You might not have heard of wu wei, but you’ve definitely heard people say “go with the flow.” And you’ve probably experienced periods of time when you were “in the zone”—when time seemed to slow and your surroundings faded away, and all of your cognitive energy was focused on the project in front of you, and the ideas came to you effortlessly, and nothing felt forced.
Some people call that “flow state.” Ancient Chinese Taoists called it wu wei.
When one experiences wu wei (pronounced “oooo-way”), challenging tasks are navigated effortlessly. Social anxieties melt away, the mind is clear and focused, and ideas flow easily.
As a real estate agent, you can see how beneficial it would be to be able to access a state of wu wei throughout your day. Real estate transactions are fraught with interruptions and obstacles—appraisals fall through, buyers pull out, clients lose bidding wars—the list goes on and on.
Imagine if you could access a mindset where you calmly acknowledge these challenges and then effortlessly and skillfully respond. Zero panic, 100% proficiency.
In this blog post, we’ll discuss how you, as a real estate agent, can leverage the power of wu wei.
What is wu wei?
Wu wei is a complex, paradoxical concept.
The term wu wei translates to “effortless action.” Alan Watts, an English theologian who popularized Taoism in the Western world, explained wu wei as “not forcing.”
Watts wrote that “wu wei is the art of sailing rather than the art of rowing.” When you row a boat, he explained, you’re pushing against the water, trying to force your boat to move against the current. When you sail, you work with the forces of nature—in this case, wind—to move forward.
The School of Life explains wu wei—and how we can strive to access it—beautifully:
“Wu wei is closely connected to the Daoist reverence for the natural world, for it means striving to make our behaviour as spontaneous and inevitable as certain natural processes, and to ensure that we are swimming with rather than against currents. We are to be like the bamboo that bends in the wind or the plant that adjusts itself to the shape of a tree. Wu wei involves letting go of ideals that we may otherwise try to force too violently onto things; it invites us instead to respond to the true demands of situations, which tend only to be noticed when we put our own ego-driven plans aside. What can follow is a loss of self-consciousness, a new unity between the self and its environment, which releases an energy that is normally held back by an overly aggressive, wilful style of thinking.”
How wu wei can help you as a real estate agent
Wu wei is beneficial to every area of your life, and that includes your role as a real estate agent. Here are a few ways wu wei can help you:
Stay cool under pressure
Real estate transactions are unpredictable, and there’s always going to be some sort of fire to put out. People are unpredictable, too. One minute, they love you, the next minute, they’re threatening to report you to the Better Business Bureau because their buyer bailed. Through wu wei, you can effortlessly and proficiently navigate these types of obstacles.
Clients can tell when your words are scripted and forced, and it’s a huge turnoff. But when the conversation flows naturally—when you’re speaking from the heart, and you genuinely want to help someone sell their condo so they can buy their dream home with the big yard for their kids to play in—that shows, too. People will want to work with you because they’ll see that your virtue is intrinsic and authentic.
Win without trying to win
When you’re in a state of wu wei, you’re living fully in that present moment. You’re not thinking about the past or worrying about the future. You’re not trying to be better than the next agent. You’re just enjoying what’s in front of you right now, and doing what needs to be done right now.
Through wu wei, you’ll find more enjoyment and purpose in your work—and great success will follow. Your work will feel easy, your achievements will come effortlessly.
How can you experience wu wei?
Focus on the part of the work that you enjoy.
“Whatever it is you’re doing, try to keep the enjoyment alive. Find some aspect of it that you enjoy (however tiny) and focus on that,” writes Rory Mackay, creator of the site Unbroken Self, in his article about wu wei.
Mackay explains that “enjoyment is energising and invigorating, whereas the feeling of drudgery and boredom constricts and dampens.”
As for those really dull, tedious tasks? “If there’s nothing you particularly enjoy about what you’re doing,” writes Mackay, “then at least maintain an attitude of acceptance.”
When you accept that the work is dull, yet necessary to keep your real estate business running, you’ll at least be able to find purpose in what you’re doing. And that should help you remain in “the zone.”
To reach a state of wu wei, you really have to know your stuff. Otherwise, how will the work become effortless?
Hone your skills: Practice your scripts; role-play with other agents on your team; polish your negotiation talking points; learn new strategies for winning bids.
Build your knowledge: Stay informed on your local housing market; drive around to look at properties for sale; get to know every neighborhood.
And build processes for every aspect of your business, so you always know what needs to happen next.
When you’re prepared—backed by your skills, knowledge, and process—you can be more present, relaxed, and authentic, no matter the situation. Whether it’s a listing presentation with a potential client, a contract negotiation with another agent, or a quick phone call to discuss next steps with your buyer, you’ll nail it—effortlessly.
“Our culture is very good at pushing people to work hard or acquire particular technical skills. But in many domains actual success requires the ability to transcend our training and relax completely into what we are doing.”- Dr. Edward Slingerland, Professor of Philosophy, University of British Columbia
Be relaxed and alert.
Wu wei can only be experienced when you are relaxed and alert. Moving your body, whether it’s a brisk walk between meetings or a morning yoga class, will get your body in a calm and attentive state. Deep breathing is another great way to calm your nerves. Go easy on the caffeine, drink plenty of water, and eat healthy foods. When you take care of your body, you also take care of your mind.
Take regular breaks to recharge and refresh.
Don’t work on something until you’re burnt out. You’ll totally lose that wu wei flow. When you’re burnt out, the work is no longer enjoyable and you’re not going to be at your most proficient.
Work in short bursts—45 to 90 minutes—then take a break. After you’ve had time to recharge, you’ll be able to think more clearly, be more productive, and get more enjoyment out of the work. You’ll be able to get back into that flow where the good ideas come effortlessly.
Don’t force it
Remember that to access a state of wu wei, you can’t try too hard.
It’s like trying to not think of a pink elephant. As soon as you tell yourself, Don’t think about a pink elephant, it’s literally all that comes to mind.
Instead, be the bamboo that bends in the wind. Accept, maybe even enjoy, the task in front of you. Relax your body and mind. Allow your intrinsic knowledge and virtue to drive your words and actions. Know when it’s time to rest and when it’s time to get back to work.
And the work will be effortless.