a middle way and hence was born the concept of wise effort.  

I find this to be helpful guidance not just when I’m practicing meditation but also in almost everything I do.  The tricky part is how to know when you are truly being wise with your efforts.  It will forever be a challenge, but below are some tips I’ve found to be helpful in exploring this topic: 

  1. Instead of being trapped in your head, tune into how your body feels. Thinking can often take you down the rabbit hole. Especially if you’re prone to negative narratives, it might also not be accurate.  Instead, take a deep breath and pause to see what your body is telling you.  If it feels exhausted and tired, maybe you should pull back.  If you feel lethargic, maybe you could use some more activity.  
  2. Avoid going on auto pilot and try to stay present in the moment. It’s so easy to slip into auto pilot mode in our daily activities but whenever you catch yourself, notice it and bring your awareness back to the present moment.  The more you’re tuned out the higher the chances of overdoing something or not doing enough.
  3. Examine your intentions. Setting and coming back to wholesome intentions in anything you do can also help with wise efforting. If you’re doing something to get outside recognition, you’re more likely to strive and grasp to an unhealthy degree.  On the other hand, if you’re doing something only because you fear external consequences, then you probably aren’t putting enough heart into it.  Even if it’s working on your skincare routine, try to be internally motivated – think of improving your skin and overall health or indulging in some precious selfcare time instead of doing to get compliments or look good for others. 

At the end of the day, wise effort means tuning into your own wisdom and the natural rhythm of things.  As you practice cultivating wise effort in daily living, I’m confident you’ll also be able to discover more joy in everything you do as well.