I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, the Path of Least Resistance. Most of us are well familiar with it and even practice it regularly whether we realize it or not.
Even today, I debated recording my podcast because I just wasn’t feeling it. I could hear thoughts in my brain about how it would be easier to just skip it. But instead of listening to them, I persevered and recorded my podcast anyway. It was uncomfortable and certainly not easy. I had background noises to contend with, several disruptions including my dog who was whining and running around the house trying to find a human to let him out so he could go play with the squirrel or another animal that he must have seen outside. My lack of motivation and creativity wasn’t helping my situation either. Despite how I felt, however, I still managed to pull it off. I managed to fight through the discomfort and not simply take the path of least resistance.
But these challenges that we face are nothing new and I’m not the only one that faces them.
Humans are Lazy by Nature
According to a study published by eLife: humans are lazy.
The study conducted was pretty simple. Participants were shown a cloud of dots that moved either to the right or to the left. They were asked to indicate if the dots were moving to the right or to the left by moving one of two levers.
If they thought the dots were moving to the right, they moved a lever in their right hand. If they thought the dots were moving to the left, they moved a lever in their left hand. What the volunteers did not know, however, is that one of the levers was slightly heavier and therefore harder to move than the other.
Lead researcher, Dr. Hagura, et al. found that the volunteers biased their decisions away from the direction that would require the most effort. If the right-hand lever was heavier, the volunteers decided that dots with ambiguous motion were moving to the left. Those for whom the left-hand lever was heavier felt that the same dots were moving to the right. The participants showed this bias despite failing to notice that the levers had different weights. Moreover, they continued to show the bias even when subsequently asked to simply say their answers rather than use the levers.
“Thes results indicate that the effort required to act on a decision can influence the decision itself.” — eLife Digest
This may come as no surprise to you. Or you may still be in denial and defiant that you’re not one of the lazy ones. We each have our own level of laziness, but let me share with you a question that eLife posed as part of their study to determine if humans really are that lazy.
When you’re in an orchard you may learn that the best and most ripe apples are the biggest apples on the tree and those that get the most rain, and sunlight. So when deciding which ones to pick, most of us would think to look for color, size, and shape. But what about the effort involved to get the apples with the best color, size, or shape? Do you convince yourself it’s not worth it and just settle for the low-hanging fruit? Or do you go for it?
The study published by eLife and conducted by UCL or (University College London), suggests that the low-hanging fruit will probably look more appealing to you. Lead researcher, Dr. Nobuhiro Hagura explained that “Our brain tricks us into believing the low-hanging fruit really is the ripest.”
When given the opportunity of doing something easy (even if it offers little to no reward), vs. something that is more difficult but with a higher reward, we will most often go with the easier option. Despite logic, our mind convinces us that it’s the better choice. Some of us can see past the easy route and will resolve to put in the effort for greater reward – hence all of the super-successful business entrepreneurs or speakers or leaders we have among us.
But for the rest of us, NOT choosing the path of least resistance can be difficult.
Take for example having the choice between watching a movie or reading a book from which the movie was based. The book might contain a lot more story development and sub-plot information, but it takes several hours to finish and requires mental effort. A movie on the other hand only requires a couple hours of your time and gives you the gist of it without much mental effort at all.
Here’s another example. Imagine that the place you work has a kitchen for employees to use. In it they include a number of actual dishes and metal utensils and encourage employees to use them. The only expectation is that you clean up after yourself and wash what you use. They also have paper plates and plastic utensils available for use. But these require a $0.25 daily donation which is based on the honor system. Which would you choose?
Following the path of least resistance isn’t just something humans do. We can see evidence of this in things like water, electricity, light. Even Google Maps will attempt to give you the quickest, easiest, and most efficient route to take. Of course, Google Maps was programmed by humans because we wanted the quickest and easiest route that avoids traffic delays and construction whenever possible. But when you go 4 or 5 blocks out of your way or take city streets instead of the bypass to avoid traffic delays, how much time do you think you’re really gaining? Would it be faster to just stay the course or is it better to go around? It’s possible that going around may actually take longer, but it’s easier than sitting in slow-moving traffic. Or is it?
What one person feels is the easy route isn’t always the same as what another person will view as the easy route.
It’s easy, for instance, to tell someone what they need to do to solve an issue. But it’s harder to actually follow-through on the tasks required to solve the issue.
It’s easier to talk our read about starting a new routine or a new project or embarking on your life’s passion than it is to even take the slightest step toward actually achieving it. That’s why stepping outside our comfort zone seems great in concept but is often difficult to actually do.
Reach Outside the Comfort Zone
If you never reach outside your comfort zone, you’ll never reach your full potential. Opportunity rewards those who reach for it.
“If you limit your choice only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that is left is a compromise.” — Robert Fritz, author of “The Path of Least Resistance”
If you’re seeking a new life, then stop doing the same things you’ve always done and look for a new path. Step outside your comfort zone. What you’re looking for is acquired by pushing the limit and doing what it takes to get there – regardless of how scary it may seem or the discomfort you may feel along the way.
This doesn’t mean that every decision needs to hurt or be uncomfortable. I just mean that the path of least resistance shouldn’t be your default “go-to” when deciding what action to take next.
Get Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable
“Discomfort brings engagement and change. Discomfort means you’re doing something others are unlikely to do, because they’re hiding out in the comfortable zone.” — Seth Godin
The secret to your success lies within the very thing you’re avoiding.
Find ways to push your limits. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Be diligent and deliberate in finding a path that challenges you to go beyond “being average.” Push boundaries. Shift your perspective. Learn new skills and reach for personal transformation. When we’re challenged, we can become more than we were.
Learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable and doing things even when you don’t want to do them is one of the biggest keys to living a fulfilling life. But it’s also one of the biggest hurdles.
Stop doing what you’ve always done just because it’s easier. Don’t revert to old patterns when things get difficult or uncomfortable. Push forward. If it’s difficult, it means you’re growing and experiencing a shift in personal transformation.
Talk with people that you may not have thought to talk to before that approach life differently than you. Experience a new perspective. Read a book that you wouldn’t have read before. Go to an event that you’ve thought about but hadn’t gotten up the courage to go.
“I don’t think that staying with discomfort comes naturally. And finding ways to be with your discomfort is an essential skill for staying in the race. Any personal growth usually involves some kind of ability to stay with feelings of discomfort.”
“Let’s face it. If you are a seeker of any kind you will push boundaries. When we reach for personal transformation and start pushing edges and boundaries in our lives — we meet “the big work” and feelings of discomfort and wanting to flee from change surface.”
— Pamela Madsen, author or “Shameless”
Commit to not always taking the path of least resistance and see just how far you can go and what you can accomplish. I promise it will be worth it.
Great article and a good reminder!
Thanks, Cary! I’m glad you liked it. It was a reminder for myself as well!