“Keeping up with the Joneses” is actually an ancient notion. Humans are wired to compare ourselves to others and, as a result, we suffer a sense of restlessness about our lives. How do we know that the ancients wrestled with these same feelings of inadequacy? They had philosophies for conquering them. Back then, the greatest source of satisfaction and influence came from achieving spontaneity.
Cognitive scientist Edward Slingerland combines neuroscience and ancient Chinese philosophies in his latest book Trying Not to Try: The Art and Science of Spontaneity. For Big Think Mentor, Slingerland shares insights into how Confucianism, Taoism, and other philosophies dealt with physiological responses that could lead to undesirable urges and behaviors. Achieving wisdom meant giving off an irresistible aura that made others want to be around you and take your lead.
“When you’re in a state of spontaneity,” explains Slingerland, “you give off this charisma that people find appealing. The early Chinese have a theological explanation, a religious explanation for this. But I think from a naturalistic scientific perspective it makes sense that human beings are attracted to people who are not showing signs of conscious effort.”
It’s evident in everyday life: sweating through a job interview, bumbling through a presentation, and coming on too strong during a first date, guaranteeing there won’t be a second one. Slingerland points to the painful example of the single person who tries too hard to meet his or her match, repelling everyone; when the person finally learns to let go and achieve greater spontaneity they enter a flow state and give off an irresistible energy, creating the classic problem of "when it rains, it pours."
In this five part workshop from Big Think Mentor, Slingerland walks you through the various philosophies and examples of how they apply to common situations, from managing a team to attracting desired prospects.
For a limited time only, Big Think is publishing a free trial of our popular mentor program. This excerpt from our exclusive interview series with Slingerland will be available through May 7, 2014 only. To learn more about Big Think Mentor and access workshops by leading thinkers, subscribe here.