Desire paths: the shortest, fastest routes to goals

Desire path and desire cycle path

Desire path and desire cycle path (Photo credit: Kake Pugh)

While reading The Old Ways: A Journey by Foot by Robert McFarlane, I came across the phrase: desire paths. People and other animals create desire paths when they take the shortest, fastest possible routes to destinations.

You have a desire path in your neighbourhood; I’m sure of it. I have one few hundred feet from me in the park behind my house. My neighbours beat it down with their feet every morning and evening on their way to and from the bus stop; the shortest, fastest route to our bus stop cuts across the grass of our park.

I saw some sheep on a desire path last week. They walked along the edge of an unfenced field. They could have bolted and run free in any direction, but they stayed unwaveringly on the shortest, fastest route to their goal. Cow paths are perhaps the most famous desire paths. The cows take the shortest, fastest route between their pasture and their milking time.

We effortlessly create desire paths every day. When we park our car at the grocery store and walk diagonally across the lot to get to the store instead of following the laid out parking lines, we take a desire path. When we jaywalk across the street to get to Starbucks faster, we jaywalk on a desire path. We know where we want to go, nothing holds us back, and we take the steps to get there. Easy right?

Why are other goals not so easy to reach? How do young people jaywalk to the right career when they don’t know for certain what they want to do? How do people who have been hurt in the past find the fast-track to the right relationship?  And weight loss? All we need to do is eat a little less and exercise a little more. Easy, right? Apparently not, judging by the millions of dollars people spend trying to find shorter, faster routes.

If a target is uncertain, if we freeze out of fear because of past failures, or if we don’t have the stick-to-it-ive-ness to hang in for the long haul, we end up going for long, circuitous walks and never reaching destinations.

For those not-so-clear, scary, long-term goals, it might help to:

  1. Place them on a Starbucks corner in your mind (or Tim Horton’s, or whatever).
  2. Feel the fear and do it anyway.
  3. Repeat.


13369533Read my review of The Old Ways here:

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