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Choices and Consequences

Choices and Consequences

Choices and Consequences

    Consider this: In three weeks time, you have a big presentation to a long-hoped-for new client. Three weeks is plenty of time, though, so each day you sit down at your computer and, instead of working on your presentation, play game after game of Desktop Tower Defense. Three weeks and a day later, you’re clearing out your desk after being let go for failing to get that big wished-for client.

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    Or this: It’s the night before the Big Exam. For weeks you’ve been skipping class or, when you did show up, wiling away your classroom hours by texting back-and-forth with your friends. Now, with imminent failure facing you, you decide to go blow off steam with your friends. Hung-over and unprepared, of course you fail the Big Exam. Which means you fail the class and, since your GPA has slipped to an unacceptable level, you lose your athletic scholarship. You won’t be back in the Fall.

    Or this: The Coach purse in the display window looks so pretty, so alluring, that you just have to have it. It will pull you up a little short on this month’s budget, but you’ve been good lately, right? Surely you can tighten your belt a little in exchange for treating yourself to something nice? Three weeks later, the transmission craps out on your car. With no money in the bank, you’re forced to use public transportation for the first time in your life. Not knowing the schedule very well, you’re late to work every day for a week; on payday, the boss tells you that they won’t be needing your services any more.

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    This is not a post about making bad choices, though you’d be forgiven if that’s the lesson you’ve drawn from it so far. No, it’s not so much about making poor choices as it is about making a certain kind of choice, a choice made in the moment, for the moment, with little or no thought to consequences.

    This kind of choice doesn’t always result in the kind of dire circumstances I’ve described above. Sometimes, everything works out fine. Occasionally, last-minute strokes of luck even pull our bacon out of the fire.

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    That’s not the point. The point is this: You can choose your actions, or you can choose your consequences, but you can’t choose both.

    All the stories above are stories of people choosing their actions. Once you choose your action, the consequences follow from that choice with a will of their own. Choose drinking over studying? The consequence is liable to be failure. Choose hanging with your friends over seeing your child’s Spring recital? The consequence is liable to be the loss of your child’s trust, and possibly the lost respect of your spouse and other family. Choose to drive too fast to show off? There’s a good chance your action will lead to accident, injury, even death for you or someone else.

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    Or you can choose your consequences. If the outcome you want is success in your job, you probably have a pretty good idea of the actions you need to take to get it. Certainly prioritizing work over goofing off is part of it! If academic success is the consequence you’d like to enjoy, your plan of action is also pretty clear cut: a certain amount of study and organization is demanded. Maybe you’d like to build a loving, positive relationship with your children? You’re going to have to make a certain amount of time for that, even at the expense of other things you might like to be able to do.

    You only get to pick one or the other, though. You can’t choose to drink and party and have the consequence be automatic success. You can’t choose to slack off at work and have the consequence be promotion. You don’t get to choose to spend your money frivolously and as a consequence have plenty in reserve when emergency strikes.

    Now, we can’t always act according to clear-cut consequences, and certainly it’s worthwhile to live in the moment now and again. Which brings me to the last and most important part of all this: whatever you do, own your choice. If you choose dumbly, take full responsibility for the consequences of that choice. If you choose to act towards a desired outcome rather than deviate from that path, own that too – don’t kick yourself, or let others kick you, for your commitment.

    It’s not so bad that people act in the moment and make poor choices; what makes it ugly is when they’re shocked, shocked I tell you, to find that they didn’t achieve the outcome they’d desired. Don’t be that person: if you can’t accept the consequences of your actions, don’t do them! No matter what you do, remember: the choice is yours.

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    Last Updated on January 13, 2020

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

    No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

    Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

    Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

    A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

    Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

    In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

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    From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

    A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

    For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

    This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

    The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

    That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

    Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

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    The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

    Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

    But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

    The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

    The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

    A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

    For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

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    But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

    If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

    For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

    These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

    For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

    How to Make a Reminder Works for You

    Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

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    Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

    Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

    My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

    Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

    I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

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    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

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