What is the Principle of Least Effort?

What is the Principle of Least Effort?

Last update: 21 June, 2018

The principle of least effort is about a truth that almost everyone knows purely by common sense. It says that when something can be done in different ways, the one that uses the least energy is always better. Why? Because it is more efficient, which leads us to the same result with less effort.

Effort gives greater value, both objective and subjective, to projects. A precious stone has more value because it is more scarce and, therefore, it is necessary to make more effort to find it. A goal achieved is valued more when it means overcoming great obstacles. So, in principle, we can say that we agree that effort is a positive and praiseworthy value.

Now, greater effort does not always generate better results. We can do math by hand. Add, subtract and do all the operations manually. But we can do the same on a computer in much less time and with less errors. So the amount of effort invested is not proportional to the results obtained. Actually, in the first case, we waste energy.

The principle of least effort does not try to eliminate difficulty, nor does it encourage us to choose only easy tasks. The focus is rather on finding ways to reduce the effort needed to achieve a goal. Let’s look at this in more detail.

The secret of my happiness lies in not striving for pleasure, but in finding pleasure in the effort”.

-André Gide-


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1. Obstacles and the principle of least effort

The principle of least effort is about relinquishing control and letting everything flow. Some may think that it is too relaxed or carefree, but it is not. It is one thing to look for the simplest way and another to be negligent or irresponsible.

The issue is adopting a new position in the face of obstacles. There are difficulties. We find them in almost all everyday tasks. Sometimes we make enormous efforts and, despite this, things do not go as we expect. We feel overwhelmed by everything we have to do and it is increasingly difficult for us to find the willpower to achieve it.

An obsessive attitude towards work easily leads to stress and then to blockage. That is when we struggle between our total resistance to continue working and the obligation to do so. There is so much emotional energy that we use in the struggle that it saps all our energy, and it still does not give us the best results.

From there, it’s just one step to constant frustration. What we do is not proportional to what we achieve. We struggle a lot trying to focus on work commitments and end up getting fed up. Even so, we have to fulfill our duty. This is when the principle of least effort becomes valid: productivity does not depend on the amount of energy we invest, but on the clarity and inspiration that guides our actions.


man with wings

2. Inspiration and productivity

The principle of least effort states that easy things are basically good. It also states that less is more and that “good” is enough. In other words, the simplest paths, which involve less effort, are the best. Likewise, there are occasions when less perfectionism can potentially lead us to obtain better results.

There are many ways of doing things, but we are not always aware of this. Sometimes we are not even clear about the method we use. Perhaps we do things like we have seen others do them, or like someone has told us to do them. But have we stopped to think if this is really the best way to reach our goal?

The principle of least effort says that if you feel overwhelmed, blocked or fed up with an activity, just don’t continue it. Your body and your mind are screaming at you to stop. You arrived at the point where you are just mechanically doing the task, and you are paying the price. By standing still, doing nothing, or taking a break, you can change your mindset.

It’s time to do something that recharges your energy. Something rewarding that allows you to find a different perspective. Then, what follows is for you to reflect on how you face your commitments. Is there a simpler way to meet them? Are there unnecessary steps that you could delete? Think of five different ways to do the same thing. Evaluate it. Question it. Let your creativity flow. Let your inspiration come and you will see how you think of better and, above all, easier methods.

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3. Your mind must find a way to flow

We agree that a fluid mind is more effective and saves a lot of effort. What we often do not know is the way to make our mind flow. According to the principle of least effort, we must meet five conditions for this to happen. They are the following:

  • Work to complain less and not blame others.
  • Do not try to change a situation for no reason. Accept it, and try to understand it.
  • Try to observe your problem as if you were a stranger.
  • Open your mind and be willing to take new options and new paths.
  • Work to find new answers and solutions, until you see one that really motivates you to act.

Our stubborn resistance to accept situations only blocks our flow. Complaining, blaming others and denying reality are forms of resistance. When you overcome your refusal to change your mindset, you take a decisive step your mind needs to flow. This helps us to find inspiration, with all its creative force.

4. The most important thing: enjoy yourself

When we enjoy what we do, we usually get better results. It’s obvious. We put more effort into what captures our attention and our interest. It is an enjoyment to dedicate ourselves to it. Time flies and we have no problem in making an extra effort because everything is better. We flow.

Is there really a way for us to enjoy our obligations? We can make any activity into a game. Let’s suppose that what we have to do is something boring and mechanical, like putting 500 tedious records in a database. What if we try to compete with ourselves? We can measure our time to complete it and compete with our past records.



Science says that one way to help us do tedious tasks is to work on them for 20 minutes. Then, take a break. And then, repeat the cycle. Have you tried this? Do it and you will see how you make less mistakes.

In conclusion: be flexible

Putting into practice the principle of least effort to get the greatest return requires intelligence. Many of our activities have are developed for us to just try to do them as quickly as possible. We rarely question whether routine procedures that offer good results could have a more effective alternative.

Some of our “expensive” routines that cost us the most energy turn into a kind of straightjacket. Not only do they condition our actions, most importantly, they condition our thinking. Without realizing it we end up living in rigid mindsets in which we feel trapped. That is where the principle of least effort can help us choose more constructive and effective ways.

The valuable thing about this perspective is that it focuses on creativity and enjoyment. We can also introduce habits that encourage us to be more imaginative and to think more about our own well-being. Choosing the easiest path makes us better and allows us to achieve more remarkable results.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.