Remaking Your Path of Least Resistance

Most of the time, our lives function along a path of least resistance.

We give into social cues because it’s the easiest path, causing us to buy stuff we don’t need and lust after “premium” items.

We don’t rock the boat at work because that’s the easiest path, causing us to run in place with our career.

We put our kids in the same activities everyone else puts their kids into, because it’s easier than figuring out what’s best for our specific child and finding activities that match that.

At the end of the day, we just flip on the television or the internet browser, because it’s easier than the other options.

Over and over again, we just follow the path of least resistance in our lives. But, as you can see, the path of least resistance usually doesn’t lead to success. We spend what we make. We don’t push ourselves to grow.

If you want to incorporate a positive change in your life, you need to alter your path of least resistance. Here are eight suggestions on how to do that.

Having trouble saving? Have your bank set up an automatic savings plan where a small amount is transferred from your checking account to your savings account each week or each month. That way, you don’t have to put forth any further effort to save.

Having trouble cutting your energy bill? Install a programmable thermostat and set it so that the air conditioning / furnace automatically turn off at night when you’re asleep and during the day when you’re at work.

Having trouble eating healthy? Go through your cupboards, get rid of the junk food, and give it to a food pantry. Replace it with healthier stuff. This way, when you get the urge to munch, unhealthy food won’t be at hand.

Having trouble finding spare time? Take your television and throw it in the trash can. That’ll free up some time – after all, the average American spends 151 hours a month watching television.

Having trouble focusing on computer tasks? Block distracting websites so you can’t go there even if you’re tempted to. I do this myself during the work day, as I set up a collection of scripts to block several distracting sites.

Having trouble eating at home? Make lots of meals in advance so that you can come home to prepared or mostly-prepared meals. Make casseroles on the weekends and freeze them. Put them in the oven in the morning and set the timer so the meal will be done at 6:30. Get a slow cooker and do much the same thing. That way, when you’re on your way home and you think about eating out, you’ll remember you have a meal ready to eat at home.

Having trouble keeping grocery spending under control? Make a meal plan before you go to the store. From that plan, make a grocery list. Having a grocery list in hand makes it much easier to buy sensibly at the grocery store.

Having trouble getting together consistently with friends? Set up a regular “meal night” with a circle of friends so that they know that every (say) Wednesday night, they’re invited to dinner at your house – or someone’s house in the circle. Once this gets going, it’s automatic and effortless and a great way to keep your social circle going.

If you put up a little bit of work now so that the path of least resistance later on leads to better behavior, you’ll win.

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  1. Great advice about eating healthy! I did exactly what you mentioned with our cupboards and am now tracking our spending to see whether or not it is really all that much more expensive eat healthy. Here is an article about my quest towards a more healthy diet:

    http://hundredgoals.com/2010/04/18/update-goal-28-eat-a-balanced-diet/

  2. Great Post! As much as this pains me to do so I am going to reference a Dave Ramsey “principle” as he repeats it nearly every podcast.

    Personal Finances is 90% behavior and 10% math. You can make all the excel sheets, arguments, and goals you want, but if your behavior and actions do not reflect the intellectual exercise all is lost.

    Thanks for reinforcing and sharing some tips on changing behaviors for the better!

  3. Ross says:

    How do you set an oven to have your meal done hours later? What about preheat times? I don’t think I have seen any oven that can do this, where can I learn about this?

  4. Great ideas! I truly believe in being automatic when it comes to investing and many other things. Make it a process, not whenever you think of it. I blog about these kind of things on DOLLARS NOT DEBT.

  5. J. O. says:

    Leaving a frozen casserole out of refrigeration all day can cause food poisoning – a better way is to pull it out of the freezer the night before or morning of, leave it there to partially thaw in safety during the day, then microwave it to “done” when you get home. Bonus: the thawing casserole helps keep your fridge cold, and using the microwave to heat it up is far more energy efficient than using the regular oven.

  6. michael bash says:

    Trent, this may be your way, but why try to foist it off on your readers who are probably older, more experienced, wiser and better educated than you. You’re falling into the blogger as egotist trap again. Beware.

  7. JB says:

    You can also use extensions to block websites. I’m using two: LeechBlock for Firefox and StayFocusd for Chrome. You can always simply disable them (although StayFocusd has some protections against that), but I find that they keep me on task.

  8. Bobbi says:

    Please take your TV to a proper recycle location or freecycle it. You didn’t really mean to literally throw it into the trash!!

  9. marta says:

    @Bobbi: Who knows? Other posts tell me to throw the TV out the window, which would be littering.

    Freecycling or selling it (I have managed to do that myself) would be better options.

    I find the advice on such matters to be somewhat extreme: you can decrease your TV watching without throwing the TV , and you can decrease your credit card use without cutting the cards up. Sure, there must be *some* people who require such extreme measures, but they don’t apply to most of us.

  10. Vtcouponqueen says:

    My life has always been a struggle to not take the path of least resistance because I have a personality that wants to be lazy at times yet I am often full of creativity and motivation. For too long I let others determine what was acceptable and stepping out of the box onto my own was scary but now there’s no turning back!

  11. Vtcouponqueen says:

    Michael since today I am not feeling particularly influenced by others, please find a large heavy rock to climb under. I suspect you have plenty of people willing to throw the rock on top of you.

  12. Jon says:

    Yes, lets give junk food to less fortunate people. Because when they have health problems from all the unhealthy food we gave them, then we can pay for that too.

  13. Nate says:

    Wow! Lots of negative comments on what I thought was a pretty good article. It’s Mother’s Day people, lighten up! This is a principle I’ve only recently started to consciously implement, and I’m over 30 with an engineering degree michael. The difference in setting a bill to autopay vs consciously having to do it is stupidly freeing to me. Also have started buying little regular things like toothpaste, tp, etc in bulk and now my non-grocery shopping list is half as long on average. Leaving cleaning supplies in different parts of the house definitely makes it easier to take the 5 minutes to dust when normally the logistics would be too annoying to bother. I’m divorced and manage my house on my own w kiddos half the time. Have to do things differently now and be more mindful of these things or I get buried!

  14. sheila says:

    The slow cooker I just bought is already making my life so much easier, and I anticipate it will lighten the grocery bill, too. There was the up-front expense of the cooker (the one I chose has three different sized crocks and was around $70) plus buying extra staples like beans and grains and spices at the bulk food shop, but in the coming weeks I foresee my grocery bills going down quite a bit.

    Having the crock pot has forced me to do meal planning — I’ve always known that I should do this, but I had been dragging my feet. It is not taking as much time or effort as I had expected. And now that I am planning ahead, grocery shopping goes faster and I no longer have to make extra trips to the store.

    The crock pot ends up saving me even more time because I can take one crock pot dish and stretch it for two or three meals, since there are only two of us.

    An unexpected result is how it is helping me to connect with my husband. He’s always been a foodie and I am not, and he has done nearly all the cooking and much of the grocery shopping. Now I can share more in the shopping and food preparation, lifting some of the burden from him, and I am picking up a little of his enthusiasm for cooking.

  15. Sam says:

    I wrote about this exact topic a couple weeks ago. Trent does a better job explaining it than I did, but I think it’s interesting that we both came to the same conclusion.

    http://www.thesimplerlife.net/2010/04/13/how-to-use-the-path-of-least-resistance-productively/

  16. Steffie says:

    Not every program on TV is junk, PBS etc can give a person a taste of a subject and may lead to further research at the library. And honestly, what is wrong with being mindless for an bit after working all day ? It is all about balance.

  17. Evita says:

    Few of us live in a vacuum. I could clean the house of the TV and the junk food and endure the wrath of my frustrated family!!
    I agree with Steffie… I cannot and do not want to be productive all the time, and some engrossing program on TV helps me relax.
    But I see your point Trent……

  18. Steve says:

    The web site you linked to doesn’t actually tell you how to block sites, just cookies. Some sites won’t work very well without cookies, and maybe you’ll even get a warning message to pop up when you visit a site… but it’s not going to stop your browsing.

  19. Frank says:

    I enjoyed this post because it gives active steps you can take to improve some aspect of your career or personal life. Although each specific piece of advice may not fit my personal situation I think it can be a benefital to take the message at heart. Do something, rather extreme or minor to set yourself up for a better future.

  20. steve says:

    There’s a plug-in for Mozilla Firefox called LeechBlock that really does block websites. Fully-customizable in a number of ways, from complete lock-out, to timed access, and scheduled dates for blocking…I recommend you try it.

    I’m not so sure on blocking apps for other browsers, but if they don’t exist yet, I’m sure they’re in development.

  21. HILARIE MOORE says:

    I love this blog/newletter and I really admire that you are able to read so many books seemily so fast. How do you do it? I love to read but I don’t think I can read very fast or with good complrehension.
    Have you ever studied any of the speed reading methods or do you know anything about any of the methods? If you have a chance to post the response or send me a quick response personally I would really appreciate your input.
    All the best, Hilarie

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