By letting it go it all gets done. The world is won by those who let it go. But when you try and try, the world is beyond the winning. – Lao Tzu

Are you trying to achieve something? Most people want to move on – they want more money, a better job, a better deal for their kids. There is nothing wrong with these aspirations – they are healthy and normal. But most people go about achieving them in the wrong way.

When I was a child, my father taught me how to saw wood. He showed me how to follow the natural grain, to relax and to let the saw do all the work, not forcing, never applying much effort. To go against the grain and force the saw through the wood only resulted in a badly cut piece of wood and a blunt or damaged saw.

The key was letting go.

The ancient Taoist writer, Chuang Tzu, recorded a description of a similar process – a butcher preparing an ox. The butcher describes the way he uses his knife:

It goes according to natural laws,
Following the natural structure of the beast.
Even places where tendons attach to bones
Give no resistance,
The joints have openings,
And the knife’s blade has no thickness.
Apply this lack of thickness into the openings,
And the moving blade swishes through,
With room to spare!
I move the knife very slightly,
Whump! It has already separated.
The ox doesn’t even know it’s dead,
and falls to the ground like mud.

By letting go and learning to follow the natural structure of the world, we can achieve great things with little effort. Most of us have been conditioned to believe that action leads to results, and that greater action leads to better results – work harder and you’ll be more successful; no pain, no gain. But much of the action people take to achieve things is just motion – they are more like a rat in a wheel, running ever faster to get precisely nowhere, than a ship sailing steadily forward, powered by its sails, following the natural direction of powerful winds.

It is true that action can bring about change, but most of the action people take is ineffective, because it is contrived – it is too forceful.

Water is an apt analogy – it always follows the natural course of the landscape, never resisting, always seeking out the lowest point. And yet, with great power it carves out deep valleys and channels, and transforms the land through which it passes.

The truth is that, for the most part, we are not in control. Great forces are at work in our lives, and we cannot work against them. To do so only makes you tired. The only thing to do is to see which way the wind is blowing and set sail in that direction. A skillful sailor can use the sails well, tacking into the wind and cleverly constructing a new course – but this requires keen observation and a deep understanding of and respect for the natural course of things.

Try to let go. Relax, take things easy. Observe. And when you act, make sure your action does not go against the grain.

Mark writes at Check out his latest book, Thirty Days to Change Your Life.