The Path of Least Resistance

Seven was the age my daughter dreamed of when she was very small. Every sentence started with “When I’m seven…”. It was as if anything was possible in the world of a seven year old. Then something very strange and unexpected started happening. When she reached about 6-1/2 she started to say she didn’t want to be seven. She was very upset about it. It was as if she felt she would be entering the world of the big people and she wasn’t ready for it. She even made a connection that I would never have thought of. She said, “Bunnies are cuter than rabbits, kittens are cuter than cats, puppies are cuter than dogs. I’m not going to be cute anymore.” For her, it wasn’t about her appearance; it was more about a way to be. Once we pointed out a few teenagers she knew that still were adorably cute in every way, she felt better. It was as if we gave her permission to continue being a child for a while longer.

Years later, we listening to NPR in the car together and they started talking about the history of childhood. It turns out that seven has historically been the age when children went from the baby stage of always being taken care of by their mothers to the stage where they were expected to contribute to the family by working alongside their parents. It’s apparently the international age of responsibility. Who knew? Markee, I guess.

Are any of us really ready for the responsibilities that come with adult life? I know I was not at all. Life is far, far more difficult than I had ever realized. So is it better to have a “magical” childhood, free from all worry and responsibility because someday it will all come to an abrupt end? Or to learn gradually as a child that life is going to be difficult? It’s a tough question. Children who are given a strong dose of “reality” can dread growing up. But then again, children who don’t know what’s going to be expected of them will have a terribly rude awakening at some point in their adult life.

For some reason I have been thinking a lot about this lately. You know how once you notice something you start to see it everywhere you look? That’s how it’s been for me with this concept of what I call taking the “path of least resistance”. I don’t think most people are aware that it is our natural tendency to want everything to be easy. That doesn’t sound like rocket science, but seriously, think about that. We want EVERYTHING to be easy. We don’t want to give up our current comfort level, even if it might mean we will accomplish something that will be extremely worthwhile. Not that the harder way is automatically the best. We just tend to write it off without even considering it because we want so badly to take the easy way.

I once heard a speaker talking about the importance of exercise. He said, “If I told you I had a pill that would make you feel more alert, stronger, healthier, happier, and thinner, would you want to take it? Now, what if that pill took 20 minutes to swallow and you had to take it three to four times every week. Would you still want it?” The truth is, most of us would not. Too hard. Too difficult. There has to be a “better” (ie: easier) way, right?

I saw Diane Sawyer interview Nancy Reagan years ago. I remember how when Diane asked Nancy: “And what do you do on those days when you just can’t go on?” and Nancy kindly responded, “Well, Diane, we just can’t have those days.” It sounds impossible. Your beloved husband has Alzheimer’s and is dying. She didn’t even consider giving up an option, though. It’s hard work to be strong. It’s sometimes easier to just “accept” that we aren’t strong enough. But it leaves us feeling like a failure.

What we don’t realize is that when we choose the easy way, we are often choosing what we will later consider to be failure.

As usual, I don’t have any great answers. Is it wrong to look for shortcuts and easier paths? Not always. I just think we need to be much, much more aware of our motivations. We need to think more before we make a choice. Before we say “I can’t” or “I have to” we need to realize there are options either way. The options might not be appealing, but we need to think further ahead than our current comfort level. What will be the consequences of this choice, good and bad? Would it be beneficial to take the less painful route? Or would I just be avoiding the pain for the sake of avoiding the pain?

Next time you have a choice to make, big or small, stop for a minute and ask yourself:

  • “Which of these options is easier / causes less pain?”
  • “Which of these options would I choose if there were no pain involved either way?”
  • “Am I making my decision based on the hoped for outcome or my current comfort level?”

Maybe then we can stop ourselves from making quick decisions that leave us feeling like failures and don’t achieve what we set out to achieve. We could even end up with a sense of accomplishment at having chosen the more difficult way, and finishing well.

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