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Trying Not to Try: The Art and Science of Spontaneity
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Trying Not to Try: The Art and Science of Spontaneity

3.67  ·  Rating Details ·  563 Ratings  ·  113 Reviews
A deeply original exploration of the power of spontaneity—an ancient Chinese ideal that cognitive scientists are only now beginning to understand—and why it is so essential to our well-being

Why is it always hard to fall asleep the night before an important meeting? Or be charming and relaxed on a first date? What is it about a politician who seems wooden or a comedian who
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published March 4th 2014 by Crown (first published January 1st 2014)
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Apr 12, 2014 Stephanie rated it it was ok
I did not experience flow while I read this book.

I picked this book up after I heard this author interviewed on NPR and the book sounded interesting, but it really wasn't. I'm fascinated by the concept of flow, which was what this book was supposed to be about, and it was...a little. Mostly it read like a history book about ancient Asian religions, which I'm also interested in, but the book was dry, flat and boring.

I read this as an audio book and I was trying not to stop listening to it. Then
Debbie "DJ"
May 03, 2014 Debbie "DJ" rated it it was amazing
Won through Goodreads First Reads.Thank you!
This book is outstanding. When I first read the title I thought maybe this was yet another book on "new age" thought. I couldn't have been more wrong. What the author did was guide me through Ancient Chinese thought from Confucius to Zhuangzi. His book gave me a clearer understanding not only of the historic time period, but also how and why these texts were written and the powerful influence they still have today.

This idea of "trying not to try" is wh
Feb 17, 2014 Jay rated it really liked it
Shelves: first-reads
From the title of this book, I thought it could go in many different directions. And where it went, I hadn't guessed. This is a description of different Oriental religions through the ages and how they suggest that people reach their own state of flow. And more. The descriptions are wrapped in questions of whether trying to reach this state is good, or if trying is bad, or if trying to build the tools to reach this state is good, and the ancient books he describes give different answers for all ...more
Jan 20, 2014 Steven rated it it was amazing
Shelves: first-reads
Wow, what a book... Full of philosophical ideas from early china and psychological studies from today this book comes together to make an amazing read. Focusing on 4 ways to living our lives and finding happiness we see the good and bad to each, pointing out the benefits and flaws to all of them, this book just flows. Although the topics covered steal the show, I have to mention the writing style here. Edward Slingerland does such a great job leading us through these complex ideas and topics and ...more
Fredrick Danysh
Jan 31, 2014 Fredrick Danysh rated it really liked it
Shelves: advance-read
The author discusses the idea that by not concentrating on a task but actually trying to relax the mind the desired outcome can be achieved more readily. He attempts to encourage the reader to free the mind from distractions as outside influences are reduced. This was a free proof copy and does contain a very interesting [to me] concept.
Apr 20, 2015 Amber rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: first-reads
I won this book through the goodreads giveaway program. The book was interesting (although I was bored in some places because it felt like the same things were being repeated). I did like learning about early Chinese thinkers and relating those ideas with my experiences with my Chinese in-laws.
Kat Dornian
May 06, 2015 Kat Dornian rated it it was ok
Trying Not To Try provides a general background to eastern philosophy in the context of "flow" and the paradox of virtue. I found the book to be confusing, without a clear point until the very end. I feel some sort of introduction that provided an overview of the author's direction would have improved the book greatly. I also noticed a couple of the scientific studies were poorly explained, although a citation is provided in the back of the book if anyone is interested in finding the truth. For ...more
Dec 30, 2015 Emma rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: from-publisher
Originally posted on

This book will not teach you how to be more spontaneous. Because of the very nature of spontaneity it is not something you can learn from a book. However it does show how not concentrating on a task will help achieve the desired outcome.

This book also explores the meaning of the Chinese concepts of wu-wei. The book is full of examples of the action-less doing of wu-wei (being in the zone) as well as examples from contemporary neuroscience. It even goes as
Feb 23, 2015 StephanieChats rated it did not like it
Shelves: science
Wow. I tried forcing myself to read this book thinking it will somehow get better or more interesting but quite frankly I don't know if the topic is dull or the author needs to learn how to write. It's just so boring, repetitive and useless. I didn't find this book informative in any way although it did reinforce my opinion on traditional Chinese medicine and philosophy. Am I bias against the Chinese or was this book just terrible? I mean how can a book manage to make a person so angry! Edward ...more
Andrea Marley
May 01, 2014 Andrea Marley rated it liked it
The first two chapters of this book were hilarious and interesting, and everything I thought this non-fiction find would be...
After that, it turned into a history of ancient Chinese philosophy. Slingerland is a professor of the topic at Vancouver University.

I read through other reviews, and some people think its okay and some people feel bamboozled. Honestly, I'm in the second camp. There was no indication this book would be mostly about Confucius.

I read and enjoyed the entire book, but remain
Andrea Janes
Jun 10, 2014 Andrea Janes rated it really liked it
Gateway drug to Chinese philosophy (unfortunately and somewhat misleadingly packaged as a self-help book) that now has me wanting to read Zhuangzi, whose work is evidently filled with "talking animals, mysterious leviathans that transform into huge birds, witches, hunchbacks, ghosts, talking skulls, and ancient sage kings brought back to life." Sold!
Mengran Xu
May 11, 2014 Mengran Xu rated it it was amazing
Succeeding without trying

If you ever had a sleepless night, then you will perfectly understand why trying to fall asleep does not usually work. Instead, by making yourself fall asleep, you became more awake and soon began to ruminate how much time had been wasted and how dreadful the next morning would be. The moment when sleep became a deliberate and effortful action, sleepiness vanished, leaving us wide awake.

There is one defining feature about sleep—it is totally spontaneous. We simple do i
Teo 2050
~4.5h @2x. A welcome blend of Taoism & modern dual-process theories of cognition (like Kahneman / Haidt / Greene / others I don't know of). I thought about rating it a 3, but it was fun to listen to & kept my attention, & since I'd already rated the [much/even]lighter The Tao of Pooh with 3, have a 4. This goes through some of the scientific results quite fast, but then again for references the author does refer you to his academic works including perhaps Effortless Action: Wu-Wei as ...more
Pam Mooney
Sep 13, 2016 Pam Mooney rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was very enjoyable to read. While comprehensive it is written in such a way that it doesn't feel like a text. I loved the stories that went along with each topic and the underlying theme that was easily followed throughout. A fun, interesting, thought provoking book and a good read.
Conrad Zero
Sep 12, 2016 Conrad Zero rated it it was amazing
You need to read this.... but don't try to read it. Just read it. Never mind all that, sorry. just read it, and this will all make sense.

This book shows you how to add some 'white space' to the page of your life. Required reading for 'Westerners' esp those with busy brains and full schedules.
Mar 17, 2015 Evanthia rated it it was ok
This is a book written by an academic and it is about early Chinese philosophy and how some of its principles would apply in our modern world. A book about effortlessness and how to achieve it. At least, that is what I think the author was trying to do. Unfortunately, I did not find that he succeeded. In my opinion the author could not decide between writing a thesis and a piece of mainstream literature. I have nothing against either of the two, I have read plenty of either genre. But this mix, ...more
Don O'goodreader
Ideal companion to the Winter Olympics in Sochi 2014. Like the Chinese philosophers over 2,000 years ago, Olympic viewers are stuck with the paradox of spontaneous versus meditated behavior. Do we root for the natural skier or the one who approaches the moguls like a physicist.

Trying Not to Try by Edward Slingerland combines the ancient Chinese philosophy with contemporary neuroscience to address the paradox of the timeless debate of trying versus not trying, thinking versus not thinking, learn
Mar 19, 2015 Kelly rated it it was amazing
This book explores the concept of "wu-wei" which is defined as "the dynamic, effortless, and unselfconscious state of mind of a person who is optimally active and effective." It gave a description of the history of different schools of Chinese thought - Confucianism and Daoism - and what they believed was the best way to reach "wu-wei." The four main people discussed were Confucius, Laozi, Mencius, and Zhuangzi, and each had a different method and way of thinking about spontaneity.

I really enjo
Jul 26, 2014 Ahsan rated it really liked it
A good introduction to the perspective of the ancient Chinese (Daoists and Confucians) on wu-wei. Although the author is an academic, he has taken great pains to make the book accessible - perhaps too much.

The way the book began I was a little apprehensive he would side-step the religious aspect of wu-wei, seeing the modern aversion to religion, but he handles it acceptably.

As the Book of Chuang Tzu (Zyangzhi) is a recent favourite of mine, I was quite pleased to gain more insights about it fro
Jun 27, 2015 Tristy rated it it was ok
Shelves: how-to, historical
For a book about "the flow" this book did not flow at all. It's essentially a long, dense history lesson on Chinese philosophy. There is no joy, no ease and no feeling of movement. The author talks about ritual as a useful way to access the flow (which I completely agree with), but he then goes on to say that our chosen rituals should be rigid, strict and fundamentalist - "regulating one's behavior" - when in my experience, ritual should actually live in "the flow," able to adjust and change as ...more
ياسمين خليفة
I expected a lot from that book because I heard the author talking in a podcast.
But in the end I didn't learn how to be spontaneous because I discovered from the book that the matter is complicated. so there is no magic way to have all that you want without trying.
I enjoyed some of the stories about ancient china, but the book isn't great as I thought it would be
Sarah O'Flaherty
Oct 12, 2014 Sarah O'Flaherty rated it did not like it
Shelves: self-help
I tried and I tried and I tried, and then I tried not to try… and I still didn't enjoy this book. A lot of waffly rubbish with little substance. Sorry, not a fan.
David Guy
Oct 22, 2015 David Guy rated it really liked it
When he was a teenager, we all noticed that my nephew Charlie was surrounded by beautiful young women, though he seemed less accomplished than his older brothers (he wasn’t; he was just younger). You’d go over in the morning and one girl would be hanging around, playing chess, go by in the afternoon and another was there. It was like a beauty pageant. We were never sure what was going on, but they were around, and obviously liked Charlie. I of course thought he was a great human being, but felt ...more
Jul 31, 2016 Chiwulun rated it liked it
Overall, it’s a good read that I enjoyed, but it falls about 75% short of its target. Its value is in still having flown 25% of the way in the right direction. An interested reader can pick up the trail and walk the rest of the way himself.

In detail:

It’s a good overview of the main bullet-points of the major Ancient Chinese philosophers/schools of philosophy (though by no means exhaustive as far as each school is concerned — I think Zhuangzi has suffered a lot). It gives a decent treatment of ea
Jason Gregory
Oct 23, 2016 Jason Gregory rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Edward Slingerland has synthesized Chinese thought, cognitive science, and ancient culture like no other in this amazing book. It is refreshing to see a scholarly work on Chinese thought and the great philosophers of the Warring states period of China. He articulates perfectly the philosophy of all the great Chinese philosophers and how their approach to wu-wei differs and also how this relates to inducing different cognitive states. If you have been interested in the effortlessness of wu-wei ...more
Peter Clothier
Okay, I know that's a cliche. Worse, perhaps, it's a cliche born of a sneaker commercial. But how often do you hear some other person--or yourself!--say something like this: "I'll try to make it by eight o'clock," or "I'm trying to lose some weight," or "trying to write a novel/finish a painting/make a fresh start"...? The truth is, the longer you keep trying to feed the dog, the sooner the poor creature starves. Trying, in other words, doesn't hack it. It doesn't get the job done. You say it ...more
Frank Jude
Edward Slingerland, a professor of Asian Studies at the Univeristy of British Columbia with special expertise on Chinese thought, comparative religion and cognitive science, offers a wonderful survey of the existential paradox of wu wei (pronounced oooo-way) and de (pronounced duh). Wu wei is relatively well known as “effortless effort” and literally translates as “no trying” or “no doing,” and is compared to the concept of “flow,” though not completely accurately, according to Slingerland. De i ...more
Pete Wung
Jul 20, 2015 Pete Wung rated it it was amazing
I casually ordered this book because I had read an article in Nautilus magazine of Butcher Ding and his effortless and unselfconscious way with a meat cleaver, having dispatch an ox smoothly and efficiently for the emperor. I thought this was an eastern spin on the idea of flow, a concept that Mikaly Csikszentmihalyi established in western psychology literature. While Csikszentmihalyi approached it from a strictly western way, using neurosciences and psychology to try to teach how to get flow in ...more
Sum it up in a sentence (or two): (from the subtitle) - Ancient China, Modern Science, and the Power of Spontaneity.

First Thoughts: this was less about "the Power of Spontaneity" and more about several (four, to be exact) schools of thought on how to reach a state of "wu-wei," similar to what we might call flow. Slingerland gives background on each philosophy, explains how they differ, where they possibly fall short, and in the last few chapters connects these philosophies to real world/contempo
Apr 24, 2015 Vijayalakshmi rated it liked it
It does not seem like long ago that I designed a module on Anger Management. The first time I delivered the module to a group of people, I was nervous and concerned about the success of the module. Even though I had prepared thoroughly, I felt unsure. I was afraid. I was consciously trying my best to make it a good programme.

That’s where I was wrong, according to Edward Slingerland (Professor of Asian Studies at the University of British Columbia). I was trying too hard to stick to the script I
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I'm Professor of Asian Studies and Canada Research Chair in Chinese Thought and Embodied Cognition at the University of British Columbia. I work in a lot of academic areas, including early Chinese thought, comparative religion, cognitive science of religion, virtue ethics, cognitive linguistics and science-humanities integration.

My first trade book, Trying Not to Try, is forthcoming from Crown/Ra
More about Edward Slingerland...

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“Thinking that you are good can make you bad. Talking about positive behavior can encourage negative behavior. Laozi is clearly on to something when he warns us that consciously trying to be righteous will, in fact, turn us into insufferable hypocrites and that anyone striving to attain virtue is destined to fail.” 5 likes
“When people are asleep, their spirits wander off; when they are awake, their bodies are like an open door, so that everything they touch becomes an entanglement. Day after day they use their minds to stir up trouble; they become boastful, sneaky, secretive. They are consumed with anxiety over trivial matters but remain arrogantly oblivious to the things truly worth fearing. Their words fly from their mouths like crossbow bolts, so sure are they that they know right from wrong. They cling to their positions as though they had sworn an oath, so sure are they of victory. Their gradual decline is like autumn fading into winter—this is how they dwindle day by day. They drown in what they do—you cannot make them turn back. They begin to suffocate, as though sealed up in a box—this is how they decline into senility. And as their minds approach death, nothing can cause them to turn back toward the light.” 1 likes
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