Reducing Friction

I remember riding with fellow cyclists during our weekly rides in the summer and autumn, we took turns riding behind the others by practicing what is known as “drafting”; we did that to lessen wind resistance (friction) for the rest of the team with the purpose of conserving speed. On the other hand, climbers need as much friction as possible so they can climb the mountain.

There will inevitably be friction if you spend time with someone you care about (especially in a new relationship) because of a difference in values and world views. That’s not to say that either person in a relationship is wrong — both of them are right from their own perspective. It can be difficult or nearly impossible to reconcile in those cases, in which case it’s best for both people to part ways peacefully for their own good.

Friction (or lack thereof) is apparent not only in our relationships, but in our everyday work, our commitments towards things, etc. The dictionary defines friction as the resistance that one surface or object encounters when moving over another. A less literal definition is conflict or animosity caused by a clash of wills, temperaments, or opinions (such as a considerable amount of friction between father and son).

Friction exists in the chasm between who we are now and who we want to become. We get so caught up in trying to become that person that we forget who we are now.

There may be times in your personal life when things are unresolved in your relationships that will likely affect your work. It’s unrealistic to think that you’ll be able to keep those issues aside and work without thinking about it. You have to resolve things in some way before you can move on. This is not to say that all friction is bad in relationships. Some amount of friction is healthy in relationships (which can be in the form of differing views/opinions about things because no two people are the same), but both partners have to be on some basic level of understanding and to be actively involved in reconciling their differences in a non-compromising way.

Personally, harmony and proaction are two of my strengths, and I am always striving for this rather than “confronting” others. I believe in resolving things, as contributing to a problem helps no one. Rather than finding out why something happened, it’s more important for me to look at what to do about it now and what I can do in the future to mitigate the chances of it happening again. That’s not to say that confronting problems is bad — it’s not. Sometimes you have to work through difficult issues to understand and resolve them before you can move forward.

Friction doesn’t just exist in relationships. It can be present in something as trivial as having old magazines or books in your living area that you are no longer reading and haven’t made a decision about what you’re going to do with them. Similarly, there might be things at your workstation that might not belong there, but you may not have taken the time to clear the desk because you’re so caught up in doing the work. Regardless, you can be sure that some of it is taking up mental space.

There is a common aphorism that says when we stop paying attention to things that have our attention, they take more of our attention than they deserve. That’s certainly been true in my experience. When you ignore things, it won’t go away on its own. Rather, it will keep coming back until you finish the thinking required to get it off your mind and put it in a place you trust.

There are times when we might face friction with managing our commitments with ourselves and/or with others. We make implicit promises to others only to not keep it.

Then, there might be things on your work list that you don’t want to do (for whatever reason). The problem occurs when we neither remove those things from our list nor complete them. We let them continuously gnaw at our conscience until something gives.

We also experience friction when we neither accept nor (can) change things. It happens all the time. We try to do both or we get stuck in the middle, which doesn’t help our cause. When we can’t change things and keep feeling frustrated about it, we experience friction. Furthermore, we need to focus on things we can change since that is within our purview. Knowing the difference and figuring out what applies to our situation is the key.

A lot of us dwell on some part of our past that we are not thrilled about, but we can’t help ourselves from thinking about it. We know that no amount of thinking about the past will change it, yet we think about it by playing different scenarios in our minds of how our situation (usually involving others) would have panned out differently only if we had said/done X or Y. The point is we need to move on and stop thinking about our past so we can live in the present moment.

We could think of procrastination as a form of friction. It’s easy to imagine the worst in our minds, which is particularly common for the most sensitive and intelligent people out there. We imagine these things in our minds with all kinds of scenarios, typically the worst, which paralyzes us from doing anything about it. We may also find ourselves caught in the perfection trap, which causes further delays in finishing our projects on time.

As creatives who are their own bosses, we might cringe at the thought of doing the administrative work such as filing taxes, marketing our services, doing paperwork, remembering passwords, etc., but it’s a part of our work that we need to do. Regardless, we need to address what is needed so we don’t keep thinking about it. Figure out which of those things only you can do, identify the ones you can eliminate, and outsource the rest. Regardless, simply thinking about it won’t change anything.

A lot of the friction we experience in our day-to-day life comes from having to think about the same kind of things — what to eat, what to work on and when, when to exercise, when to sleep/wake, etc. These things are not worth thinking about every day and are robbing us of things that are actually worth our attention. For instance, if you don’t want to think about what you are going to eat this week, create a meal plan in advance. Make final choices about things.

Similarly, figure out times when you want to exercise and put it in your calendar. Then, it’s just a matter of showing up at the right time to do it. I’ve covered before how one of the best things we can do is sleep/wake at the same time every day. You won’t know how you lived without it until you start doing it regularly when it becomes a habit. I also wrote about how I structure my day so I don’t have to keep thinking about what I am working on and when. Similarly, you can structure your day/week in a way that works for you so you don’t keep reinventing the wheel, so to speak. We need to be ruthless in finding out which areas of our life cause us friction. Only then can we have the awareness to lessen or remove it.

Of course, it’s unrealistic to think that all friction can (or should) be removed. There are times when we want to embrace friction rather than avoid it.

Designers use friction to the benefit of the stakeholders for which they are designing to encourage interactions between each other and to help them resolve their issues by themselves rather than reaching out to customer service for support.

It’s easy to go with the motions and do things just because you have always done them a certain way. If we don’t take a step back every now and then to reflect in terms of what’s working well for us and the things we can do to be better, we might miss opportunities to recognize and improve things. Just because something isn’t broken doesn’t mean it can’t be better. Sure, living a frictionless life makes things easy by taking away the choice and options, but there are times when we need to pause, reflect, and grow.

Sometimes, friction is not a barrier or an indication to stop, but a sign to continue moving forward despite the obstacles we face. I was reminded of this when playing a video game where I found myself challenged enough but not so much that I would be frustrated by it. In essence, there was just enough friction needed for me to play and to finish the game.

Imagine a world totally devoid of friction, where doing things is effortless. You have robots and automatons doing things for you. Everything is at your command, done at the tap of your finger or the sound of your voice. With self-driving cars and robots doing things for you, that “utopian” future may not be far off. The question is: at what cost do we get all this wonderful technology? Are there downsides to this we haven’t thought through? We must remember that the promise of a frictionless world comes with a cost of convenience that we haven’t fully comprehended. I’ll be sure to explore that in a future draft.

There are times and parts of our lives when we want to reduce/eliminate friction altogether, which are valid. For instance, you don’t want to keep thinking about how you work and the tools you use — which if you do will likely produce a drag on your system and/or your mental psyche — you just want to use them to get the most out of them. We need to find small ways to remove friction in our lives. Then, there are times in our lives where we want to embrace friction for self-reflection, serendipity, and personal growth. There are times when we might need solitude and then other times when we want to seek human connection.

Where does friction show up in your life? Can you get rid of it altogether, and would that be helpful? Where would you like to have a gap between what is and what could be?

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