The path of least resistance

June 20, 2008

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve always taken a great deal of interest in health and well-being. This is a direct result of having a father and a step-dad who are both doctors and a step-mom who is a nurse. Suffice to say, growing up there was a lot of hand scrubbing and germ lecturing at home. (And trust me, I know ALL about the benefits of probiotics after a mandatory yogurt snack at my parent’s place one Sunday afternoon.) While I didn’t make medicine my career, you could say as a result of osmosis, it’s always been a keen side interest.

A while ago I dug up a book by Dr. Gillian McKeith called ‘Ultimate Health Plan’. In it, McKeith takes a basic but stern approach to getting people to make better choices when it comes to their nutrition and overall health. She emphasizes the need to embrace change physically, emotionally and psychologically. While I won’t go into the details of her plan, there was one particular passage that struck me. She writes:

“After consulting with hundreds of clients over many years, the greatest challenge I have faced as a nutritionist has been to remove the barriers that most people erect for themselves. We impede our own abilities to fly. We create blockages, doubts, clouded perceptions and negativity every day for ourselves that need not be. …This is an issue about getting set in our ways, becoming stagnant, rigid and blocked. Once we become set in our ways, we usually stay that way. If you have been used to eating fish and chips for the last 20 years, the chances are that you will feel most comfortable by continuing on the same path. We usually choose the path of least resistance.

Even though McKeith is referring to what we eat, her choice of words seem to apply to many other situations in life. People resist changing because they know it’s going to take hard work. Similarly, in business, leaders resist change because it will cause the kind of turmoil they’re not prepared to deal with.

In fact, some of the most frequent excuses we hear from managers who are not prepared to change, is “We’re not ready for the kind of change you are proposing”, or, “We just need a quick fix in one small problem area”, or even “We don’t have time to deal with change. We need to focus on solving the issues at hand now.” Just as McKeith points out – these are all excuses – where people are looking for a magic bullet.

There is no magic solution to changing the way people behave – both in business or in their personal life. Just as McKeith suggests, when we begin thinking differently about what we’re putting into our body, the result – with a lot of hard work – will likely be that we will begin acting differently. As a manager, it’s much the same: if we think we need to change the way we are approaching problems, our behaviour will change accordingly. If we think something in our work can’t change, if we look at failure as a road block, then it will be. If we continue making excuses for why our business isn’t at its best, then it won’t be.

Perhaps what McKeith is suggesting then, is that it’s not the path that is causing resistance, but our resistance to just making the change. So why not picture a wide open road full of possibilities, rev up the engines and go?