Monday, March 14, 2011

Is It Worth It?

We typically hear it asked rhetorically rather than inquiringly. Sometimes it's said simply as a trigger for reflection. You ask yourself, "Was it really worth it?"

There are two it's in play here. The desirable it (the benefit) and the undesirable one (the cost or penalty).

The undesirable it might be the grief you receive from the people around you. It might be the hangover you wake up with the next morning. It might be a mountain of credit card debt that never seems to diminish into a mole hill or an unwanted pregnancy or spending your would-have-been care-free Saturdays repairing a house or the additional baggage packing your midriff.

Oftentimes, at the point of decision, the undesirable it seems smaller that it turns out to be (perhaps even irrelevant). However, that's not typically the point at which you ask oneself the question. No, the question tends to be asked after the fact and certainly only seriously considered after the fact.

As humans, we tend to be fairly terrible at asking and responding in a timely manner to the question: Is it really worth it?. And yet, the opportunity do so presents itself many times each day, the first time frequently being while you're still lying in bed, e.g., should I get up or should I grab another ten minutes of sleep?

Ultimately, the question of an additional ten minutes of sleep is transactional (i.e., Is sleeping another ten minutes worth the frenzy I'll experience later as I rush to get everyone out the door?). However, we don't typically view it at such, but instead make it a matter of value (i.e., I could really use another ten minutes of sleep) without considering or even recognizing the inevitable cost of the implicit exchange. And so it goes, exchange after exchange after exchange without every really considering the costs, until that is, the bill collector shows up.

The donut seemed like a great idea at 7:45 when you couldn't seem to get your system running, but as your blood sugar crashed through the floor at 10:45, well... Sleeping in felt great at 6:15, but not so great as you watched your bus roar past the bus stop while you were still a block away. Telling the boss just what you thought of his big plans felt great when you heard you'd been passed over for a promotion, but not so great as you sat reviewing your COBRA plan in the HR director's office. Skipping your lunchtime workout seemed the only reasonable thing to do when the pressure of the morning started squeezing you, but by 5:00, you could have used the energy and clarity it would have provided.

All day long, we make tradeoffs and exchanges. Yet, we tend only to consider half the equation.

Perhaps it's time to reorder the sequence. Instead of the typical:
  1. Decide
  2. Act
  3. Pay
  4. Recognize that a decision was made
  5. Consider the costs and benefits
  1. Recognize that a decision is about to be made
  2. Consider the costs and benefits
  3. Decide
  4. Act
  5. Pay Less

Happy Monday,

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