Forget Willpower, Use the Principle of Least Effort

Break bad habits and create good ones, easily

Jennifer Haubrich


Photo by Olivia Bauso on Unsplash

What if, by choosing what seems easier to do, you could more readily break bad habits or start good ones?

Well, it turns out you can, by employing the “Principle of Least Effort”.

And oh, how I wish I’d learned about this a long time ago.

Here’s how the American Psychological Association defines the principle of least effort:

“the basic behavioral hypothesis that an organism will choose a course of action that appears to require the smallest amount of effort or expenditure of energy. Also called law of least action; least effort principle”

You and I are the organisms they’re referring too and this is how we most often behave. It’s part of human nature. Why did we evolve to be this way? I’m not sure, maybe it was to conserve energy in a world where calories were scarce.

It’s less important to know why this phenomenon exists and more important to accept that for most of us, this is our default mode of operation.

So, it’s time to stop berating yourself for not being more disciplined or having more willpower. Instead, you can start engaging this phenomenon of human psychology and allow it to change your life.


I used to believe that the only way to accomplish great things is for a person to have an inordinate amount of willpower, self-control, and a willingness to always do what is hardest. Success doesn’t come to slackers!

That may be why, time and time again, I’ve been disappointed in myself when I’ve been unable to summon or sustain the willpower to change my habits to those I perceive as belonging to the highly accomplished.

How most people try to start new habits (and fail)

In my early 20s, I spent a lot of money on a year’s gym membership with the expectation that this would prompt me to exercise regularly. Going before work seemed impossible, so my plan was to go after work. I’d come home from work, change into workout clothes and then go to the gym before coming back home to eat dinner.



Jennifer Haubrich

It's all about relationships, with ourselves, others, and the world. Trying to live a better life. Sometimes funny.