Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Overriding Atkinson’s “Law of Least Effort”

Journal Entry: Weight = 177.6; Coinage = $1.01 (.49 from two residual walks), 36 pennies, 2 nickels, 3 dimes, 1 quarter; glass bottles retrieved = 8; “Ground Scores” = 6. “Ground Scores” are a new feature for the Journal Entry section of the blog. The term comes from Wendy Bumgardner and her Walking feature in It refers to items found on the ground other than money that is considered worthy of keeping. My recent find of a screw driver is an example. My favorite money find was a $.17 scatter in the drug store parking lot, 1 dime, seven pennies. I parked there and walked three blocks for a doctor’s appointment rather than park in the convenient “pay to park” garage. The money was a reward for the six block walk, plus I didn't pay a garage fee.

Feature Entry: Jack Atkinson and David McClelland pioneered a motivational theory that concerns peoples’ need for achievement. Too much negative reinforcement and people stop responding and learning; but, too much positive reinforcement has the same results—people stop responding. What seems to be happening is “I can’t please this guy, so I will stop trying.” And conversely, “Regardless of how little I do or how poorly I do it, I still get an ‘adaboy.’, so I will do as little as possible.” Atkinson called this phenomenon the “Law of Least Effort,” or the general tendency for humans to avoid fatigue.

To be a successful MoneyWalker, we must learn to override Atkinson’s Law. First, why walk at all, it is such a bother! But if we do walk, Atkinson's law is still an issue. The walker’s goal is two-fold—to burn calories and find money. Thus, when the MoneyWalker charts his path, his walking goal is not to take the shortest route from the starting point to end-point, but to walk to where the money is. This strategy requires double-backs (the box canyon problem), two block detours, frequent crossing of streets, and playing hunches that require spontaneous diversions.

The mind is in a dissonance war. One element wants to follow Atkinson’s law and walk predictably and efficiently to the end point. The other element wants to take risks and serpentine along hoping to find even more elusive coins that others might have missed. As for weight control, the body doesn’t care as long as the distance is long enough to burn the desired amount of calories to prevent weight gain. Which will result in the strongest positive addiction? It all depends upon ones ‘need for achievement,’ in this case defined both in terms of the amount of money found and the amount of weight lost.

Atkinson and McClelland have more lessons such as where to park while shopping, stealing calories, and taking the elevator—all topics for future blogs. In the mean time, I am feeling a "need" for a nap.



  1. Hey Bobby, this is real interesting to me. Before we moved we lived in an area that while safe was not clean (trash everywhere), so we used to drive other places to walk.

    The easiest place was a park that one lap around was almost perfectly one mile. I thought that was fine for the purposes of walking the dog or fitness. You want to go one mile, you do one lap if you want to go two miles... But my wife got bored really quickly (apparently I'm as boring in person as I am on my blog), so we had to start making destinations, so then we were driving places to walk to other places. Ugh. Anyway she needed that sense of accomplishment to keep doing it.

    Have a great day!

  2. Thanks Jason, I always like hearing from you.