Trying Not to Try

The Ancient Art of Effortlessness and the Surprising Power of Spontaneity

Edward Slingerland

Trying Not to Try by Edward Slingerland (Paperback ISBN 9780857863485) book cover

Available as Paperback

A deeply original exploration of the power of spontaneity - and why it’s essential to our wellbeing, both as individuals and as a society

A Guardian Best Book of 2014
A 2014 Brain Pickings Best Book on Psychology, Philosophy, and How to Live Meaningfully

Why is it hard to fall asleep the night before an important meeting? Or be charming and relaxed on a first date? What is it about a comedian whose jokes fall flat or an athlete who chokes?

What if, contrary to what we have long been told, spontaneity - not striving - is the answer to success? Through stories of mythical creatures and drunken cart riders, jazz musicians and Japanese motorcycle gangs, Slingerland effortlessly blends Eastern thought and cutting-edge science to show us how we can embody a spontaneous way of being and live more fulfilling lives.


“Ancient Chinese philosophy has never been more accessible. Not even in ancient China. Edward Slingerland is not just a philosopher, he’s a time traveller”
Russell Brand

See more reviews

“In this fascinating book, Edward Slingerland tackles one of the most infuriating obstacles we encounter in our attempts to live meaningful lives. When we try with too much conscious effort to feel happy, or achieve our goals, we sabotage ourselves - but trying to be spontaneous is equally futile. The way out of this paradox is wu-wei, the ancient Chinese ideal of effortless yet accomplished living. Trying Not to Try is both a deeply researched history of this enviable state of relaxed success, and a witty guide to achieving it yourself. Don’t overthink whether you’re going to read it - just read it”
Oliver Burkeman
author Of The Antidote

Trying Not to Try navigates the confluence of two mighty rivers: the burgeoning science of the mind and the classic wisdom of China’s Taoist and Confucian traditions. This is a thoughtful, grounded book about traditions that should be better known - and more often put into practice - in the West”
Daniel Pink, Author Of Drive And To Sell Is Human

“East meets West in Edward Slingerland’s Trying Not to Try, an entertaining and thought-provoking account of how the principles of ancient Chinese thought continue to apply–indeed, may apply even more - in modern times. Slingerland will make you reconsider your approach to everyday life and will challenge you to approach success - and failure - in a new, refreshing and reenergizing light”
Maria Konnikova
author Of Mastermind

“A work of seminal importance. Yet never was there such an important book that takes itself so lightly. Slingerland explains the correspondence between ancient Chinese philosophical ideas about wu-wei, or doing by not doing, and modern neuroscience. In doing so in erudite fashion, he also manages to discuss Woody Allen, magic mushrooms, his daughter’s storybooks, Luke Skywalker and how hard it is to get a date when you’re desperate … While it will surely take some effort to spread wu-wei in a Western culture saturated by the idea that emotions have to be controlled by the mind, Trying Not to Try is a great step forward. Slingerland’s writing, if not wu-wei, is without a doubt effortless”
huffington Post


Edward Slingerland

Edward Slingerland is an internationally recognized expert in both early Chinese thought and the links between cognitive science and the humanities. He is Professor of Asian Studies, Associate Member in the Departments of Philosophy and Psychology, and holds the Canada Research Chair in Chinese Thought and Embodied Cognition at the University of British Columbia. He is the author of Effortless Action (2003) and What Science Offers the Humanities (2008).