Imagine you are going into an office that has two points of entry. Either door leads into the same large area. It’s during office hours, so you know both doors are unlocked. The first door you come to is closed. The second, a little further down the hall, is open. Which door do you go in?
I actually had that conversation with someone who challenged me. We were going down the hallway and I passed the first door – the closed one, and walked in through the open door.
“Why did you do that?” Krista asked.
“You walked past a perfectly good door to go through the second.”
“Because the second one was open,” I said, a little baffled that someone would actually question that.
“But the first one was closer,” Krista said. Krista was a high school senior, our next door neighbor, and wonderful babysitter. She was also literally a genius. We had lots of deep conversations like this back in the day.
Then I blurted out this little gem of wisdom that revealed a lot more than I planned: “Because the second door was the path of least resistance.”
She just shook her head like I was crazy (she did that a lot) and we moved on. But since that day I’ve noticed a bias I have to always prefer the path that looks the least resistant – even if it’s a bit out of the way. Some examples are harmless enough, even if they’re annoying to the back seat drivers in my life. For example, if I can keep the wheels moving in my car, I’ll drive a little further or zig-zag through neighborhoods to avoid a traffic light. And if the IRS says, “Aw, just send us a little form and wait until October 15 to give us the rest,” why not?
(I’m just smiling right now because somebody just read this and found their heart in their throat. Easy now. It’ll be OK. Just breathe…)
Efficiency or Avoidance?
Sometimes choosing the least resistance is a matter of efficiency. If I’m driving a three-inch wood screw into a heart pine stud, I’m grabbing the drill and screwdriver bit, thank you very much. Or better still, I’m looking for a son or son-in-law if one’s nearby.
What I didn’t realize until Krista’s challenge, however, is how much my mind works ahead to actually do this. One of the signs you’ve reached middle age is when you start buying extra stuff at the store, grocery or otherwise, to keep from having to make another trip.
And paper or plastic? Don’t even get me started. Okay, get me started. I always choose plastic and when the helpful sacker at the grocery store asks silly questions like, “Do you want me to bag the milk?” I reply, “Bag it all.”
I can load up plastic grocery bags up past my elbows and carry them all in with one or two trips. That way I live longer.
See, I figure that life is measured by the number of trips you make, not the number of days you see. And once you make your last trip, you die. I’m sure it must be in the Bible somewhere. So who wants to die one the way to their third trip to the dumpster, or with a single bag full of canned goods in their hand?
Then again, maybe I just hate making unnecessary trips. Or working longer or harder than I have to.
Anyway, some paths of least resistance aren’t efficiency at all – they’re just streaks of laziness.
The Avoidance in Your Head
Another kind of PLR can be very destructive. It’s the kind that is driven by fear, procrastination, or lame priorities. And most of those are built on lies.
It’s fear that keeps a lot of people out of the doctor’s office for those recommended checkups. In your head you know that you should, and you know if something is really wrong it’s easier to treat with early detection. But it’s even easier to just pretend you’re too busy to go today – maybe tomorrow or next month.
It’s fear that causes a lot of us to avoid conflict – sometimes at any cost. We’ll go along to get along, and remain silent rather than risk someone disagreeing with us or worse, attacking us. Yes, sometimes silence is golden. But sometimes it’s just plain yellow.
How to Tell the Difference
Even if you’re a guy, I have a challenge for you. Go back and read the description of the Virtuous Woman in Proverbs 31. In fact, read it twice. The first time, read how often she does things ahead of time – sometimes months ahead of time.
On the second read, take note of the emotions and attitudes she conveys through the process. Lots of joy, laughter, and trust.
The point: She doesn’t wait until the kids are hungry to figure out what’s for supper, and she doesn’t wait until they outgrow their clothes to make new ones.
She leans in.
Does that mean she avoids avoidance? No. It means she thinks ahead to avoid the right things – like hunger, cold and poverty.
That’s LifeVesting. Doing more than you have to, more often than you want to, for less gratification in the moment than you deserve. But in the process, rather than avoiding some minor inconveniences, you are avoiding something that can be really devastating down the road.
What are you avoiding? What paths of least resistance are you taking? Do they serve you well – not just in the immediate, but for the long run? If not, how long are you going to live your life based on fear or falsehood?
Maybe it’s time we all learned to make at least some resistance our friend.