The Path of Least Resistance by Robert Fritz is a deep dive into understanding how the structures in our lives govern our behavior and how, using the creative process, we can restructure to fulfill our vision.
In this post, I'll highlight how Fritz's concepts connected with me and what I learned. I'll include page numbers with every excerpt so that, should you choose to read the book, you can dig in on your own to review the surrounding context. If you do, purchase this copy to follow along.
The best way to describe the path of least resistance concept is this:
"You are like a river. You go through life taking the path of least resistance. ... If a riverbed remains unchanged, the water will continue to flow along the path it always has, since that is the most natural route for it to take. If the underlying structure of your life remain unchanged, the greatest tendency is for you to follow the same direction your life has always taken. ... Just as engineers can change the path of a river by changing the structure of the terrain so that the river flows where they want it to go, you can change the very basic structure of your life so that you can create the life you want." (4, 5)
The more the "water" flows through our lives, the more the path becomes ingrained in us. If we attempt to change without addressing the underlying structure, progress can feel like a losing battle. We rely on willpower to make the "right" choice. In time, we give in and ultimately return to the path of least resistance.
We're often unaware these structures and pathways exist until they get disrupted. Having your first child, relocating to a new city, changing jobs. These experiences show us how set we are in our habits and beliefs because suddenly, there's resistance, and we can no longer do what was once second nature. We adapt, creating a new structure or trying to recreate what once was.
Several years ago now, I can remember getting stuck at the office in meetings after 6 pm. I passively followed the events on my calendar. If there was work I couldn't get done during the day, I went home and finished it. I used to joke that "my work" got done off-hours.
At the time, I was looking for a regular fitness routine. I was unsure how to fit it in, but I needed direction. A co-worker jokingly suggested that I try CrossFit. I saw there was a box near my apartment, so I took a free intro class. It was the most grueling 7-minute workout of my life, so I decided to join. I started taking classes four times per week. I had to be there by 7 pm. With a renewed desire to prioritize my health and the priciest gym membership I'd ever had, there was no way I was missing class.
This single commitment had a profound influence on my life. I couldn't stick around the office after hours, and I didn't have time to come home and work later, either. I became more diligent about how I spent my time in and out of the office. I revisited the meetings that were dominating my day and questioned where I could add the most value. In the end, this change in structure led me to redefine my vision for the life I wanted to live and take action on creating it.
As an aside, I later found out that two employees were inspired to better manage their time after seeing me leave right at 6 pm every day. Fritz doesn't touch on this, but I find it interesting to think about the structures that exist amongst groups of people and how one person's actions can impact everyone else.
Coming from a "creative" background in music, art, and design, I have spent years steeped in the creative process. Yet, before reading this book, I had not considered how it might apply to my life. Fritz takes passion in connecting the dots, demonstrating that the creative process can be a positive force in anyone's life, regardless of their interests, profession, or background.
Fritz's version of the creative process takes place over three stages: germination, assimilation, and completion. Naturally, there is a lot to unpack in each of these phases, so I'll keep it brief.
"Every complete creative process moves through this cycle and always in the same sequence." (155)
The process begins with the germination stage, where you experience the energy of conceiving your vision. Many people get addicted to the high of the germination stage and, as a result, never realize their vision.
This assimilation stage is where you become one with your vision. As Fritz puts it, "during the assimilation stage, you are teaching [the] vision to yourself." (158). The further you travel into this stage, the more your actions, thoughts, and entire aura drive toward your vision.
The final stage of the creative process is called completion. During this stage, the key is to keep the momentum going and let nothing get in the way of bringing your creation to life. Once achieved, the key is to learn to live with what you've created, be proud of what you've accomplished, and use that energy to continue creating.
"When you bestow this acknowledgment on your creation, you enable the very special energy of completion to be released. One function of this energy is to propel you toward the germination of a new creative cycle." (254)
Below are my five key takeaways from The Path of Least Resistance. That said, red pen scribbles are everywhere in my book from lots of highlighting and note-taking, so deciding on only five takeaways was difficult. There are several fascinating concepts throughout the book that but may ignite something in you.
"When you are solving a problem, you are taking action to have something go away: the problem. When you are creating, you are taking action to have something come into being: the creation. Notice that the intentions of these actions are opposite." (11)
In thinking about what we want to achieve in life, it is easy to fall into the trap of looking at what isn't working now. We live in a small apartment, so we want a bigger one. We lost a valuable employee, so we need a replacement. We aren't winning new business, so we have to take what we can get. The list goes on. When we focus on our problems, we build an invisible wall, limiting our ability to tap into the possibility of what we can create, keeping us from discovering what we really want.
"Problem-solving can be very distracting while at the same time giving you the illusion that you are doing something important and needed." (35)
Fritz suggests we think of ourselves as an artist and our lives as a blank canvas. "Artists do not paint to solve problems but to bring into reality a work of art." (36).
I'll admit, this is no easy task. I am guilty of falling into the trap of swinging at curveballs and putting out fires in my personal and professional life. It takes discipline and imagination to rise above our problems and bring into view a vision that we never thought was possible and excites us.
"When relief becomes the driving force, people often take actions that are not in their own best interest." (186)
"Vision has power, for through vision you can easily reach beyond the ordinary to the extraordinary." (138)
If we're not putting out fires or swinging at curveballs, what are we doing? That is where a vision comes in. Vision starts with answering the question, what do I want? It may seem simple at first, but when you remove all the weight of problems and clear your mind, ask it again: what do I want? Vision is not what you don't want. Vision is what you want.
Vision must be independent of process and possibility. The process will come in once you begin marching toward your vision, but first, it needs to be defined. As you do so, "you must separate what you want from what you think is possible." (135)
Vision is key to inventing new ways to serve our clients at Barrel. Without a vision, we default to solving problems or outlining a process to achieve a result, grounded in what we think is possible. For those closest to the day-to-day work, this is common. As a leadership team, creating and communicating vision is essential. It is helping the team see what we can create together, not what we need to fix, without dictating how to bring it to fruition.
"Vision [has] a magic quality. I define magic as seeing the results without seeing the entire process leading to those results." (138)
"A fundamental choice is a choice that has to do with a state of being, or basic life orientation." (188)
Making a fundamental choice is critical to the assimilation stage. It is where your identity and vision become whole. I am not a smoker, never been a smoker, but I found Fritz's connection to smoking to be incredibly helpful in understanding the power of a fundamental choice:
"If you have never made the fundamental choice to be a nonsmoker, then no matter what system you try to help you quit smoking, it will not succeed. ... On the other hand, if you have made a fundamental choice to be a nonsmoker, just about any system to stop smoking will for you. ... Being a nonsmoker is a basic state of being, very different from the state of being of a smoker who is trying to quit." (188)
To me, fundamental choice is the desire to change and the belief that change is possible. While I tried a few different sports growing up, music and arts became my focus in my teens and young adult life. Early on in my fitness journey, I can remember feeling like a non-athlete trying to be more athletic. It wasn't until I chose to be an athlete that I saw momentum, eventually competing in two powerlifting competitions.
I have trouble making this choice in some aspects of my life more than others. Like getting fit, it is often most challenging to shift mindsets when exploring new territory. No matter how hard I go after the vision, it always seems out of reach if I doubt myself along the way. I have a feeling Fritz's concept of a fundamental choice is one I'll continue to revisit for years to come.
"Choices take practice. It is a developed ability. The more you choose, the better you will choose." (165)
"When you begin to observe reality, begin freshly with the notion that you know nothing. Separate the ideas you have from your observations. ... if you truly want to know how reality is, your observations must not be burdened by your biases. It takes practice to put pre-conceived concepts aside and observe what is truly going on. When you master this practice, you will have a powerful tool you can use to create what matters most in your life." (151)
There are many dimensions to reality. There's the past, the present circumstances, and how we feel about both. What Fritz shows us is that these ideas are our version of reality. All they do is hold us back.
Most of us are afraid of the actual reality, the truth. "Some people make reality seem better than it is, some make it seem worse than it is, and some minimize how good or bad it can be." (52)
Maybe it's a bit cliché, but the truth will set you free at every stage of the creative process.
Germination: Admitting to the truth of what you really want is an integral part of realizing your vision. "If you don't admit to yourself what you want simply because it does not seem possible for you to have it, you are actually misrepresenting the truth to yourself." Another way to look at avoiding the truth is lying. Not only is a vision based on a lie not going to serve you, but "lying to yourself breaks down your relationship with yourself, creates stress, and represents the truth as potentially dangerous and threatening." (135)
Assimilation: Back to the painting analogy, "if you were painting a painting, you would need to know the current state of the painting as it developed. This would be important knowledge. If you did not know what you had created so far, it would be impossible for you to add more brushstrokes or change what you had done so as to bring the painting you wanted into being." (52)
"One of the more difficult lessons in the creative process is to learn to recognize current reality as it is now, which is often different from what you think it is supposed to be or how you want it to be. ... If you continually build up resentment at the disparity, then you are no longer fully in touch with current reality. An important ability in the creative process is the ability to recognize changes in reality as they occur." (230)
Completion: "You determine that [a creation] is finished by your recognition that ... current reality matches your vision of the result." (248). If we can't recognize current reality, how will we know when we're complete?
I couldn't agree more with Fritz's take on current reality and the truth. Whether it's admitting that I have not made the time to honor a commitment or sharing with the team that I don't feel like the work is where it needs to be, I have always found that it does, in Fritz's words, "set you free to create." The truth is there whether or not we choose to acknowledge it. Why not use it as a basis to get clear on the gaps between where we are and where we want to be?
"If you are unable to receive what you are creating, you are stopping short of completion. Until you fully accept the results into your life, the results are not fully created." (245)
Fritz compares completion with delivering a package to your home. You may receive the package from the carrier, but you don't have it in your possession until you accept it. In essence, when we achieve results, it is not enough to receive them into our life; we must also acknowledge them.
I end here because, to me, this is as important as getting clear on your vision. You may create and achieve your vision, but the creative process is not complete until you acknowledge success.
More on painting. Fritz talks about the action of a painter signing their painting, judging it to be complete. I can remember my Pop-Pop always reminding me to sign my paintings as a kid and even through college. I never looked at it this way before, but maybe neglecting to write my name was my way of holding on, refusing to acknowledge the work of my creative process?
I could be over-analyzing this, but many years later, I often find myself still forgetting to sign my name, metaphorically, of course. When I near completion on a vision, I seek recognition to confirm that I have achieved the desired result. When I arrive at the completion stage quicker than I expect, I look at external forces to understand how I got there, ignoring all the work that came before.
Publish my writing Monday through Friday has been a great way to practice and refine my creative process. It requires me to manifest a vision fairly quickly, bring it to life, and acknowledge when it's complete. It has helped me not only sign my name but write it with conviction.
"Only you have the authority to recognize and confirm that a creation of yours is complete." (254)
From transitioning into a new role at Barrel to becoming an Uncle (three times over) to purchasing a home, change has defined the last several months of my life. While I thought I was clear on who I want to become and what I want in each scenario, reading this book has made me see that my vision is still blurry.
Whether it's pre-conceived notions about reality or living in what feels possible, there is an opportunity to think deeper about what I want and adjust the structure in my life to get there.
Fritz shares a method for making choices and prioritizing your life by brainstorming everything you want for the rest of your life and narrowing in on what is essential (180). I plan to explore these steps through writing to ultimately decide what fundamental choice will serve me, becoming whole with my vision and building momentum.
"...once you have made these choices, time is on your side, for the structural tendencies of your life are now designed to fulfill those choices." (198)
Looking ahead, I am excited to apply what I've learned from Fritz, experimenting with my creative process beyond my "creative" endeavors.
"Creators hardly retire. ... Because there is in the creator a deep longing to create. This is not ego in the popular sense, but purpose in the higher sense. For a creator there is always a next step, always a new place to go, never just marking time, waiting for it all to end." (215)