How To Make Progress Without Even Really Trying

Path of Least Resistance by Billtacular

It's all about finding the path of least resistance.

Every living thing on Earth is really, really lazy – and you and I are no exception. There’s a good reason for it too, food and water can be hard to come by for species without supermarkets. Even we had to be concerned about finding enough food before about 10,000 years ago. Several billions of years of punishing any and all inefficiency shaped pretty much all life into remarkably efficient things and have hardcoded one basic tenet into all organisms – take the path of least resistance.

When you have limited amounts of energy to expend it just makes sense. If you burn up more energy to catch dinner than you take in by eating it, you’re just not going to last very long. Taking the path of least resistance meant using the least amount of energy necessary to achieve your goals. In the past, that meant effiency. Efficiency meant survival. Everything worked great.

Fast forward to now. Once we came up with agriculture, we set in motion the outsourcing of all our efficiency problems to technology. We don’t have to chase down a rabbit to get enough calories to keep our body working, or wrestle an elk to the ground to feed our family. We walk to the fridge, open it, and can eat more food in a sitting than our ancestors got in a week.

We just don’t have to worry about being efficient anymore, in fact, technology has made our lives so comfortable we have to purposefully do things that are inefficient from a survival standpoint to not get fat. If you tried to articulate to a person from 50,000 years ago that you go out and run around because you get too many calories each day then you better be wearing a poncho because their heads would probably explode with how ridiculous that is.

Times may have changed, but we haven’t – 10,000 years is a blink on the evolutionary scale. Less than a blink, really. If all of human history were one 24 hour period, agriculture would be discovered around 11:58 at night. We are still the same as our ancestors were back when dinner meant killing something twice your size and exercise meant keeping out of a Smilodon’s stomach.

That means that the proclivity for taking the path of least resistance is still alive and well within us. The problem is, it’s just not necessary anymore. It used to be the key to survival, now technology is. Embittered by its obsoleteness, that drive to take the path of least resistance now chooses to manifest itself as an affliction endemic to modern life, motivation-sapping laziness.

You know the feeling. You should go work out, but you really just don’t feel like it. You need to clean up your desk, reoganize your office, and tackle that stack of papers, but you can just worry about it later. You could be learning a new language, practicing Parkour, or working on starting your own business – but that’s hard, and improving your life can wait, you’re almost to the part where you fight Ganondorf.

So How Do You Fix It?

Good question. Thankfully, it’s easy to do. Even better, you won’t just be fixing the problem, you’ll be using the problem against itself to achieve your goals even faster. That’s a personal-development irimi-nage right there.

Step one is to identify and understand the problem itself. Here it is, you have a natural inclination chiseled into your brain to always favor the path of least resistance. That path tends to be the lazy one that leads you away from your goals and toward self-destructive, time-wasting activities.

Step two is to determine what about the problem we can change to remedy it, and the best way to make those changes. Now, some people might jump to the willpower fix. Sure, it may be easy to say, “Well, I’ll just fight it. Tough it out! I can make myself be productive!”

That may work for a bit, but there’s two problems. The first is, you have a finite amount of willpower. Eventually, it’s going to run out and you’ll be right back where you started. That’s just not sustainable. Secondly, you’re talking about fighting your very nature, here. There are some battles you should just avoid in the first place and fighting your base instincts like that is one of them.

So what can we change then? Look at things a slightly different way. The problem isn’t that you have a tendency to take the path of least resistance. The problem lies in where you wind up when you take that path. So what would happen if you redirected things and >made the path of least resistance go to where you wanted to wind up?

Rather than be naturally inclined to do things that work against you, you’d be inclined to do things that further your goals. That means you can get more productive things done without even really trying.

Step three is all about implementing it. This may take some creativity, but it’s usually not too difficult. Determine what things you can change (they’re usually little things) that will make it easier for you to do what you need to do than to do something that wastes time. It doesn’t just have to go one way either, like Caroline mentioned when she wrote about barriers, you can do the opposite and make it extra hard to engage in negative behaviors.

When you start putting these techniques into proactice, you’ll find yourself doing the things you need to be doing without even thinking about it. Before too long, you’ll find yourself progressing towards your goals without having to put in any extra effort.

I prefer ‘show’ over ‘tell’, so let’s look at some examples.

  • Pre-Arrange Your Workout – Have trouble going out in the morning for sprint training, heading down to the gym or going downstairs for a bodyweight strength training session? Get everything ready the night before. Lay out your gym clothes wherever you normally get dressed in the morning, have your shoes and your keys next to them ready to go if necessary. That way there’s no excuse not to get right in your exercise clothes and get started.
  • Freeze Your Credit Card – This is a really old one, but it’s still an excellent example. If you have issues controlling yourself when it comes to using the credit cards, drop it in a container of water and freeze it. That way, it’s a serious pain to pull it out and use it and you’ll only do it if you really need to.

  • Clean Your Fridge – Anyone who’s tried to lose weight knows struggling with temptation is brutal. So, why even let yourself be tempted? Donate all your junk food to people who can’t afford food in the first place, and stock your fridge and pantry with good, primal foods. That way, when you get hungry and go digging through the fridge, you only have good options. If you want to eat garbage, you’re going to have to go out of your way to do it and, chances are, you just won’t bother.

All these are just the obvious examples. If you’re creative, you can find tons of ways to make doing what you need to do easier, and doing what you shouldn’t be doing harder. If you’ve had any success with this, let us know how you did it! The options really are endless.

Adam is a former English teacher turned personal trainer and writer. He’s addicted to learning, parkour and martial arts. In addition to being a voracious bibliophile Adam’s fascinated by anything related to health, fitness and language. When not studying or training he can usually be found curled up with a good piece of fiction. You can e-mail Adam at