The law of conservation of effort

The law of conservation of effort

I was sitting on the bus the other day a noticed something (yes we're on the bus again, but I spend at least ten hours per week sitting on a bus so I have a lot of time to think bus related thoughts).

Towards the front of the bus I notice someone getting up to disembark. They were sitting on the inside of a two person seat, so naturally the person on the outside had to move.

And they did, but only just enough so that the person could get by.

The seats on the bus are pretty tight, so most people will stand up and move out of the way entirely for the person on the inside. This makes the whole process easier for everyone involved.

But on this morning the person on the outside of the seat didn't do this. They simply moved their legs to the side.

They let the person out with the minimum amount of effort possible. The next step down on the effort ladder would be to just sit there and ignore them, forcing the other passenger to climb over their stubbornly statuesque body.

The person that was trying to get of the bus did manage it of course, but it was awkward and not helped by the impact that a moving bus has on your balance. 

This little sequence of events got me thinking about effort and the balance of effort.

What does it all mean

The person on the outside of the seat had expended the minimum amount of effort, which resulted in the other person having to expend a much larger amount of effort.

The more I thought about this the more it started to appear like a general principle of life.

The less effort you put into something, the more effort someone else will have to put in further down the line.

It feels akin to the law of conservation of energy:

the law of conservation of energy states that the total energy of an isolated system remains constant

You may have heard of this in the form of ‘energy cannot be created or destroyed but changed from one form to another. For example if someone punches you in the face then the energy from their moving fist is transferred to your head, which then moves as a result of the impact. There will also be some transference of energy in the form of the sound the punch makes and the heat of your stinging face after.

With effort I think the same is true. Think about our bus example. If the person on the outside had gotten up then both would have put in equal effort. However as it played out the person on the inside had to put in more effort because the person on the outside put in less.

Some other examples include:

If you are working within a team then someone who is not pulling their weight must be carried by the team, or they all fail.

If you're sharing a house with someone who is untidy then you probably end up tidying more, or end up living in your own filth.

This can also have a sort of internal impact.

If you don't manage your health now you will likely end up with much larger issues down the line. Getting to a healthy place is the same amount of effort, the question is whether you want it to be a little effort every day or a massive amount of effort at some point in the future when it has become life or death.

If you procrastinate on work you end up facing an inevitable mountain somewhere down the line. See last weeks post for an example of this.

Minimum effort in the moment is an attractive proposition, but either you or someone else will end up having to balance out the effort equation now or at some point in the future.

Getting slower with age

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