Pay Me Now or Pay Me Later
As I learned in Freshman year Econ 101, there is no such thing as a free lunch. Opportunity – or other – costs exist everywhere, even if we are unaware of them, or worse yet ignore their existence. We do something today – or fail to act – and the cost may be felt immediately, or in some cases not for years, but a cost there will be.
Here are some key examples of this concept in action:
We spend money on things we don’t really need today, and pay a huge price in the future when we don’t have enough to pay for our kids college, or have to work well past retirement age (which is fine for those who love what they do, but most American’s do not enjoy their jobs which is another, sad conversation in and of itself).
We eat too much today, or decide against working out, and pay the price in the future by being overweight, having health issues (and monetary costs) associated with obesity, etc.
We choose not to deal with challenging relationship issues today, and over time a gulf emerges between us and the other person, invariably leading to some kind of blow up in the future.
The reality is that the price you pay in the future for not addressing an issue today can be many times the ‘cost’ of just dealing with it in the moment. Think of manufacturing: if you can catch a flaw in the design of a computer chip or car part before it leaves the assembly line, the cost of fixing it is very small. But ignore the issue and wait until the product is way down the line in consumers’ hands, and now the cost for fixing the problem has gone up dramatically. Entire computers must be recalled, etc. The cost to fix the problem then can be 10X the price to fix it at the source. As the CEO of the company, would you rather pay the small price today upfront, or the much bigger price later? Either way, you are paying.
To bring this concept to our health, if you make bad choices today, you will pay a big price tomorrow and beyond. Period. Especially as you get older, the price goes up and up for bad choices. In the moment, when you are deciding on eating a fattening pizza instead of some salad, you are literally making the following trade off: I will take 10 minutes of pleasure (the amount of time I will enjoy the pizza) in exchange for 1,430 minutes of discomfort and not feeling great about myself (the rest of the 24 hours in the day). Multiply this day after day after day. To hammer home the point, would you rather be ‘uncomfortable’ (or less comfortable) for 10 minutes a day eating a salad versus something fattening and be extremely comfortable (being fit, healthy, full of energy, confidence, etc.) the rest of the 24 hours, day after day after day - or the other way around?
It seems like a very simple trade off. Pay a tiny price now in the form of making a smart choice and get huge benefits the rest of the time. People massively underestimate the opportunity costs for doing certain things (for more information on this check out the great book Deep Work by Cal Newport). They only see the supposed upside of, for example, finding old friends on Facebook. But they fail to account for the incredible costs associated with time spent paging through useless information – time that could be spent engaging in quality interactions with close friends, family, etc.
As you make choices, think carefully about the cost/benefit of that choice, rather than mindlessly doing the same thing over and over. Once you are aware of the incredible benefits of making smart choices, then you will develop positive habits around good choices, and you will no longer have to be as conscious about deciding between alternatives.