Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
13 Mar

Why Humans Like Taking the Easy Way Out

easyhardwayWe fetishize hard work a bit, don’t we?

Toil, endless toil; gritty determination in the face of adversity; and ceaseless, relationship-rending labor are virtues to be praised. We applaud each other for working late, snicker at those who don’t, and measure our self-worth in timestamps. Meanwhile, those who “take the easy way out” are ridiculed and lambasted and passed over for promotions. Googling the term returns pages and pages of blogs explaining how to kick the habit of taking it easy. By all accounts, taking the easy way out seems harmful and counterproductive to our survival in this world. Why, then, do so many of us seem drawn to the path of least resistance? If “the hard route” leads to riches, why isn’t seeking it hard-wired in us all? Why do we tend to look for the easy way out of a situation?

Well, it’s just easier that way, for one. Physics says that the path of least resistance is generally the one taken.

Think about the evolutionary context, too – the context(s) under which we lived, evolved, adapted, and figured out how to survive. Like any other animal living in nature, we had to conserve energy when we could, because a grocery store wasn’t always right around the corner. We liked shortcuts, because those were more efficient and they used less energy and fewer resources. Toolmaking? Tools make tasks easier. An average 4-hour workday with plenty of downtime for leisure activities? That’s the easy way out. Persistence hunting? Easy way out. It just so happens that in the ancestral context, the “easy way” worked. Using persistence hunting as an example, this allowed hunters to bag an animal without burning through all their glycogen and electrolyte stores. Whereas attempting to run the animal down at a blistering-5 minute mile marathon pace would lead to pulled muscles, strained ligaments, exhausted glycogen stores, dehydration, and near-certain failure, the “easy way out” was also the most effective way forward.

Today, the situation is different. You’re not going to die (today) because you overextended yourself at work. You might be stressed out and sleep-deprived, but you’ll still have that car waiting in the garage to take you home to your refrigerator full of food and warm bed. You can overextend yourself and reap great financial rewards with minimal immediate risk to your personal safety. Survival is no longer about digging up some tubers, killing game, finding water, and avoiding the elements. Most of us have to figure out ways to obtain the slips of paper that are redeemable for goods and services, and that can take some hard, weird work. We’re paying for college tuitions, housing, transportation, smartphone data plans, vacations.

Population dynamics have changed, too. No longer are we drawing upon fertile, untouched grounds teeming with edible life and resources without much competition from others. Now we’re applying for jobs with hundreds of other applicants, or trying to make our products/businesses stand out amidst the burgeoning crowd. We stand alone as individuals against everyone else (or at least it can feel like that). The easy way out doesn’t work quite as well as it once did.

Yet the urge remains in many of us. I can relate. I grew up taking the easy way out as often as I could. Instead of walking to school, I ran. It was faster, it was more enjoyable, and it was just easier than trudging along. I’d take short cuts through wooded areas, again because it was faster, more enjoyable, and easier. When figuring out what sport to take up, I chose the easier route. Instead of working on my handle, lateral quickness, outside shot, and passing ability to overcome my size and excel at basketball, I went with cross country because it was something I was already good at. This continued in college and, really, throughout my life. I’d often choose to run fifteen miles to prep for a race instead of study extra hard for the exam because, well, running was “easier.” I coasted through with solid B’s because, well, it was good enough for what I wanted to do and because I had decided to postpone med school. All these shortcuts made sense to me, and they worked for me.

Later, when I realized that my training schedule was impeding my health and that I could improve my physique and overall fitness with less training and less endurance work, I jumped on it. I made my short, hard workouts shorter and more intense and my long, easy workouts longer and easier. Lifting weights was hard work, but packing it in to a smaller time frame somehow felt easier. Going for runs or cycling at a moderately high intensity for upwards of an hour was hard and fairly unpleasant, while extending the time and reducing the intensity was more enjoyable. It became a hike, a leisure activity. I was taking the easy way out with my workouts and getting better results.

I even designed my entire eating philosophy around taking the path of least resistancespontaneous reduction in hunger instead of calorie counting, food quality instead of quantity, avoiding the problematic foods instead of soaking/sprouting/fermenting to make them less problematic – to get the best results. So there’s definitely still a place for taking the easy way out.

It’s really only in the business world that I’ve opted not to take the easy way out. I’ve had to put in the time, the hours, the grunt work to really excel and help build the Primal community from the ground up. Even though this venture has been a huge success, there are also drawbacks. I don’t have as much free time as I might prefer. I have to deal with ample amounts of stress. Even then, my decision to take the hard route and build this business was ultimately about improving my quality of life (and that of others, I hope!) and making it easier to do what I wanted to do.

And that’s the thing: sometimes shortcuts work, sometimes they fall short. Sometimes it makes sense to take the easy way, sometimes it doesn’t. Being drawn to the easy route isn’t a fault, it’s a built-in feature from long ago that doesn’t always work so well today. It doesn’t make us weak, though, and it’s not always a mistake to listen to that urge. You just have to be selective in choosing when and where to listen depending on the situation.

Overall, I think our preference for the easy route is a good thing, because it leads to shortcuts and improved efficiency – even if we have to work really hard for awhile to get there. So while the guys at the startup putting in 20 hour days are absolutely not taking the easy way out, their ultimate goal is to streamline the business so that things are easier and more efficient later. The woman who walks an hour every day instead of driving everywhere isn’t taking the easy route, but in forty years she’ll be the one playing with her grandkids, walking up stairs without an issue, and having an overall easier life than the person who opted to drive everywhere and never exercise. In the grand scheme of things, all these people who worked hard did so to relax and enjoy things later on.

We all want to take the easy route, even if we have to take a more difficult, roundabout way to get there.

As long as you’re aware of the evolutionary underpinnings of our urge to take the easy way out and selective in your response to that urge, you should be okay. Work hard and take risks where appropriate, take shortcuts when they work without shortchanging the final result. At any rate, blanket statements like “avoid the easy way out” aren’t very helpful, and they can even get you into trouble.

What about you? How have you taken the easy way out in life? When has it ruined you? When has it paid off?

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. This is how I discovered co-sleeping when my oldest was a baby. He was very colicky and the only way I could get any rest was to lie down with him when he nursed. We’ve never had a colicky baby since, but we haven’t set up a crib since then either. I have a bed rail on my side of the bed and a stash of diapers, wipes, sleepers and a book light on the nightstand. My feet don’t touch the floor at night at all. Everyone sleeps great and it’s definitely easiest for me!

    Momofmany wrote on March 13th, 2013
  2. Great article.
    Working smart instead of hard is more productive and healthier.
    It is also more fun and feels more like play than work.

    Sabine wrote on March 13th, 2013
  3. Work hard when it is an investment. When it is not one should seek a path of less resistance i.e., work smarter.

    Heretic wrote on March 13th, 2013
  4. Mark, I just want to say thank you so much. Until I stumbled across your site, I was confused, angry and tired of trying to “figure everything out” all the time. I have found a way to live my life so it doesn’t revolve around food; I eat so little now and feel amazing after just a week and a half; I now enjoy moving just because I can and actually taking the time to spend playing with my kids, which I’ve always shied away from because I didn’t really have much of a childhood.

    You have made me realise that my dreams of becoming a herbalist and nutritionist are just as noteworthy as any other profession and perhaps even more so, now I have REAL information to impart. I want to help you in this revolution, because here across the pond, things are as bad (if not a little worse for lack of sunshine) as they are in your neck of the woods, and people deserve to know the truth. My mother has also latched onto this site as a life-line, a breath of fresh air, and is also already feeling brand new after her second bout of breast cancer surgery. I know she would second my message to you.

    I have struggled year in and year out with my weight, working really hard to shed the post-partum blubber that crept up on me, and now I understand why it was all in vain. I want other people to know too, that you are right and it is not their fault. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for that course you’re preparing for this year.

    So thank you; for your hard work, for your willingness to share and for the candid truth you speak so freely. For changing lives and empowering people. For walking the walk and being honest about the results. Now if only we could find someone in the UN to pour truth serum into just before a big press conference…

    TamJohnson wrote on March 13th, 2013
  5. This brings to memory a time when there was a community improvement pjt. on my street. People volunteered to break up the sidewalk and were provided with sledge hammers.
    There were four massively built guys taking turns slugging away at the flat concrete – a magnificent show they were putting on for onlookers their muscles bulging and bodies covered in sweat -contrasted by their lack of progress on breaking up the concrete.
    About a hundred feet down the sidewalk was a skinny young guy. He had forced a wedge underneath the sidewalk and was easily breaking it up barely breaking a sweat just cruising along.

    RJ wrote on March 13th, 2013
  6. Great Article and great lesson in life. I’ve heard it since I was a little boy. Work smarter not harder. Small victories today equal big wins tomorrow. I heard a funny quote the other day by the Host of Fast Lane Daily Derrek D. He said, “Make today count because if you don’t it wont add up.” It was funny but true. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Things take time in life. Looking for shortcuts allows us to enjoy it.

    RicG wrote on March 13th, 2013
  7. Hi All, it’s interesting reading this. In fact, the way you titled your post I had the impression you’d advocate in favour of exclusivity in choosing the path of least resistance. However, your words were well put and you managed to combine experiences where either options were prevalent.

    The path of least resistance in my opinion has been the reason for many people to feel hopeless after attempting to get a better happy life. Recently, I finished reading a book written by Shawn Achor who scientifically put together why happiness is the engine for success in life. For those interested in seeking happiness and improving overall life enjoyment I’d highly recommend reading Shawn Achor’s book “The Happiness Advantage”

    Cheers all!

    Carlos

    Carlos Aggio wrote on March 13th, 2013
  8. I’ve been a workaholic a great deal of my life, putting in a lot of 14 hour days or more as a self-employed artist and writer–and I’m finally learning to work smarter, not harder. It’s a lot more enjoyable and lets me have more time to do the things I REALLY love. Many of them are straight primal, too!

    Cathy Johnson (Kate) wrote on March 13th, 2013
  9. And here I thought me always taking the easy way out was just an example of being lazy :)

    Seriously, “taking the easy way out” is really just a matter of efficiency. This is true of just about anything, so all of this makes perfect sense.

    Tom wrote on March 13th, 2013
  10. The first thing I could think when I read the title of this article was humans probably take the easy way out for the same reasons animals do. Because the nature of survival provides the hard work, and plenty of it. Taking the path of least resistance is hard-wired into our genetics. “Recover when you can” is a survival adaptation, and Mark has made thaqt point well. But he neglected to mention something, something hidden but very real. Humans have “advanced” into social structures created by psychopaths – the people in history who have been psychopathic enough to claw their way up over the bodies of everybody else to the top so they can use man’s nature against him to control him, enslave him in one form or another. So they are served and the common man is has no control over real resources on this planet and no control over his destiny. This should be hitting home with most of you reading this by now. Open your mind and listen to Alan Watt speak on this undeniable reality: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x26Q2XUZVwE

    David Marino wrote on March 13th, 2013
  11. Mark,

    Some of the fittest people I know have achieved success by taking a minimalist approach and cutting out any unnecessary training in their routines and foods from their diets.

    I’ve always believed in this notion of working smarter instead of harder because if you look for shortcuts and loopholes, you can accomplish just as much, if not more, and increase your free time to improve your quality of life.

    Alykhan

    Alykhan wrote on March 13th, 2013
  12. What you’ve raised is really interesting. I have to agree that the easy way is sometimes the best way.

    THR1VE wrote on March 13th, 2013
  13. So true Mark.
    It´s all about going with the flow, not against it.

    I´ve been going against the flow for almost my entire life, pushing back whan I should have let go, not accepting what is. But once I started easing up on life became soooo much more enjoyable :)

    That goes for food, for excersize, for work, for relationships… The whole shebang.

    Elin wrote on March 13th, 2013
  14. GAY

    GAY wrote on March 13th, 2013
  15. There was this touching documentary about abandoned dogs on TV that I watched decades ago. The premise was how does a family dog copes with life after it has been abandoned and is without safety and food after years of being fed and living in a house. The days after it was abandoned would be the most grueling days, starving and in constant fear. Then, the dog would slowly start forming patterns to its life, it would always go to a certain farm at a certain time where it had encountered food and return to the same place of safety that it had discovered. In the months after abandonment, it had quietly settled into a routine of scrounging the same locations and seeking shelter at the same place.

    As humans we do the same thing. We cozy up to your little routines and when they are gone, life is hard until we find another source of food and safety and then form routines around it as well.

    There are no shortcuts, doing something over and over again makes it easy to do. For some people, 10-20 miles at marathon pace is a daily routine.

    Mark Strasell wrote on March 14th, 2013
  16. I couldnt agree more with everything youve said, Mark. At university, I went down the path of greater resistance — majoring in a subject because it’s what my parents, who were paying, thought I should do, instead of doing the subject I was naturally good at — and it has NOT paid off. I didnt do all that well at uni, as i preferred to party instead of reading & working at a subject that didnt come easily. For my entire working life, I’ve felt like I was on the wrong course and couldn’t get back where I wanted to be. I have also tended to take the hard way in some personal relationships, staying with someone who maybe isn’t a natural fit for me. It’s not the way to live in harmony. It just adds tremendous, terrible stress. After 15 or 20 years of this kind of living, my health is suffering. Living in constant stress can cause an overwork of the adrenal glands, to the point that they don’t work proprerly any more. Long-term stress can literally take a decade or more off your life. Hard work and persistence are good habits, and ‘taking the easy way’ in no way implies avoiding them. It just means optimising your life by doing that which you were meant to do.

    Turquoise Goddess wrote on March 14th, 2013
    • Wow, that is the most insightful reply of all of them. It made me think a lot. I hope I don’t end up with someone that isn’t a natural fit for me. Thanks, Turqoise Goddess.

      David wrote on March 14th, 2013
  17. I’m very happy to hear that I’m not really lazy, I’m just smart and efficient! Thanks Mark!

    Ara wrote on March 14th, 2013
  18. If primal is the right way to live, then every aspect of primal is to be considered. I am happy to explore each aspect as it comes along to see if I resonate with it. Last year it was to put more play into my life. At age 58, I was amazed at how much better it made me feel along with the primal diet and lifestyle.I never pass up a chance to play now. I have pared down many things in my life that I thought should be essential. There were so many things that I am gradually revamping my life to be simpler. I am much more happy. It makes sense to take the easy way. The easy way does not necessarily mean the lazy way. I found it much more easier to dig a 5 X 5 x 5 foot deep hole in my yard and to replace a leaking water line to my house than to pay the city $6,000 to do it for me with a back hoe. They were incredulous that I would do it by hand and do it myself. I could, so I did. Primal living at it’s best. None of my 58 year old peers would dream of doing it. They probably couldn’t. I was happy to save the money. It only took a day to do. I used a tarp and cut out the grass and then put it all back the next day. You could not even tell it was done when I was finished. The back hoe would have wrecked my yard. Just one example…I have many more.

    lynn wrote on March 14th, 2013
  19. This post reminds me of building a tipi. I practically always took the easy way when finding, collecting, and moving wood for it. Part of my intention in the construction of it was to get exercise but mostly I just wanted to build something that looked impressive or fantastic, something I could look at and be proud of, and something to perpetually exhibit until it rots, like a temporary shrine, not for credit but for the effect it has on the viewer. I wonder how many people, kids especially, have been driven by and seen the tipi standing on top of its ridge and marvelled at it, wondered who built it and how. Maybe some have built their own. There were a lot of logs I could have carried in ways that may have garnered me more strength but getting the work done in good time was the main goal.
    Nature sets us up to be able to work out obstacles with cunning and diligence, not just an indomitable fortitutde.
    Moving wood, especially bendable wood, is a good way to increase your ability to manipulate organic physics as well. I dragged, carried, and rolled the wood, and pulled what I couldn’t lift. It’s almost like having a sixth sense when you feel the vibrations and tension in the wood, the compounded friction of soil that it’s dragged across,the strain of tugged plants.

    Animanarchy wrote on March 14th, 2013
  20. I personally prefer the hard way as rule I only rest when I need to. Otherwise if I’m taking the easy way out most of the time I feel I might as well be laying in a coffin. Life is for living and to me laying on a beach sipping whatever would get boring real quick

    Oliver wrote on March 15th, 2013
  21. i believe you have to work smarter not harder. i agree with kraut life is just too short. so enjoy it and make the most of it.

    mr kumar wrote on March 16th, 2013
  22. I try to take the easy way out in everything I do. Just because we term it easy, doesn’t mean that I sacrifice quality. If quality has to be sacrificed then I spend more time on that certain task and / or project. By taking the easy way out, more gets done, productivity rises and I can utilize my skills elsewhere. We aren’t doomed by taking the easy way out, we’re doomed by taking the lazy way out. Their’s a difference in the two.

    Nate Anglin wrote on March 17th, 2013
  23. Dr. Ajay Kumar did his doctorate in Medicine from the prestigious All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, India. He did his residencey in physical medicine and rehabiliatation at Temple University Hospital, Philadelphia .

    PainManagement wrote on March 26th, 2013

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