Why We Work Best Under Pressure

I know where the low spots are in my yard.

Easy Way Hard Way sign

When it rains, I look for the puddles.  That’s where the low spots are.  The water always fills them first.

Like most things in nature, water takes the path of least resistance.  It’s like nature’s default setting.

It’s my default setting, too.

Most of my life, I’ve taken the path of least resistance.  When I have a choice between easy and hard, I tend to gravitate toward easy.  That means I procrastinate until things become urgent, then I scramble to get everything done at the last minute.  I’m able to produce at a world-class level when I’m under pressure.

So I say, “I work best under pressure.”

If I’m honest, I should really say, “I only work when I’m under pressure.”

Sound familiar?

  • We don’t start that assignment or project early because it’s easier to wait.  We don’t feel the pressure.
  • We don’t deal with relationship issues until they reach a crisis point, because it’s uncomfortable to bring it up.
  • We don’t put on our running shoes because it’s cold outside and warm inside – and the shoes will still be there tomorrow.

Easy Way Hard Way signThe only reason we don’t follow the path of least resistance is when there’s a strong reason – when the outcome of doing it is better than not doing it.

But when we don’t feel the pressure, we usually take the path of least resistance – by default.

If we felt the pressure earlier, we might take action earlier.  I’m thinking that if I gained 50 pounds every morning I didn’t exercise, or had crippling chest pains every time I ate a French fry, I might be more intentional about it.  I’d have a reason to overcome my default setting, because the outcomes would be immediate.

Some people just seem to be more disciplined than others.  Somehow, their default setting doesn’t seem to be the easier one – it’s the most effective one.  (Those people drive the rest of us crazy.)

But really, they start with the same default setting as the rest of us.  But over the years, they’ve made intentional choices to overcome inertia.   It’s become their new default setting, because they’ve made those choices over and over again for a really long time.

It’s become a habit.

The only way to change our default setting is to make individual choices over and over again.   It doesn’t work to say, “OK, from now on I’ll be disciplined.”  It means making a new choice repeatedly, each time the situation comes up.  When we mess up, we don’t beat ourselves up over it; we just make the right choice again the next time.  And the next.  And the next.

Rinse.  Repeat.

Over time, those choices start to become habits.  We learn to make choices that are based on what will happen in the future, not what’s the path of least resistance.  We train ourselves to focus on outcomes.

We don’t live by default; we live by design.

I don’t want to follow the path of least resistance.  But unless I consciously make choices to do otherwise, that’s exactly what I’ll do.

I want to live an intentional life.  Do you?

Senior Consultant at FranklinCovey; Speaker, Author of 5 books - including "People Can't Drive You Crazy If You Don't Give Them the Keys," "I Wish He Had Come With Instructions," and "Dealing With the Elephant in the Room." (See Book page)

  • Kathy Collard Miller

    A very important word. I’m going to pay particular attention today to how I’m living by default. Thanks, Mike!

    • Thanks, Kathy – The best reminders are of things we already know, right?