Why We Need Friction in Life

Dear friend,

A philosophical epiphany I had:

We need friction in life in order to do or accomplish anything.

Why is this? Let me explain.

Friction is context-dependent

First of all, the problem with modern life is that we try to remove friction (when sometimes, we actually may need friction). For example, a lot of tech talk is about “reducing friction”.

Yet– in many domains in life, we need friction. For example, you cannot make fire without friction. You cannot ejaculate without friction.

But the difficult question is this:

In which domains in life is friction desirable, and which domains in life is friction unwanted?

Less friction in working out

Let me give you an example: the gym.

For a lot of us, the desired activity is to workout. The friction is the mental friction needed to put on your workout clothes, drive to the gym, park, and then workout.

In this situation, it is beneficial to reduce friction of going to the gym. To reduce friction you can either just workout in plain clothes, you can be like me and always wear “workout ready clothes” (I wear merino wool leggings, and minimalist “water shoes” which are great for doing deadlifts and squats), and I have found a gym super close to the house (around 5 minutes drive). Or other times, I just walk to the local park and do some chinups and dips.

Less friction in photography

In photography, the desired activity is to make photos. Yet there is a lot of friction involved– the friction of choosing your “ideal” camera and lens combination (this is why I advocate for ‘one camera, one lens’). The friction of going out to taking pictures (if you like to shoot street photography, you might want to drive to some downtown area). The friction of the ideal settings for your camera (this is why I advocate for ‘set it and forget it’ settings, Program mode, or Intelligent Auto mode).

So if you know you desire to make more photographs, reduce as much friction from your photographic life. For example, just shoot with your phone, just shoot in fully-auto, or just walk around the block and shoot pictures of whatever interests you.

Difficulty is good

In video games, we get bored if there is no challenge. Video games are only fun when we have enough difficulty. Yet the hard thing is this: balancing difficulty with our skill level.

For example, if you’re a newbie player in a video game, you don’t immediately want to go into ‘expert’ mode, or it will be too difficult, and thus no fun. But at the same time, if you’re an intermediate player, you don’t want to play in ‘easy mode’ — even “noob stomps” aren’t that much fun after the few chuckles.

What we want is this:

To be challenged enough — which I think is usually 5% above our pre-conceived ability.

For example, when it comes to powerlifting, I just try to increase my “one rep max” for my deadlift by 5 pounds a week. Or when it comes to intermittent fasting, I try to fast for 30 minutes longer at a time, on a daily basis.

So this is the trick:

Try to increase your difficulty gradually– 5% a day, a week, or according to whatever timespan works for you.

But the thing is this:

You must challenge yourself (more) to become stronger.

Gravity is friction

To increase my squat at the gym, I NEED gravity. Our muscles will atrophy without any gravity (note astronauts whose muscles get weaker when they live in space for too long).

So consider in life– don’t seek to reduce or eliminate all friction from your life. Could you enjoy sex if there was no friction? Of course not. Could you enjoy life if there was 0 difficulty? Of course not. Would you enjoy camping if you didn’t “suffer” a bit, by being outdoors and away from modern conveniences? I think not.

Seek meaningful friction.


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