First thing in the morning, many of us are already faced with a decision to make. For those of us fortunate enough not to live with a noisy roommate, or next to noisy neighbors, the first sound we hear in the morning is that of our alarm clock. And, while some of us are natural “morning people”, many of us are prompted to wake up by our alarm clock at a time when we would prefer to remain asleep. With nearly all alarms having a snooze option, we are faced with a choice; wake up as planned, or snooze, allow ourselves some extra sleep, and hope to get back on track for the upcoming day.
Regardless of whether we wake up at the previously planned time, set by our alarm clocks, or sleep a little extra, we will make plenty more decisions over the course of the day. On a working day, we will probably have to choose what tasks to prioritize, or how to do the specific tasks. As adults, we have to make choices every day regarding what food we are going to eat. And, despite what many say about “not having time”, we all do have spare time (more on this in a later entry), which we will have to decide what to do with.
And then there are the big ones:
Is it time to change career paths?
Should I stay in my current relationship?
What people should I try to surround myself with?
Is it time to move to another city?
Should I stand up to my boss, or some other kind of authority figure in order to remain true to myself, or accept something less than ideal to avoid the risk?
…. And so on
Many, but not all of our decisions in life present a similar type of conflict within ourselves. Often times, with decisions both big and small, there is a choice we can make that presents an “easier” path. Then, there is a choice we can make that would lead to a path that requires more from us, more time, more effort, or more risk. With this choice, we will follow a course that can be more challenging, but also has the potential to be more rewarding.
While the “easier” path may be enticing in some way, in most situations the following results will come to be:
- Whatever “reward” that does come from taking this path will be far more temporary
- The “reward” will often falls short of expectations
- Continuously Following the “easier” path will lead to an underwhelming feeling of stagnation in life
Take, for example, the alarm clock decision made first thing in the morning. In this situation, the easier way out is to allow ourselves extra sleep. After all, we could skip going to the gym before work, or making ourselves a nicer breakfast- there are granola bars we can grab and eat on the train. But, we are invariantly depriving ourselves of whatever activity we had planned for the morning, which, for nearly all non-drug addicts, would have had a positive impact on ourselves and our lives.
In addition, sleep pattern studies often indicate that post-alarm clock sleeping is among the least effective when it comes to sleep’s purpose; repairing body cells. For many of us, it does not even take until 7:00 A.M. to experience first-hand how taking the easier option of two possible choices leads to a “reward” that falls short of expectations.
In the 21st Century, we are commonly, and subconsciously choosing the “easier” path on a regular basis thanks to technology that offers us that option nearly constantly. Normal life hands us multiple situations a day, from waiting for a train, waiting for a friend to arrive at a bar, to waiting in line for lunch, where we have a simple choice between simply waiting and entertaining ourselves with the smart phones we now all have. Although it takes some physical effort to pull that phone out and decide which tweet to look at, it is by far “easier” for the masses to distract themselves with their devise than to face boredom, their own meandering thoughts, or even a potential awkward conversation with a stranger. That is why, everywhere we go these days, we see legions of people staring at their phones. Sometimes we even people out to dinner in a group all looking at their phones rather than interacting with one another!
That same distraction has been available in nearly all of our homes (although that is starting to change), for over half a century now. It is called a television set, and it offers the easiest possible choice to the decision of what to do with our spare time. Calling up a friend and arranging a get-together takes more work. Choosing an activity takes more effort, and anything that requires physical exertion, such as hiking, certainly takes more effort. Heck, even reading takes more effort. But, all are more rewarding.
Over time this all adds up. It is said that the average American spends roughly five hours watching television per day … five hours! This is just over 20% of our time, and adds up to 76 days in a 365-day year. Can you imagine what kind of rewarding life experiences we all can have if we were to free up just half of this time, 38 days? That’s enough time to read dozens of books, keep a whole new circle of friends, or even bike across the country! All of these are opportunities lost when we as a society continually take the “easy” route while make small scale decisions regarding what to do with our spare time!
Larger decisions, such as what to do with life, whether to have kids, etc., can be much more complicated. Generalizations like the ones presented above cannot be made regarding which choice is the “easy” one. And, a lot more needs to be considered when making these life-changing decisions. For example, at any moment in time, thousands of people are asking themselves whether to stay in a relationship that has been going on 6-12 months, or end it in search of somebody different. For some, staying together represents the “easier” of the two choices, but for others trying to work out their current relationship is the option that requires more effort. There are still others, in this exact same situation, where neither option is clearly lower effort.
Decisions of this nature are made based on a variety of considerations, and this easier vs. more rewarding conflict may not necessarily exist. However, there are still times when people chose to stay in mediocre relationships, at uninspiring jobs, or chose to keep meeting unnecessary obligations to their friends and family because they do not want to take the risk, or put in the effort that a major positive change would entail. There are always those questions. What if my new business fails? What if my ideal mate breaks my heart? What if confronting those closest to me point out a distressing aspect of who I am I was hoping to never have to confront?
Sometimes we will fail to overcome our fears. Sometimes, we simply lack the energy to put in the effort to try something new. Every one of us has had that night that we were invited out by our friends but were just too exhausted from the day at work, or the drama from the past two evenings, to bring ourselves to go out. And, every one of us has at some point concluded that the risk was too high to take on some kind of new endeavor. Still, we should not make a habit out of taking the easier path, when confronted with a choice, too frequently. By doing so, we all run the risk of missing out on opportunities, and falling victim to stagnation.