5. Avoid Short-Cuts

By M.K. Styllinski

Wile E. Coyote | © Warner Brothers

“… shortcuts are dangerous; we cannot delude ourselves that our knowledge is further along than it actually is.”

— Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Reading time: 10-15 mins

Once we have a sure-fire aim and its family of objectives then comes the panoply of short-cuts to tempt you. This feeds into our anticipation that’s ready to snap at the slightest whiff of a free lunch to carry us in guilded style to our destination. As anyone who isn’t a snake-oil salesman will tell you: this is an illusion – often a very tempting one, but an illusion nonetheless.

There are no short-cuts to self-development in any shape or form whatsoever. None. Zilch. Nada. A free pass has to be earned and no amount of clever marketing can alter that fact. And believe me, having probably tried most of the tantalising diamond-studded detours and persuasive paths of instant fixes over the past few decades, I learned the hard way, which is usually the best way, though not a bundle of fun.

                        Wile E. Coyote | © Warner Brothers

In other words, I discovered that trying to ram that square peg into a round hole for the umpteenth time doesn’t work whichever angle you come at it. Doesn’t matter if its shaking the sweaty hand of the loan shark or trying on a fake persona to get you the girl, short-cuts are the mythical sirens on the rocks wiggling their ample bottoms and tossing their lustrous hair as you try to half-heartedly steer your tug-boat away. Short-cuts make you want to wave back a little too vigorously; toot your whistle, let out your sails and steer a course to voluptuous success. But as sure as the sun rises in the morning, you’ll sooner or later end up on those rocks with the ship of your lofty aspirations  sinking below the surface. Feeling foolish and crestfallen can be beneficial, but it might take several passes before you get rid of that mindset.

This is especially true when it comes to bettering yourself or following a metaphysical path, so called. Anyone that tells you otherwise is just selling something. If you take the short-cut then you miss the whole point of process. And let’s face it, unless you’re a psychopath whose default position is to consume and destroy, it isn’t going to work for you, not if you seek authenticity over artifice.

Some folks seem to sail through life taking advantage of every short-cut available, whisking them to the top of whatever pyramidal pile of goodies matches their desire. What you also might remember is that such a position is rarely stable and even less sustainable in the long-term. The fallout from taking these short-cuts usually involves a shit-storm of unintended consequences which eventually finds their way back to the instigator. The Hindu/Buddhist concept of karma comes to mind.

Karma and the path of least resistance

Wile E. Coyote | © Warner Brothers

If karma is “action” sourced from our thoughts rather than anything associated with fate or nasty deeds of the past, it means that our awareness in the moment is crucial in making the right choices. If there are big gaps in our awareness covered up by chemical desire and self-importance then the working out of karma makes an appearance. Karma is ultimately about responsibility as we learn from our mistakes; a full comprehension of our role in creating chaos and the responsibiity to extract the lesson from the experiences. The theory goes that if we remain bull-headed and continue on as before, refusing to see these patterns of behaviour which always effects other people in our lives as well as our own, then we accumulate a spiritual “debt” which we can choose to pay back in any one life. Although such a theory is open to a hackneyed and caricatured interpretation, there does seem to be some logic in the credit and debt system of consciousness.

The Universe, is all about judicious use of energy. If we are contractile or give away too much energy then recompense is needed to balance the equation somewhere along the line. Recognition of that fact, like learning a lesson or completing a test, means that the requisite energy is returned through a hike in awareness and the effort involved. That usually denotes conscious suffering toward such an aim. We then learn that it is possible not to suffer quite so much when learning that short-cuts are nothing of the kind.

Recapitulation on this point is useful. We have all strayed off the path in a number of minor and major ways throughout the course of our short or long lives. It’s a way to pin-point those detours and forks in the road; to locate persistent patterns of behaviour that keep us locked into the human tendency to see the easy way in – and out. That tendency has to be squeezed out in cold-bloodied fashion through seeing yourself as you really are. Then looking for the easy way is replaced with allowing the right way to come to us.

This takes us to that well-known idiom: The “path of least resistance” which has been routinely used to justify spiritual short-cuts and avoidance of challenge. The new age mindset is particularly pernicious in this regard, accentuating love, feeling and internal comfort over the hard work of discerning reality and our place in it. Cultivating “least resistance” means understanding the shadows in ourselves that give rise to erroneous thinking and emotional grabs for energy so that true pathways are found in a strategic manner. These pathways can be likened to the addition of new neural pathways in the brain as we learn to be true to our aim and establish constructive objectives.

Changing the brain cannot happen by skipping any stages. Similarly, such a process requires the right kind of confrontation and not an exclusive escape into “love and light”, “oneness” and the warm feelings that buffer us from a more nuanced truth of ourselves and the world. Short-cuts dilute dedication and will and usually keep your dreams in the realm of fantasy rather than a creative imagination.

Wile E. Coyote | © Warner Brothers

At the other extreme, stubbornly pushing forward against all the evidence and focusing on purely extrinsic goals like a tidal wave sweeping all before it is just as damaging. Without due attention we are sure to flounder on the very rocks we dislodge in our haste to make way. Our actions can cause psychic landslides that effect others in very harmful ways when we are blind to anything other than our desire to get ahead. Short-cuts become even more enticing the more obstacles we create for ourselves and the more impatient we get.

In reality, and in line with the theory of karma as learning through thought to action, the path of least resistance counsels avoidance of willful blindness which leads to misdirected effort and impulsive decisions. We cultivate flow when we align ourselves to as much truth as we can manage and the natural pathways open to us. No force is necessary, only the awareness of timing and cycles. It’s seeing the material plane as it is, absent our self-directed, subjective ideas. It is about adaptation and flexibility in the midst of natural chaos. As the Chinese proverb advises: “The wise adapt themselves to circumstances, as water moulds itself to the pitcher”. “Least resistance”, not zero resistance. Do not force your way through to your objective nor hide away in a bubble of self-reflection without careful observation and attention.

Effort is required to learn how best to navigate through life’s challenges. To establish a purity of intent and an objective appraisal of our path, ensures our primary aim remains true. That doesn’t mean an easy ride in the same way that just seeking to be happy isn’t much of a goal. We don’t learn through having everything easy nor do we evolve in a smiley bubble of happiness. We need friction and challenge; to problem solve and overcome obstacles. (This is especially true for men).

Sometimes, that requires action, sometimes non-action. If resistance is like a brick wall and doesn’t shift whatever you do, then you haven’t necessarily lost the path. Perhaps you need to find a way through by dismantling the bricks one by one. It may even be necessary to erode that wall with sheer persistence, or you just need a change of perspective. The latter is tuning in to the original Taoist philosophy from which the path of least resistance derives. Nature exists in a dynamic state of “balance.” But the devil is in the details. What that “balance” really means is managed chaos far from equilibrium, yet producing states of order from disorder according to natural laws. In other words, the balance is on a knife edge of effort correctly applied in the face of resistance. In facing those unknown variables with courage, we become self-regulated and self-organised. i.e. responsible.

Trust, buffers and the psychopath’s dream

Our world has been getting off on short-cuts for the last 200 years. The despoiling of the environment by transnationals; corrupt politicians; the lies and fake news of the mainstream media; the parasitic mind-warping of marketing, advertising and PR – it’s all about reaching that perceived pot of gold in the shortest possible time with two fingers to the consequences. Those short-cuts mandated by Official Culture has created a technosphere in direct competition with the planet’s biosphere with potentially catastrophic implications. The Earth has no doubt experienced this many times before throughout its enormously ancient history; too many short-cuts and it’ll implement a fail-safe “reset”. And on it goes…With or without us.

Short-cuts and short-termism is the bread and butter of a psychopath’s dream. And that is our defining reality right now. There are a million and one ways to fake your way to success be it spiritual, financial, emotional or sexual. These formulas will offer dividends but they are skin-deep and fade over time. Fakery often goes with short-cuts and thus feed into the entropic side of life. So, don’t believe the sales pitch that the process of hard work and dedication to long-term goals can be bypassed by having the right access code to the fundamental laws of society and nature. There’ll always be plenty of people out there to sell that notion to you, or cast magical spells on your behalf.  It gives you a rush and makes you feel better. But in the end, you’re on the same step of the stairwell, with less energy and with less money in your bank account.

Wile E. Coyote | © Warner Brothers

This is especially pertinent to some millennials and generation Z whose enculturation of coddling has encouraged them to believe they are owed the accoutrements of culture and to anticipate the next shiny bauble of promise, should things not pan out as they would like. When conditional effort keeps that reward permenantly in the future, cognitive dissonance and hopelessness is usually the result.

Short-cuts are very tempting for younger folks because they have great reason to be fearful and are seldom equipped to face the ABC of life requirements, let alone the deeper forces at play. Which makes it even more important to keep it simple. Keep it slow and pay attention to the wisdom of the past instead of expecting instant reward and the kind of guaranteed results baby boomers took for granted.

This is the age of unpredictability and we haven’t seen anything yet. That means short-cuts to peace, happiness and certainty will get more sophisticated though no less dangerous.

An old clichéd maxim that’s been harped on about for centuries but never seems to make a difference: “it’s not the destination that counts, it’s the journey,” (read process). But it happens to be true. Not that results aren’t important, but focusing exclusively on the results ensures change never happens where you most need and desire it. The process as an end in itself and the enjoyment that could be had, is frequently passed over for the jewel glinting on the horizon.  If the focus is shifted to change as evolving out of the present and with slow, measured improvements in everything we do, results and achievement naturally arrive. Results are bound up with the journey as pit-stops of errors and successes along the way and which make that path and thus the process, rather than any allusion to a chequered flag at the start and finish line.

When we take what we believe to be short-cuts we unconsciously choose to…Well, sell ourselves short. This choice is usually based on a perceived distance concerning where we are now and what lies on the horizon – the uncertainty of the unknown,  a scary place if we continually see it as the enemy. We seek to bypass the natural ebb and flow of cycles – where the timing of action and inaction becomes all important. If we act regardless of circumstance without paying attention to objective reality and its natural constraints then we are probably identifying with our impatience and lack of humility which tend to deliver results appropriate to unwise decisions.

External life provides a variety of seductive mirages which begin to define our conception of progress. But our emotionally-charged thoughts and actions fuelled by getting what we want in the shortest possible time, doesn’t permit proper discernment and self-regulation. We don’t see that our choices are taking us deeper into a psychic pit of a closed system.

Doubt, fear and impatience signifies a lack of trust in the Universe to provide, given the right effort and due attention. It becomes a vicious circle: without trust the correct signal can’t be sent out and without the correct signal trust becomes progressively weaker due to a lack of feedback. That means one’s actions are going to create resistance by aligning to chaos rather than order. This amounts to denying God/the higher self and shuts you off to assistance. As author William Faulkner reminds us: “You cannot swim for new horizons until you have courage to lose sight of the shore.” Give in to fear and the path ends. ( See no.14) We therefore expend more and more extrinsic effort trying to force our aim into existence not realising that have lost our connection to soul influence. If our internal system hasn’t been set up correctly then no amount of lasting success can eventuate.

To complicate matters more, getting dazzled by the latest pot of gold amounts to lying to yourself. Deep down we know that the latest carrot isn’t edible but our insatiable appetite for buffering reality makes it so. Lying to yourself, rationalising away the truth and covering up our intuition is a sure path to interminable problems for oneself and others. If we persist in the wrong direction intent on finding that chance discovery that will make life easier, if not perfect, then it’s probable that we’ll fall back several steps until we are in a less ambitious position and therefore more likely to see the error of our perception. (The Universe has a consistent logic as teacher). Or, you could take a serious tumble down several flights. If hubris becomes the driver, objective reality can be a very hard task-master – even to the point of death.

Wile E. Coyote | © Warner Brothers

Let’s play with a few examples of short-cuts:

  • You are a struggling entrepeneur and are approached by an investor who has pots of money but a shady past. He wants 20% of your profits in return for his contact list and mentoring. Your gut says run away but your ambition proves stronger. You accept his offer. After three years your business is booming and your investor has renegotiated for a bigger slice of your pie. This was before his past caught up with him (and you). Over time, your misgivings became more insistent but the money is rolling in. Even advice from associates warning you that your investor had played hard and fast with people’s funds before isn’t enough to pull the plug and risk company failure. Prosecuted for tax fraud and embezzlement in the investor’s own companies, you are embroiled in a court case and tainted by association. Your profits take a dive and you must diversify to stay afloat. The future isn’t rosy. The short-cut? Ignoring the investor’s past and the obvious danger signs.
  • You are a martial arts competitor and have a chance at the national championships. You have obtained sponsorship and your family, friends and coach are rooting for you. But you are afraid and do not trust your level of fitness. You just need an extra boost to give you that edge in the run up to the qualifying rounds. Many of your colleagues use peformance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) and always seem to past the doping tests. You have worked hard all your life and have never had a real break. You do not see the harm in giving yourself some extra assistance. It’s not as if you will decrease your training. If anything, you’ll work even harder. When everyone is doing it, then you have to compete at the same level otherwise all the effort will be for nothing. You take a course of PEDs with the assurance they are undectable by current doping analysis. You are proven wrong and become the only Judo competitor in the last ten years to be disqualified from all contests. Your previous trophies are returned and your family and friends shocked. The short-cut? Blinded by ambition you ignored the negative consequences of PEDs making you reckless and lacking an ethical framework. Wishful thinking, an erosion of values and a basic fear of success all played a role. At root, you just didn’t trust yourself to succeed on your own merits.
  • You are a scientist about to have your four year study published in the prestigious science journal The Lancet. You have dedicated much of your life to this moment and you and your team are excited at the prospect of this ground-breaking research which could provide funding for further research and public engagements. Since you have been working so hard your health has begun to suffer and your marriage is strained. You are also aware that one small but crucial part of the study used less than reliable data. But you were running out of time and funding and not prepared to field yet another set back when everything else had all run so smoothly. It was now or never.  It as not as if this was a crucial data sub-set when compared to the overwhelming evidence as a whole. It would make little difference in the final outcome. Your team trusted you to deliver just as you had pushed them to deliver on their respective roles. The data and conclusions overall were obvious and watertight. The paper was accepted and celebrations ensued. After a few months however, many scientists were poring over the conclusions and finding a persistent flaw. Once it was found then further investigations revealed the study overall was severely distorted. The paper was retracted and you were tarred with the brush of producing “fraudulent papers”. Your team was disgusted and betrayed. You protest your innocence refusing to believe – even to yourself – that you chose to overlook the obvious. Short-cut? Exhaustion, poor health and anticipation caused you to fall down on your analysis in favour of imagined fantasies of enhanced status. Overidentification with the result caused obsession which effected your judgement and professionalism. Hard work over years does not merit reward if you let your guard down at the crucial moment. 

The belief in the end result over the process was evident in the above. Although science is obviously concerned with a definitive result the outcome can be distorted by the lack of attention to the process like anything else. Obviously, there are an infinite number of short-cuts that yield minor or major disasters in the fortunes of the participants. The majority of those will feature a split decision to swallow one’s conscience and to play the game – because “everyone else” does it. The lack of knowledge, wishful-thinking, willful blindness and plain old hubris cause untold damage to otherwise worthwhile dreams and visions.

These examples are dramatic with choices that effect more than the individual in question. There are many day to day short-cuts which have more immediate blowback like abidicating little responsibilities which grate on our time and sense of purpose. We might park in the disabled bay because “we’ll only be a few minutes” or shoot down the hard shoulder on the motorway in a bid to skip the traffic jam. There are any number of simple ways we can brush the proverbial dirt under a convenient carpet. This can ben become habitual, the effects of which can make life an instant quagmire.

Our basic lack of trust in our own abilities and other psychological issues will also feature. Which means working on ourselves by highlighting our weaknesses and rooting out self-deception is vital. Without this work, we underestimate our propensity to take the easy route as a salve to a essential lack of self-belief. Thus we are already lost and open to predators, most notably from within our own monkey minds. It’s not even a question of being purely moral and upstanding, it’s just the fact that short-cuts exist for a reason and are a form of lie made manifest, which means there are always key pieces of knowledge missing in order to entice. To believe the lie, even if subtle, is to open your arms to sometimes painful lessons.

In summary, the above examples illustrate how their aim and objectives overtook the integrity that must be built within. It is faith and trust in life itself. How can we have faith if we are not prepared to build our awareness? Ambition on its own is not enough for lasting success. Seeking meaning in extrinsic goals without intrinsic awareness will always include an inherent weakness in the former. The individuals in these exmaples were not sincere and lacked faith.

You might say that there are plenty of people – including the most morally bankrupt members of society – who have made a great success in life and our currently surfing the wave of their wildest dreams and having a high old time. And they did it through not only taking short-cuts but creating whole systems of short-cuts like a moat around a castle, pulling up the drawbridge with a pearly-white smile. At what cost they achieved their aims is another matter. It all depends on your definition of success. How is that defined in our culture? What is it that you truly enjoy? Are they mutually exclusive? Are you looking to transform according to your deepest ethical and moral essence? If not that changes the nature of the path toward an ostensibly easier trajectory because we live in a culture that generally rewards those who maintain the architecture of the technosphere. If yes, then you can expect a much tougher road to tread because your consciousness system may incorporate an aim that is moderate but underpinned by principles that ultimately go counter to the world as it is. You’ll have to define very clearly where you stand in relation to your society and community and how big a part your conscience plays in your Grand Plan.

Embrace failure (even if it stinks)

Yet, that doesn’t mean that synchronisitic timing or “good luck” can’t occur. It often does, but only if we have made significant efforts to persist and remain true to ourselves and our aim. Whether it’s cutting corners to save time and money or skipping on training practice for your football game – it’s all about building resilience and honing the skills so that when the pressure really builds and you are on top of the situation when the chips are down. That’s when your metal will be tested.

Here’s a useful, if counter-intuitive nugget of truth to keep in mind: you’re a work in progress which means failure is built-in as a means to learn.  You’re not “speshul” or unique. Your sum total of life achievements is probably made up of a constellation of failures that made you who you are. Failure is an important metric of success. It’s humbling because the past can be humiliating and painful. Failure is the yardstick for the future. And if you keep failing without getting anywhere at all up the staircase, then it can alert you to modify your aspirations or to change course entirely. That doesn’t mean giving up. It just means adaptation.

Either way, from the bird’s eye perspective, failure is good if we are mature enough to see the long-term view. Failure cannot be avoided by short-cuts because they all eventually (or instantly) lead back to your original position of dissatisfaction, or much worse. (See above). Who wants to end up back where they started? That’s Murphy’s Law combined with instant karma – all of which is rooted in our willingness to be seduced by a quick fix.

                        Wile E. Coyote | © Warner Brothers

We have our favourite forms of success in sport, Hollywood, finance and business piped into our brains on a daily basis from television and social media but we seldom hear about the years of drudgery and toil that many (though not all) had to endure to get there. And most people who become well-known are frequently prey to the trappings of the kind of success which leads them to be dysfunctional, depressed or dull. We return to the type of success you need to grow as a person rather than as a commodity tied to what our culture deems “healthy” and normal, which is usually anything but.

On that basis, failure is often a blessing in disguise keeping us on track to a deeper, more profound sense of enjoyment that comes from establishing our own particular process. Your self-worth and your sense of values is based on hard won efforts which match to conscience. These come from a process-orientated view of life rather than grasping the gold ring that you think lies around every new corner and every new meeting.

The grass isn’t always greener.

Being honest about yourself and your aim is to voluntarily meet failure and pain as part of the process you have initiated. To take short-cuts is to short-circuit that very open feedback system you are creating. It signals to the Universe you are not serious about your aim and your dream. It will assume that you want the subjective froth of short-term gratification that delivers a hit and then fades away as though it never was. So too your aim.

Reread the two stories from Aesop’s fables: The Tortoise and the Hare and The Fox and the Grapes and you’ll be in the right ballpark to leave short-cuts where they belong: in the realm of illusion.



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