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If you want to know how I got in shape this winter, it’s all because of a small shelf on the bottom of a wooden dresser. I positioned the dresser months ago in my living room so it’s almost exactly perpendicular to my front door. The top became a refuge for thrown keys and tossed sunglasses, while the bottom shelf was home to my sneakers and sandals.

It was just so easy. When the urge sizzled to go for a beach walk in the sun, I’d grab my sandals and hit the sand. When the gym called in (somewhat annoying) whispers of free weights and burpees, I took the sneakers and ran out the door. 

Little did I know, the placement of the dresser substantiated a Paleolithic psychological predilection: As human beings, as bodies subject to the laws of physics and nature, we always want to take the path of least resistance. We want to do what’s easiest and whatever requires the least amount of work.

I know, I know. Some of you are reading this right now shaking your heads. Not me, Melissa! No, I always do what’s hard. 

OK, maybe you do but it’s only because you’ve conditioned yourself for that type of behavior. For you, the hard is easy. The path of least resistance has fused itself with the path most difficult to climb. Doing what’s hard comes naturally to you because it’s been subsumed into the non-conscious portion of your brain where habits (good and bad) live.

Even if you think, “Ugh that is me. Binge-watching six consecutive hours of true crime documentaries on Netflix is just easier than going to that 7 p.m. spin class.” Well, that’s fine, too. You can use your propensity for the uncomplicated and effortless to propel a new, incredibly productive state of being. (And the world lets out a collective sigh of relief! Netflix and laziness can finally lead to professional productivity.)

Here’s more from a fantastic book I just read called “Atomic Habits,” written by the ultimate habits guru James Clear:

“[The] truth is, our real motivation is to be lazy and to do what is convenient. And despite what the latest productivity best seller will tell you, this is a smart strategy, not a dumb one. Energy is precious, and the brain is wired to follow the Law of Least Effort, which states that when deciding between two similar options, people will naturally gravitate toward the option that requires the least amount of work … Out of all possible actions we could take, the one that is realized is the one that delivers the most value for the least effort. We are motivated to do what is easy.”

Twirling this whole concept back to that small shelf by my door, the reason I can attribute a piece of furniture to salubrious living is simple: The drawer allowed the act of finding my shoes to become easy. No longer did I have to walk to the back of my apartment, rummage through a bin of footwear to excavate said sneakers. Now, with this magical shelf, I could grab them and go, like a fast-food line for a healthier lifestyle. (Even the idea of fast food is based on this principle: We eat the pizza, the fries, the burger because it’s so much easier than chewing through the less gooey, warm, satisfying bites of a quinoa and cabbage salad.)

ANYWAY. What does this all mean for you? Why is it good we recognize our inherent laziness and capitalize on its sloth-like entities to become better versions of ourselves? Glad you asked, friends. Let me break it down:

Personal Applications

Armed with the understanding that we are hard-wired to drift on the lazy river of ease, we can analyze our hardest tasks and most difficult challenges through the framework of the Law of Least Effort. To use an example from my own life that is entirely pertinent: this post. It’s true I adore my followers more than a neon sunset in the late afternoon but sitting down to write a long blog post isn’t easy. The blank page looms. The blinking cursor mocks with its effervescent rhythm.

A list of easier activities: sipping coffee and plopping myself down in a comfy chair at a neat desk with good light and quiet nothingness.

So, I cleaned my desk of random papers, moved my coffee pot closer and put my cell phone in another room to avoid its distracting buzzes. Clear refers to this as “environmental design” or creating a space that provides the least amount of friction for whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish. (If it’s flossing every night, set your floss right by your toothbrush.)

When I decreased the friction preventing this post from getting done, it became easier to do it. I’m now conditioned to understand writing 900-word posts as an easy task. I sit down and my fingers glide across the keys, tap-tapping like a jazz pianist in a smoky, Upper West Side lounge called Suede on a midnight Thursday.

The lesson: When something seems hard, reduce the stuff that’s causing you to stress about its hard-ness. It may still not be easier than watching the entire Season 2 of “Making a Murderer,” (there’s a reason Netflix utilizes the ease of automatically rolling one episode into the next), but it’s close.

Professional Applications

Ah, where to begin? The Law of Least Effort can be such a powerful marketing tool when crafting your business’ overall strategy. Ask yourself: Is the message I’m conveying tapping into the natural inclinations of people to do the easiest thing that reaps the most value? 

I’m not saying to close this email and go craft an entire campaign around a slogan that reads: “Hey, lazy! We’ll work for you while you sit on the couch.” I’m saying your marketing should reflect the fact that your business alleviates some burden in another person’s life that wouldn’t otherwise be placated without your service/product/That Thing You Do.

The theory can also be applied to the details of your business: the way you greet customers at the front desk; the way you phrase the subjects of your emails; the way you write captions on your Instagram posts; even the way your website is designed. When talking user experience (UX), the Law of Least Effort is key for organizations of all sizes. Massive, global companies can rearrange their check-out process (A.K.A. make it easier) and instantly create millions of dollars in new sales. A real estate brokerage can simplify its contact form then make it easier to find on the homepage and generate more leads. Knowing people want to opt for least difficult/most valuable is a powerful piece of information to keep in your ever-growing marketing toolbox.

Whenever a prospective client or customer realizes that what you do will make their lives easier while bringing them tremendous value, you’re golden. 

That’s all I’ve got for today’s little lesson on laziness. If you scrolled to the bottom of the post because you didn’t want to read a super long message, cool. Welcome to the end and here’s the main takeaway: When we recognize that laziness is good, what we’re actually saying is that there’s a real worth in imperfection. We’re admitting that it’s pretty awesome and life-changing to embrace how perfectly imperfect we can be.


  • eliwhi28 says:

    Melissa- This is excellent! I love all the writing you are publishing on the blog this year. You inspire me. Thanks. Econogal

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