We’ve all heard that our actions have consequences, this is far from a novel concept. It’s also very apparent that those consequences can be positive, negative, and everything in between.
I was recently thinking about this basic concept, and I had a minor epiphany that expanded this idea.
To say that outcomes of decisions are either positive or negative is far too simplistic. In theory, we all know we should perform as many actions that yield positive outcomes, and as few as possible that yield negative outcomes. What this simplistic view fails to take into consideration is the component of time.
LET ME GIVE YOU AN EXAMPLE.
I feel like going out to eat with my friends, so we head to our favorite burger joint and grab a burger, fries, and shake. What is the outcome of this decision?
Well, a simplistic view might say, “positive, you spent quality time with friends” or “negative, because you spent more money than you would have had you eaten at home and you ate a ton of unhealthy food.”
The fact of the matter is, this decision had a different outcome depending on the time frame you look at.
In terms of my present self, this was an awesome decision. I got to satisfy a craving for some great food, and I got to enjoy quality time with some friends.
But for my future self, this is a slightly different story. Most people would agree this was a primarily negative decision for our future self. Unfortunately, no matter how good and hearty that burger was, I’m going to be hungry again in 3-4 hours, but I just ate TONS more calories than I needed, likely over 1,000. My wallet also got lighter by ~$12-$15. In 6 months I won’t even remember I ate that burger, but I’ll still have $15 less.
However, I did have a good time with my friends, we had some good conversation, this was a metaphorical deposit into my friendship account which will serve me well in the future.
Great Mr. Fi Guy, now what am I supposed to do with this seemingly worthless concept?
Humans are incredibly bad looking at things from a future perspective, and this is where my epiphany comes in. We should seek to make as many decisions as possible that don’t make our present selves happy at the expense of our future self.
Realizing that we have a tendency to make our present selves happy, often at the expense of our future selves, is key to keep in mind.
Let me give you a very simplistic view of some decisions that are “good” for present self and “bad” for future self:
- Eating unhealthy food, in general
- Watching TV
- Skipping the gym
- Buying something we don’t need
- Being rude to someone (which is all too common in our virtual world)
- Most bad habits
- Impulsively spending money
These are the type of decisions that can lead to poor health, excessive debt, limited financial options, poor relationships, and statements of “I wish I would have….”
Now let’s flip this around, what are some decisions that are “bad” for present self and “good” for future self:
- Eating gross veggies I don’t really like
- Going to the gym (when you’re really not in the mood)
- Forgoing a purchase of something you don’t really need, but really want right now
- Being the “bigger person” and backing down or admitting you’re wrong
- Saving money
- Struggling to learn a new skill
Not just calling the handyman or buying a new one when something breaks
These decisions kind of suck today, but if you make these decisions consistently, they can lead to nearly the direct opposite results that I walked you through for our previous example: better physical fitness, lots of assets, abundant financial options, healthy relationships, statements of “I’m glad I did that….” or “I’m glad I sacrificed….”
The “Holy Grail” of decisions
We just went through a bunch of different scenarios that had adverse effects on either our present or future selves. The best decisions, those we should seek out, are the decisions that are good for BOTH our present AND future selves. Let me give you some examples of activities/decisions that I make that fall into this category:
- Getting paid (I have reprogrammed myself to enjoy getting paid not to spend but to watch my net worth grow, and my future self is also very happy with this decision)
- Playing basketball (great social time with friends, great exercise, basically free, and keeps me in good shape for the future)
- Spending quality time with my wife/friends/family
- Traveling to cool destinations
- Eating healthy food that I actually enjoy (somehow I’ve tricked myself into actually liking salads)
- Learning about personal finance
It’s not possible, nor is it even healthy to only make “Holy Grail” decisions, or decisions that don’t harm our future selves. But our goal should be to evaluate our decisions and understand our motivations in making decisions only for today. Ideally, we can get to the point that we cut out as many decisions as possible that appease our present selves at the expense of our future selves. While you won’t notice a difference tomorrow when you start focusing on the future with your decision making (unless you make a decision to get more sleep), the more decisions you make with your future self in mind, the happier you’ll likely be as time goes on…. opposed to most people who continually mortgage their futures, which leads to more uncertainty and unhappiness
What are some of your “Holy Grail” decisions, and how can we all foster and discover more decisions that fit this category?