The Path of Least Resistance: Learning to Become the Creative Force in Your Own Life - by Robert Fritz

The Path of Least Resistance

We observe two contradictory forces in play in our lives. The force to create, which is generative and independent from circumstances, and the force to avoid threat, which is reactive or responsive and is driven by the circumstances. These motivations are incompatible with each other. Blending them is impossible. Either our generative urge, or our reactions and responses will be the dominant motivational force. Some people may have episodes in their lives that are motivated by their dynamic urge to create, but for the majority of the time, they are reactive or responsive. Others may react or respond to the prevailing circumstances on occasion, but they spend most of their time motivated by an urge to create, a motivation that initiates itself independently from conditions they happen to be in. Most of our education, social tradition, and upbringing promotes responsive motivation. With the assumption that there is a correct way to conduct oneself, our job in life seems to be to find that proper way, and then to act accordingly.

The principle of the path of least resistance is something we all understand on a fairly essential level, that energy will always move where it is easiest for it to move. When change is attempted on a reactive or responsive level, as usually is the case when a behavioral approach is adopted, the change is temporary. The principle has been ignored. This is as true in organizations as it is in the lives of individuals. Attempting to impose change on a structure in which the path of least resistance sets up certain tendencies for behavior is destined to fail.

Individuals and organizations have this in common. If you have attempted change, improvement, advancement, and growth, but have not changed the underlying structures that cause the current tendencies for behavior, you are unlikely to succeed for long. Why? You have not changed the path of least resistance.

Three Insights

You are like a river. You go through life taking the path of least resistance. We all do—all human beings and all of nature. It is important to know that. You may try to change the direction of your own flow in certain areas of your life—your eating habits, the way you work, the way you relate to others, the way you treat yourself, the attitudes you have about life. And you may even succeed for a time. But eventually you will find you return to your original behavior and attitudes. This is because your life is determined, insofar as it is a law of nature for you to take the path of least resistance.

The underlying structure of your life determines the path of least resistance. If a riverbed remains unchanged, the water will continue to flow along the path it always has, since that is the most natural route for it to take. If the underlying structures of your life remain unchanged, the greatest tendency is for you to follow the same direction your life has always taken.

You can change the fundamental underlying structures of your life. Furthermore, once a new basic structure is in place, the overall thrust of your life—like the power of the river's currentsurges to form the results you truly want. And the direct path to those results becomes the path of least resistance. In fact, with an appropriate change in the underlying structure of your life, the path of least resistance cannot lead anywhere except in the direction you really want to go.

The guiding principle that emanates from these three insights is this: You can learn to recognize the structures at play in your life and change them so that you can create what you really want to create.

One of the most important insights of this book is in this principle: Structure determines behavior. The way anything is structured determines the behavior within that structure.

The study of structure is independent of and different from the study of psychology. But when we begin to understand how structure works and to apply structural principles to human behavior, two extraordinary principles become obvious. One is that human beings act in accordance with the underlying structures in their lives.

The second principle is: Some structures are more useful than others in leading to desired results. Structure is "nothing personal." Someone in a structure that leads to pain, frustration, and hopelessness is not being desig nated by the universe as a victim of life. Put anyone else in that same structure and that person will have similar experiences. On the other hand, put anyone in a structure that leads to fulfillment, accomplishment, and success, and that person will have these experiences. People commonly believe that if they change their behavior, they can change the structures in their lives. In fact, just the opposite is true. To attempt a psychological solution to what is really a structural phenomenon does nothing to change the underlying structure.

The Reactive-Responsive Orientation

One way or another, most people believe circumstances are the driving force in their life. When circumstances are central to your life, you may feel you have only two types of choices: either to respond to the circumstances or to react against the circumstances. You can be either the "fair-haired boy" or the "last angry man." Reacting or responding is more than just a policy of how to live your life. It becomes a way of life, a life orientation. I call this the reactive-responsive orientation. In this orientation you take action based on the circumstances in which you find yourself, or might find yourself in the future. Unfortunately, most education systems reinforce this reactiveresponsive orientation. One focus of education is to weave the child into the fabric of society. In fact, most school systems see their job as teaching their students how to respond. Many students "adapt well" and learn how to respond "appropriately." Their actions, however, are not motivated by a love of learning or a thirst for knowledge, but by a desire to fit in and avoid trouble

Instead of responding to circumstances, some people rebelliously oppose society's version of how life is portrayed at home or in school. Their reactions can be either overt or covert. If you are reactive, you also believe that circumstances are the driving force of life. But you believe that circumstances are not necessarily the way society presents them. Reactive behavior may take the form of cynicism, or you may have a chronic chip on your shoulder. You may be suspicious of others or simply have a "short fuse." You may hold conspiracy theories about people in power or subscribe to a political or religious philosophy that reacts against injustice or evil.

The reactive-responsive orientation contains the basic presumption that you are powerless. If you habitually react or respond to circumstances, where does the power lie in these situations? It clearly lies outside you, in the circumstances. Therefore, because the power does not reside in you, you are powerless and the circumstances are all-powerful

In the reactive-responsive orientation, there are certain internal circumstances, such as fear, anger, illness, or parts of the personality, that people treat just as if they were external circumstances. That is, people react or respond to these internal circumstances as if they were beyond their reach or control. They are seen as internally external: "I had so much anger, I had to leave the room"; or "My fear got in the way during my job interview"; or "My relationship with my father was incomplete, so I can't seem to have a good relationship with a man"; or "My mind gets in the way when I am trying to be spontaneous"; or "My ego gets me in trouble"; or "I need to overcome my sinful nature"; or "My stomach rebels against spicy food." These are all examples of internal circumstances that people perceive as if they were external circumstances. While these circumstances are primarily inner and self-referential, they function for the reactive-responsive person as if they originated somewhere beyond the personal sphere of influence, beyond their direct control. In talking about the reactive-responsive orientation, I call circumstantial stimuli any stimuli, external or internal, that seem to force people to take action.

While at times circumstantial stimuli evoke spontaneous reactions, at other times they seem to call for "appropriate" responses. "She had the flu, so I thought it was a good idea to bring her chicken soup." "The workmen did not do a good job, so I felt I had to sue them." "They invited me to the party so warmly that I had to say yes." "He was so bad, I had to get divorced. What would you have done?" In each of these cases it seemed to the persons involved that the circumstantial stimuli caused their reaction or response. The power to influence their actions in each situation was attributed to the circumstances, which in some way or other forced or impelled them to take action. They did not feel they could choose what they wanted, independent of circumstances. In the reactive-responsive orientation, it always seems that circumstances are powerful—more powerful than you are. You feel that all you can do is to react or respond to them.

Some people who enjoy better than ordinary life situations base their lives on an avoidance strategy that permeates many of their actions and attitudes. They manage to reach a certain plateau of insulation, keeping themselves "safe" and "certain." Such people continually compromise whatever they may truly want in their lives for the sake of safety, security, and a sense of peace. However, they never experience true safety, security, or peace. Through this defensive strategy, the most they can hope to attain in their lives is complacency and mediocrity. Beneath all their pseudosecurity is an undercurrent of dissatisfaction and vulnerability to circumstances beyond their direct control. Many of these people eventually become cynical about life. Others become stoical.

Creating Is No Problem— Problem Solving Is Not Creating

There is a profound difference between problem solving and creating. Problem solving is taking action to have something go away—the problem. Creating is taking action to have something come into being—the creation. Most of us have been raised in a tradition of problem solving and have had little real exposure to the creative process. For this reason many people confuse the two. It doesn't help when some "experts" talk about "creative" problem solving. They think that the creative process and problem solving are the same. They are completely different. The problem solvers propose elaborate schemes to define the problem, generate alternative solutions, and put the best solution into practice. If this process is successful, you might eliminate the problem. Then what you have is the absence of the problem you are solving. But what you do not have is the presence of a result you want to create.

The path of least resistance in problem solving is to move from worse to better and then from better to worse again. This is because the actions taken are generated by the problem. If the intensity of the problem is lessened by the actions you took, there is less motivation to take further actions. The structure is this: The problem leads to actions designed to reduce the problem. The problem is reduced. This leads to less need for other actions. This leads to fewer future actions. This leads to the problem remaining or intensifying anew.

Freeing the mind is a different act from focusing the mind. Focus needs an object of attention. To a creator, the object of focus is the final result that he or she wants to create. Freeing the mind is a little like fishing in a pond where you hope there may be fish, without knowing what kind of fish you want or how to fish. Creating is more like actual fishing. Before you go to the pond, you focus on the kind of fish you want to catch. If you want trout, you bring fly-casting equipment. If you want bass, you bring sinkers and bait. There is always an unknown quality in the creative process, as there is in fishing, but when you are aware of the final result you want to create, you are able to focus the process, rather than make the process a random one.

Since they don't know how to create what they want to create, people often see problems as relevant to life and filled with important content. But upon close examination, problems are most often irrelevant. As a way of life, not much can come out of problem solving.


Creating is completely different from reacting or responding to the circumstances you are in. The process of creating is not generated by the circumstances in which you find yourself, but by the creation itself. It is popular to think of creativity as a product of your environment, culture, or other circumstances that foster the creative process. An example of this notion was the corporate fad, popular just a few years ago, of "engineer environments" that were supposed to be conducive for creating. But a quick survey of the history of creativity will make it obvious that people have created in a wide range of circumstances, from convenient ones to difficult ones. As you begin to consider what you want to create in your life, it is good for you to know that the circumstances that presently exist are not the determining factor of the results you desire to create. You are not limited by them, even though it may seem you are entrenched in them.

It is common to assume that the unknown is unknowable, or at least unknowable by normal means. It is our inexperience and ignorance that can make the creative process seem as if it is an outcome of magical operations, the same kind of inexperience and ignorance a jungle tribe may have about modern aviation. But, in fact, creating is a skill that can be learned and developed. Like any skill, you learn by practice and hands-on experience. You can learn to create by creating.

  1. Conceive of the result you want to create. Creators start at the end. First they have an idea of what they want to create. Sometimes this idea is general, and sometimes it is specific. Before you can create what you want to create, you must know what you are after, what you want to bring into being. Your original concept may be clear, or it may be simply a rough draft. Either will work well

  2. Know what currently exists. Knowing what currently exists is another skill. While this may sound deceptively simple, in fact most of us have been encouraged to view reality with particular biases. Some people make reality seem better than it is, some make it seem worse than it is, and some minimize how good or bad it can be. One of the most important abilities creators have is the ability to be objective about their own creations

  3. Take action. Creating is a matter of invention rather than of convention. Education emphasizes convention, so you may have had little experience with inventing. Inventing is another skill that can be developed. When you take an action that is designed to bring your creation into being, the action may either work or not work. If the action works, you can continue taking it or discontinue taking it. Sometimes it will be useful to continue, sometimes it will not be useful to continue. You will know what to do by watching the changes in the current state of the result. All the actions, the ones that work and the ones that do not work, help to create the final result. This is because creating itself is a learning process, learning what works and what does not work. The stock-in-trade of a creator are the abilities to experiment and to evaluate one's experiments

  4. Learn the rhythms of the creative process. There are three distinct phases of the creative process: germination, assimilation, and completion. Each phase has its own energy and class of actions. Germination begins with excitement and newness. Partly this germinational energy comes from the unusualness of the new activity. Assimilation is often the least obvious phase of the process. In this phase the initial "thrill is gone." This phase moves from a focus on internal action to a focus on external action. In this phase you live with your concept of what you want to create and internalize it. It becomes part of you. Because of this, you are able to generate energy to use in your experiments and learning. The drama of the first blush of germination is over, but this new, quiet energy of assimilation helps you form the result. Completion is the third stage of creation. This stage has a similar energy to germination, but now it is applied to a creation that is more and more tangible. In this phase you use the energy not only to bring to final completion the result you are creating but also to position yourself for your next creation. In other words, this stage leads also to the germination of your next creation

  5. Creating momentum. Many of the theories describing creativity these days have a tone of "beginners luck." For professional creators there is a different tone, that of ever-increasing momentum. Not only is the creative process a reliable method for producing the results you want, it also contains seeds of its own development. Who do you think has a greater chance for successfully creating the results they want: those who have done it for years, or those who are novices

The Orientation of the Creative

A person in the reactive-responsive orientation is in a kind of maze. The circumstances are the walls. The person's life consists of negotiating through the maze. Some people have found safety in traveling the same route, and some are consistently surprised when confronted with a new dead end, but either way there is always a limitation of choice, often between the lesser of two evils. When you are in the orientation of the creative, life is often interesting, exciting, and special. This is not because creators try to be interested in whatever they are doing, but because they are involved in life on a level where there is always the possibility of something new and wonderful happening that has never existed before.

In the creative orientation, when you answer the question "What do I want to create?" it is not clear whether what you want is possible. Yet throughout the history of the world many results have been created that seemed impossible at the time they were conceived.

Once a vision is clear, processes organically form that lead to the accomplishment of that vision. This means that, in the creative orientation, process is invented along the way.

Tension Seeks Resolution

The path of least resistance oscillates in some structures and resolves in others. If you are in an oscillating structure, you will experience a recurring pattern. This is a pattern that moves toward what you want, and then away from what you want, and then toward what you want, and then away from what you want, and so on. If you are in a structure that resolves, the path of least resistance moves toward final resolution of the structure. One major skill of the creative process is forming structures that resolve in favor of the creation. These structures are the most useful because they support movement in the direction of your final result.

People often attempt to circumvent the effects of structural conflict with great hope and optimism, which is usually followed by great disillusionment. It is inherent in this structure that any actions you take to solve structural conflict only reinforce the experience of limitation and hence the structure itself. Since the nature of this conflict is structural, it is only by changing the underlying structure of your life that you can make any real and lasting change. However, any attempt you make to change the structure from within this structure will not work. Because of the structure in play, the path of least resistance will lead you to futile actions, actions designed to relieve the conflict, but that ironically will only entrench the conflict further. In fact, if you are in a structural conflict, you will develop strategies to compensate for the inability of the structure to support final resolution.

Compensating Strategies

How do these compensating strategies develop? Usually gradually. Your own compensating strategies develop so subtly that they are probably not obvious to you.

Much of the advice people give each other will not work, because it is designed to change compensating strategies without any notion of the underlying structures that are causing them.

There are three major strategies designed to compensate for the fundamental unresolvability of structural conflict. They are: staying within an area of tolerable conflict, conflict manipulation, and willpower manipulation.

Area of Tolerable Conflict: Oscillation of structure creates oscillation of emotional experiences. With wide oscillation you can experience an emotional roller coaster. Many people do not like being on an emotional seesaw, so they adopt a strategy of minimizing the oscillation. This is done by remaining within an area in which they can easily tolerate the feelings generated by the system. Within this area of tolerable conflict, the pattern of oscillation continues to occur, but with decreased amplitude.

A person in this strategy avoids change. When confronted with a challenge, such a person attempts to minimize change by moving away from any potential experience of conflict.

The behaviors found in this strategy are designed to limit aspiration and to minimize loss. This is the strategy encouraged by most institutions and organizations, including public education, government bureaucracies, and corporate life. The larger the organization, the greater the likelihood of this strategy becoming the norm. When people join organizations that have this strategy, they are brought into the fold by the message, delivered either subtly or overtly, "Don't make waves." Predictability and certainty are highly valued, to the detriment of creativity and greater accomplishment.

Conflict Manipulation: Conflict manipulation always has these two steps:

  1. Intensify the conflict—usually by presenting a "negative vision" or unwanted consequences if action is not taken.

  2. Take action designed to reduce the pressure—usually by preventing the unwanted consequences from happening.

A person adopting this strategy does not take action to create what he or she wants. He or she takes action only to reduce the pressure that is synthetically manufactured by visions of negative consequences. A corporation may launch a new program to avoid a potential loss in market share to a threatening competitor. An employee may show a burst of energy following a performance review at which his continued employment was called into question. A smoker may decide to give up cigarettes after hearing the latest statistics linking smoking and lung cancer.

If you worry chronically, you use conflict manipulation. If you are driven by your concerns, you use conflict manipulation. If you react to your negative emotions, you use conflict manipulation.

Willpower Manipulation: Many people find that they take little or no action unless they motivate themselves through heightened volition, "positive attitudes," or inspiration. The use of willpower is another strategy designed to overpower structural conflict by forcing oneself into action. A familiar strategy in this mode is to fortify willpower through positive thinking, exaggerated affirmations, motivational resolve, and inspirational fervor. Some of the theories suggest that it is necessary to "program" the mind with positive propaganda so that you can enlist the cooperation of your subconscious, which is presumed to control the course of your life. The assumption is that if you can change the "program" of your subconscious, you will live happily ever after.

There are two assumptions, generally unexpressed and unexamined, at the roots of schools of positive thinking. The first is that you need to control yourself by overpowering your habitual negativity. The second is that the objective truth about reality is somehow dangerous to you and that you must therefore impose upon the truth a beneficent interpretation. The radical difference between positive thinking and the creative orientation can be seen in parallel assumptions about the creative process. First, in the orientation of the creative, there is no need to control yourself. Instead, the orientation assumes that whether you are habitually negative or not, you have a natural inclination toward creating what you most truly want. Furthermore, there are no inner forces you must overcome, only inner forces that might be aligned organically as part of the creative process. This is not programming yourself, but rather working with all of the forces in play—including the forces you may not especially like. Second, in the orientation of the creative, it is essential to report to yourself what reality truly is, no matter what the conditions and circumstances may be. A clear description of reality is necessary input in the creative process. Were you to impose any "rose-colored" or otherwise synthetic views on your reality, you would obscure it.

Structural Tension

To change this structure there must be another structure in play, and this structure must take precedence over the old structure, so that the path of least resistance will change and energy may move easily along that new path. The structure that is senior to structural conflict has the following properties:

  • It incorporates structural conflict into itself.

  • It transposes a complex structure into a simple structure

I call this senior structure structural tension. Structural tension is formed by two major components:

  1. A vision of the result you want to create.

  2. A clear view of the reality you now have.

Creators not only tolerate discrepancy, they appreciate and encourage it. Discrepancy contains the energy that enables you to create. The discrepancy between what you want and what you currently have forms the most important structure in the creative process, that of structural tension.

You weaken structural tension when you lower your vision. If you compromise what you want, you do not create the true discrepancy that forms the tension. It is all too common in our society to misrepresent what we really want. We have been encouraged to "be realistic," "be practical," and "want only what you can have." The irony is that you want what you want, whether or not you misrepresent that to yourself. The only time you know for sure whether creating a result is possible or not is when you have done it. All other thoughts on the matter are simply speculation.

Another way of weakening structural tension is to misrepresent current reality. This strategy is often employed by people who "hold the vision" while ignoring what is going on around them. These are the idle dreamers who give real visionaries a bad name. Do not confuse a creator with a dreamer. Dreamers only dream, but creators bring their dreams into reality. Only an accurate awareness of reality and an accurate awareness of your vision will enable you to form structural tension as an important part of the creative process. When you form and hold structural tension, resolution moves toward the vision you want to create. Holding structural tension is not the same as evoking a magical incantation, but rather organizing forces in play. The energy generated by the discrepancy you establish is directly useful in the actions you take on behalf of the vision. Movement leads to more movement. Once you establish structural tension, your natural tendency will be to generate actions in order to resolve the tension. From the inception of the creative process to its conclusion, the actions you take will be supported by the structure. All of the actions you take to create your vision will help you move toward the result you want, including the ones that are not directly successful


The best place to begin the creative process is at the end. What is the final result you want? This way of thinking helps you conceive the result you want to create independently from how you will create it. This is probably the opposite of what you learned in school. Our educational system teaches us how to enact procedures. Students are taught the how long before they are taught to consider what they want. Learning how to do anything before you have any notion of what you will use this knowledge for can give you a false sense of purposelessness. Some of the best education relates what the student is learning with what can result from its mastery.

When you first set out to conceive of a result you want, start with a clean sheet, a blank canvas, a fresh beginning. Preconceived ideas are just that, ideas you have already thought of. When you are conceiving of a new creation, it is best to begin without considering what you have thought before, or done before, or even what others have done before. With each new creation, begin anew in your mind. This technique can make quite a difference in your effectiveness.

Learn to form pictures of what you want. This may take practice. As you experiment with picture forming, you will be able to clarify what the result you want will be. Look at your result from many angles in your imagination. Try adding new elements. Try taking out elements.

How clear do you need to be about the result you want? Clear enough that you would recognize the result if you had it.

There is a difference between a concept and a vision. Concept comes before vision. Concept is general, vision is specific. In the conceptual period you are experimenting with ideas. You are mentally trying out various possibilities. This is a formative period. You may meditate, think, walk, look at the sky, watch television, take a warm bath (one of my favorites), sleep, dream, talk with friends, and so on. In a way the conception period has the feel of play to it. Playing around with concepts. Trying it this way and that way. Living with it in your imagination for a period of time. Getting to know it well enough that you know what you like and what you don't like about it.

Once you have formed the concept, the next step is to crystallize it. This is an act of focusing. Given the various ways in which the concept might manifest itself, how do you want to see it manifested? The same principle of the conceptual stage applies to the vision stage. The vision need only be clear enough that you would recognize it if you created it. But what is the essential difference between conception and vision? The difference is in focus, and focus is made possible by limitation. When you focus a concept into a vision, you are limiting many ways into a single way. All vision is concept, but not all concepts are vision. While in the conceptual stage you are trying out many possibilities, in the vision stage you have decided on one and only one.

As you form your vision, you simultaneously teach it to yourself. There is a transition from concept to vision during this period. At first you are trying ideas out for size. You are playing the field of ideas. You are learning more and more about what you like and what you don't like. You may fall in love with a certain idea for three or four days and find that by the end of the week you are completely bored with it. You may think little of an idea at first, only to find that it grows on you and you eventually like it. As you conceptualize, you learn. And what you learn is directly useful in creating your vision. Some people become fixated in any of the many stages of the creative process, and in this stage it is possible to play around with ideas and never form concept into vision. Learning during this process must lead to choices if you are to move from the general to the specific. When you limit, you must include and exclude. This is one of the very important acts of a creator

The following principles will help you experiment with conceiving of what you want to create.

  1. Ask yourself the question, What do I want? It is amazing how often people do not ask themselves this obvious question. You can ask and answer this question at any time. However, when you are not trying to solve a problem or determine a process, you are in a much better position to ask and answer this question. Practice asking yourself this question in many types of situations. Do not save it only for those times of great importance. If you are in the habit of working with this question, you will develop an instinct for knowing what you want. Even if you have been indecisive in the past, you will become decisive by building up experience over time. Knowing what you want has two important advantages. You are able to focus your attention quickly, and you are accurately describing the truth to yourself

  2. Consider what you want independently of considerations of process. When you try to determine what you want by considering process, you limit your ability to conceive of the result you want to what you already know how to do. But the creative process is filled with discovering what you do not know. Those who attempt to make results dependent on process are severely limiting themselves. This is a good way of repeating history, but not a good way of bringing something new into being. You will need to consider process when you create. But this should happen only after you know what result you want. In fact, you will probably be surprised at the clever ways in which you will invent the path between your current reality and your vision

  3. Separate what you want from questions of possibility. If you find yourself limiting what you want based on what seems possible to you, you are censoring and inhibiting your vision. If you don't admit to yourself what you want simply because it does not seem possible for you to have it, you are actually misrepresenting the truth to yourself

Current Reality

Avoiding describing reality accurately is often a strategy to overcome the negative consequences of your actions. Our society puts a high premium on reasons and excuses. Most people learn that if they have a good reason for not succeeding, they can sometimes avoid negative consequences. Many people misrepresent reality though a smoke screen of plausible-sounding reasons that are designed to distract themselves and others from the truth.

Sometimes knowing the reasons for failure can help you adjust the actions you take to shape your final creation. But this is quite different from using reasons to justify failure. Discovering the effect of the actions you take is designed to be a learning experience, rather than a justification for not succeeding.

Those who learn to know reality, without holding on to the past, are in the best position to truly live their lives. This is anything but amnesia. This is not forgetting the past, but remembering that the past is over. The past is not the present. Whether the past has been filled with loss and failure or filled with success and victory, the past is not the present. And the present is not the past.

There is a difference between passively learning reality because life forces you to and actively teaching yourself reality. When you seek to know reality and learn what there is to learn, you can best create what really matters to you. Like art for art's sake, this is truth for truth's sake—the desire to know reality because it is real, and for no other reason. The foundation of reality is the only place you can start the creative process. There are no tricks to this. Learning reality is an ability that is important to master and yet human to avoid. There is a conflict of tendencies here. One tendency is to view reality selectively. Our natural aversion to pain and suffering leads us to avoid new experiences of pain and suffering. We develop a strategy of avoiding looking at reality for fear of what we might find. We would rather not receive bad news. A second tendency is the human longing to create. As we move in time and space, we live in a constant state of change, and we have a natural tendency to want to determine what this change will be. Will it be positive or negative? Smooth or abrupt? Furthermore, we have deep aspirations. We are natural builders. We build civilizations. We desire to build our own lives. To fulfill this tendency, we need to know what reality is. Whether we like what we find or not. Whether it makes us feel good or bad. Whether we are frustrated by it or satisfied.

These two tendencies lead to different actions. One is to avoid knowing reality, the other is to know reality. The conflict between the two is usually not pronounced, but sometimes it is. When you are creating and also trying to avoid pain, you will come to a crossroads of decision. When push comes to shove, what do you do? Do you avoid the potential pain and misrepresent reality, or do you accurately represent reality to enable yourself to create your vision and feel whatever there is to feel? This is a matter of values. That which you hold to be more valuable will guide your actions. If the avoidance of pain is a higher value than the creation of what you want, your actions will be to avoid the parts of reality that seem problematic. If your creation is a higher value, you will pursue an accurate representation of reality and let your emotional chips fall where they may

When it comes to observing reality, people often do not see what is before their eyes. Instead, people see their concept of what reality should be. They are not seeing what is before their eyes, but what they expect to see. Concept is useful when you are constructing a vision of your creation, but a concept of reality can get in the way of seeing current reality.

People who have strong beliefs in a conceptual framework of reality often interpret reality to fit their biases. When you begin to observe reality, begin freshly with the notion that you know nothing. Separate the ideas you have from your observations. You might find this hard to do. But if you truly want to know how reality is, your observations must not be burdened by your own biases. It takes practice to put preconceived concepts aside and observe what is truly going on. When you master this practice, you will have a powerful tool you can use to create what matters most to you in life.

The Creative Cycle

There are three major stages in the growth and life-building process: germination, assimilation, and completion. Every complete creative process moves through this cycle and always in the same sequence. The cycles of creating are as natural and organic as the human birth cycle and have the same three stages. Germination occurs at conception. This is the prime initiating act from which the entire process emanates. Assimilation, the second distinct stage, is akin to gestation, during which the fetus develops and grows.Completion, the final stage, occurs when the birth of this new human being takes place.

In creating the results you want, germination has a very special energy—the energy characteristic of any beginning. You tend to feel this burst of energy when you initiate projects: when you first begin a new diet, when you start a new job, when your organization decides to create a new line of products, when you tackle a new legal case, when you begin to research and design a new technical tool, when your management team sets a new goal, when you first bring home a new piece of stereo equipment, when you meet someone with whom you hit it off well, when you start a new class or workshop, when you first start to write a major research paper, when you first buy a house. Composer Roger Sessions described germination as "the impulse which sets creation in movement."

During the initial stages excitement, keen interest, and freshness abound. It is a time for generating action. Great insight, realization, enthusiasm, change, and a sense of power often occur. As everyone knows, however, these experiences of germinational energy dissipate over time, often after a brief time.

Assimilation is a crucial step of creating. Like the gestation period of the human birth cycle, assimilation is the least obvious stage of growth, particularly in its beginning phases. During this internalizing stage, the result being created is growing organically, developing from within, and calling forth inner resources, while you are taking inner and outer action.

Germinational energy occurs when you are conceiving your vision. During the assimilation stage, you are teaching this vision to yourself. You are internalizing the vision, making it part of yourself. Your vision is no longer a new acquaintance but an old friend. In a sense the vision becomes one with you. Your creation begins to grow and develop both consciously and nonconsciously. Much of this development is not at all obvious. Assimilation has a hidden quality to it. You begin to have insights, ideas, connections, and added momentum. Your creation begins to take shape. It becomes more and more tangible. You begin to experience your creation as a concrete entity. The creation begins to take on a life of its own.

The third distinct stage of creation is completion, which includes bringing to fruition, manifesting the whole, finishing, following through, and learning to live with your creation.

Germination and Choice

Germination does not consist merely of conceiving what you want and establishing a direction in which you want to go, but most importantly in activating the seeds of your creation. The way you activate the seeds of your creation is by making choices about results you want to create. When you make a choice, you mobilize vast energies and resources that otherwise often go untapped. All too often people fail to focus their choices upon results, and therefore their choices are ineffective.

Choice takes practice. It is a developed ability. The more you choose, the better you will choose. I recommend that you practice making small, quick choices whose outcomes have a low risk factor. The next time you are in a restaurant, quickly decide what you will order.

In the reactive-responsive orientation, there are eight common ways in which people avoid or undermine effective choice and by which they lose the potential power of choice.

  1. Choice by limitation—choosing only what seems possible or reasonable.

  2. Choice by indirectness—choosing the process instead of the result.

  3. Choice by elimination—eliminating all other possibilities so that only one choice remains.

  4. Choice by default—the "choice" not to make a choice, so that whatever results happen seem to occur without choice.

  5. Conditional choice—imposing preconditions on choices.

  6. Choice by reaction—choices designed to overcome a conflict. This occurs when people make choices not to initiate a creative process but to reduce discomfort or eliminate pressure.

  7. Choice by consensus—choosing by finding out what everyone else is willing to recommend and following the results of that poll.

  8. Choice by adverse possession—choice based on a hazy metaphysical notion about the nature of the universe.

In the creative process you do not make choices about what you do not want. You make choices about what you do want.

When you make a choice, take two steps:
First, conceive of the results you want, that is, have a clear vision of what you want to create.
Second, formalize the choice by actually saying the words, "I choose to have ...

When you make a formal choice, you activate the seeds of germination. You align all the energies at your disposal and set them in motion toward your choice. You initiate the first stage of the creative cycle. For many, making such a formal choice seems to be a momentary leap into the unknown, especially if the choice they are making involves something important they have never chosen before. After that moment of uncertainty, however, they often experience clarity, energy, and physical lightness. Whether or not you have unusual experiences, when you make a choice in the orientation of the creative, you actively set energy in motion in your chosen direction. Choices about results have power.

Primary, Secondary, and Fundamental Choice

Primary choices are choices about major results. You may make primary choices in almost any area of your life. At work, you may choose to be one of the most effective managers in your company, to harness superconductivity for practical applications, to develop a safe method of transporting hazardous materials, to integrate artificial intelligence and sophisticated retrieval systems, to open a manufacturing plant in Singapore. Personally, you may make primary choices to have a superb relationship, a meaningful job, a house in which you really feel at home, or a wonderful vacation. You may make a primary choice to create a work of art, to cook a fantastic meal, or to conduct a brilliant workshop or meeting. A primary choice is about some result you want in itself and for itself. It is not something you want because it will lead you to something elseeven though it may. A primary choice does not function mainly as a step in a series of steps. It functions as the ultimate goal.

A choice that helps you take a step toward your primary result is called a secondary choice. In the creative orientation, once you know your primary choice, whatever secondary choices you need to make in order to achieve the primary choice become clear along the way and easier to make. They become the most obvious course of action to take.

A fundamental choice is a choice in which you commit yourself to a basic life orientation or a basic state of being. A fundamental choice is a foundation upon which primary and secondary choices rest. Being a nonsmoker is a basic state of being, very different from the state of being of a smoker who is trying to quit smoking.

The fundamental choices for most people are the choices to be free, to be healthy, and to be true to oneself. Freedom finds both inner and outer expression. Outer freedom includes the ability to choose and create the circumstances of your life. Inner freedom includes the experience of limitlessness. Health includes physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects, separately and collectively. Being true to oneself is the choice to live in accordance with one's essential nature and morality, with the individual and unique purpose of one's life.

Fundamental choices are not subject to changes in internal or external circumstances. If you make the fundamental choice to be true to yourself, then you will act in ways that are true to yourself whether you feel inspired or depressed, whether you feel fulfilled or frustrated, whether you are at home, at work, with your friends, or with your enemies.


Assimilation is an important stage of growth and development because it is the period during which we incorporate intricate physical and mental skills in such a way that they become a natural part of ourselves.

The emotional experiences common to this crucial stage in the creative cycle are discomfort, frustration, and disappointment. "Nothing seems to be happening." "I don't seem to be making any headway." "I see no signs of progress." In the reactive-responsive orientation, the path of least resistance at this stage leads you to give up. Giving up is an attempt to avoid emotional frustration, disappointment, and wasting time.

Assimilation is a step beyond mere learning, for in assimilation you incorporate the learning into yourself. The creative process is a realm of continual learning. Moreover, you not only learn the specific skill you are practicing, you also learn that

  1. You can learn.

  2. You can assimilate whatever you need to know in any creative process.

Whenever you assimilate a learning, you deepen your base of experience of assimilation. You can internalize future learnings.

One powerful way to assimilate your present step is to move on to your next step, even if you feel inadequately prepared for it. When you move to your next step, you are somehow able to incorporate more than you now know about your present step.

What you embody tends to be created. This principle provides the key to assimilation. What you embody speaks louder than your behavior, to the same degree that your actions speak louder than your words. Furthermore, you assimilate what you embody. As you internalize what you embody, inner development occurs that is consistent with what you embody. All aspects of your consciousness realign themselves in accordance with what you embody.

Assimilation, like embodiment, has two phases—an internalizing phase and an externalizing phase. What you create grows within you and eventually expresses itself outwardly as you give birth to that which you are creating


Assimilation is a graduated process. Its steps build upon one another. As they build organically, the process generates energy. This energy builds on itself, and the process gains momentum.

Not only is assimilation an organic process itself, but it tends to generate other organic processes. The steps by which you move from where you are in your life to where you want to be cannot be put into a formula. The steps of that process develop organically, and what you are creating is unique, at least to your life. You may find yourself taking actions you have never taken before, thinking thoughts you have never thought before, being moved and inspired in ways you have never experienced before.

Strategic Moments

In the creative process there are certain strategic moments in which it seems as if you are either standing still or even going backward. These moments of apparent lack of progress are strategic because the actions you take at such moments will largely determine whether or not you are ultimately successful.

Often a result does not immediately follow the action you take to bring about the result. Therefore it is possible to initiate effective changes but not know, for a period of time, that they are effective.

If you find yourself continually resenting the fact that your present circumstances are not what you expected, you hinder your ability to use the power of current reality fully in creating structural tension.

Those moments when circumstances are not the way you would like them to be are actually very powerful and pivotal moments in the creative process. However wanted or unwanted your present circumstances may be, they function as needed feedback so that you can know the current status of the result you are creating.

The pivotal technique in the creative orientation may help you use unwanted circumstances as a catalyst to help propel you toward where you want to be. The technique is quite simple, yet profoundly powerful.

Step 1. Describe where you are. In other words, know exactly what the current reality is.

Step 2. Describe where you want to be. Remember to separate what you want from what you think is possible, so that you are clearly in touch with what you want. Do not limit yourself to only that which you think is possible under the circumstances.

Step 3. Once again, formally choose the result you want. Inwardly say the words, "I choose..., " adding the result you want.

Step 4. Move on. Once you have observed where you are (current reality) and where you want to be (vision) and have formally chosen the result you want to create (reestablished structural tension), change the focus of your conscious attention from being in an unwanted situation. Shift gears. Change the subject. You may look at the scenery, read a book, enjoy each other's company, or go back to what you were doing before you became focused on being lost or stuck. Step 4 of the pivotal technique leaves the structural tension unresolved. This is very desirable, because then you are able to assimilate structural tension more easily. The tension will be particularly helpful in generating natural processes in which the path of least resistance leads you directly toward the result.


Completion, the third and final stage of the creative cycle is the full and total accomplishment of the result you want to create. When this stage is finished, you have successfully created your vision.

There are two common experiences people associate with having what they want or with any result coming to completion. One experience is of fulfillment and satisfaction. The other common experience is of depression and loss.

Acknowledging the results you have created is a different act from receiving those results into your life. Receiving is an incoming action: You accept into your life what you have created. Acknowledging is an outgoing action: You bestow your judgment upon the results. You judge the results as being complete.

Good judgment takes practice. Judgment should be encouraged, not discouraged. When you are creating, you need to make judgments about the current status of the creative process. How close are you to the result you are creating? Are the actions you are taking working or not working? Is the current state of your creation good or bad? It is difficult to know where you stand in life, what matters to you, and what you live for when you do not make distinctions. When you avoid distinctions, everything takes on a glow of arbitrariness. Nothing seems to matter when everything has equal value.

Signs of the Future, Signs of the Times

There are two direct streams in history. One is the story of a reactive-responsive world. Events that shaped the lives of people and civilization emanated from the existing circumstances. The other story is that of the builder, the explorer, and the creator. Events that shaped the times were based on a different aspect of humanity, that of the quest to build, create, and know what was around the next hill. This instinct has always been an important force. These two streams have operated somewhat independently of each other. Sometimes they collide, and sometimes they collaborate. During times of war they have often done both. In different ways these two streams have both been dominant. Even though there have been great wars, political shifts, intrigue, economic manipulation, and power wielding; building and creating have always been a dominant force in the development of civilization. But perhaps, in spite of all our building, we are still in the Dark Ages. The majority of people are still raised to be reactiveresponsive. Much of the political and educational thrust is still in support of reaction or response to prevailing circumstances.

Can there be freedom of the individual? When individuals are in structural conflict, their actions are governed by the tendencies of the structure. Are people really able to be free, no matter what the political opportunity? Yes, if individuals have the ability to change the structure and if this change can come from their own hands. If people were simply mechanistic products of structure or conditioning or psychology, they could not be free. A small group of people are of this opinion, but they are not the artists of the world, who know the difference between choice, judgment, and consequence on the one hand, and predeterminism on the other. Freedom of the individual can be supported by systems, but not created by systems.

At last the revolution has come, one in which more of the power ends up in the hands of "the people." But this revolution has hardly been noticed by the politicos. They probably haven't been told yet. They still think that a change in governmental system or a change in political personalities will move the world and shake the foundation of the power structures. But they missed the action, because they were looking in the wrong place. This revolution has come quietly and in the light of day. It has grown from a small seed to a mass civilizing force. It has changed the way people think, work, play, and relate. It has made resources available to more people than ever before. It has decentralized power. It has become a way of life for many people and will be a way of life for future generations. This revolution is the personal computer.

One of the major differences between the technological age and the industrial age is the location of power. In the industrial age power was located in the hands of a few. Many people had to organize their lives to accommodate industry. People lived near where they worked. The local economy was fed from the work base, and complex, intricate relationships arose between the work force, the management, the local store keepers, the services from government, and national and international economic trends. In the new technological age, power lies in more and more hands. This leads to more and more choice. Where to work, how to work, where to live, how to educate our children, how to organize our communities.

The Power of Transcendence

When you shift to the orientation of the creative, you begin to move along the path of mastering causality. You become the predominant causal force in your life, which is a natural and desirable situation. This shift is made by evoking senior forces, such as fundamental choice, primary and secondary choices, structural tension, aspiration to your true values, and being true to yourself. These senior forces always take priority over lesser forces, such as willpower manipulation, conflict manipulation, and structural conflict. There is another force inherent in the orientation of the creative that is senior even to mastering causality. This senior force I call transcendence.

Transcendence is the power to be born anew, to make a fresh start, to turn over a new leaf, to begin with a clean slate, to enter into a state of grace, to have a second chance. Transcendence makes no reference to the past, whether your past has been overflowing with victories or filled with defeats. When you enter a state of transcendence, you are able to create a new life, unburdened by both the victories and the defeats of the past. Transcendence is more than just the accurate realization that the past is over. It is also a realignment of all dimensions of yourself with the very source of your life.