The Struggle Against The Path Of Least Resistance

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Energy always moves along the path of least resistance. It moves where it is easiest for it to go. So do our brains. So does water in a river. So do cows. So do the winds blowing through the concrete jungles of cities filled with skyscrapers. They all take the path of least resistance.

We live in a world where attention sells more than products. The largest platforms on the planet are in the business of diverting your attention so that they can sell your attention to make some money.

The path of least resistance currently for all of us is our smartphone. We pick it multiple times a day. Research says 85 times. Spend 3 hours every day mindless scrolling and consuming worthless content which is dead the minute you stop consuming it. Our brains then design worldviews based on the content we consume.

Facebook is the new cigarettes…You know, it’s addictive. It’s not good for you. Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce

The real motivation for our brain is to be lazy and do what is convenient and gratifying. If we were given two options, we naturally gravitate towards the options that require the least efforts. Our brains are designed to conserve energy.

We do realise the harm such least resistant things do to our long-term well bing. We take steps to try to change our situation by changing the direction of flow in our life but we end up returning to our original behaviors and attitudes. It is the underlying structures in our lives that determine our paths. The current structure determines our behavior.

  • Some examples of the structures which cause us to take the path of least resistance are –
    • Access to a TV set at home that causes us to use it rather than spend time reading a book
    • Access to social media applications on phone leading to mindless scrolling for hours.
    • Access to junk food at home.
    • Access to a comfortable job
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Do you see the pattern? It’s all about accessibility.

We can change our paths by changing the structure of our lives. Once you change the structure, the path of least resistance only takes you to places where you want to go. So how do we change our structures that cause us to change our behavior?

Reduce attention residue

As you multi-task or switch from one task to another, for example one meeting to another in your office, you experience attention reside. You are more likely to demonstrate poor performance on your next task. Reduce such interruptions during the day to do deep work.

Three to four hours a day, five days a week, of uninterrupted and carefully directed concentration, it turns out, can produce a lot of valuable output – Cal Newport

Prime The environment for future use and better use

A cluttered space does not allow you to focus on the work you want to do. Priming the environment for future use means setting the place back in order for using it next time. For example, cleaning your desk and making it ready for work next day. Making your bed as soon as you wake up.

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In a study by Gloria Mark, a professor of informatics at the University of California, it was noted that any interruption, even if short, caused the workers in offices to delay the total time required to complete a task by significant fraction. So how do you remove interruptions in your life? Switch off your phone. Close your mail box. Sit in an isolated room. Go to a cafe. Use noise cancelling headphones.

Dedicate thinking to the question of how you want to spend your day and your day within a day. Put more thought into your leisure time. Don’t default your relaxation to whatever catches your attention immediately.

Reduce friction

I want to read more books. So I keep books at all places I spend most of my time at home. That ways I am bound to pick it up at-least once a day.

James Clear suggests reducing friction by removing your presence in high friction environments. If you want to go to the gym everyday, make sure its on your way to work. If you have to take another route to go to the gym, you will end up not going on most days.

Increase Friction Associated With Bad Behaviors

A bad behavior could be eating too much sugar. How do you increase friction? Stop buying products that contain sugar. You may not want to go to the supermarket every time you had an urge to eat something sweet.

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Another bad behavior could be losing money through mindless trading. The best friction that could be created here is disabling all your trading accounts. Never having enough margin to trade. There are many possibilities.

Commit Less

We tend to get scared because we over commit. Instead commit less. If you aim to do 100 push ups every day, commit to do just 1. The chances of you undertaking the activity increases manifold by just committing to start doing it.

What Do You Do When Your Structures Fail?

Create firebreaks. Firebreaks are the gaps created in forests to avoid spread of fires. You could do something similar in your life. It is the fastest way to get out of a slump. The firebreak you create can work as a daily or weekly checkpoint. It will allow you to start fresh with a clean slate. Daily journal writing, weekly reviews are some great habits.

What we choose to focus on and what we choose to ignore- plays an important part in defining our lives. Gallagher


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