It’s really difficult sometimes to keep perspective. The things I want right now are often very hard to overcome when they conflict with the things I want for the future.
Parenting is a great example of this, so let’s take a little side journey into the world of parenting.
Every child in the world pushes their limits sometimes. They yell and scream. They play roughly with their toys. They tackle their little brother. They make a gigantic mess out of water and chalk that spreads all over the kitchen table. They stack three chairs on top of each other in order to try to grab a running ceiling fan.
No matter how patient a parent is, there are times when this limit pushing exceeds your patience.
At that point in time, the thing I want most right now is for my children to immediately quiet down and behave, and I can do that by getting the children’s attention and doing something that will encourage better behavior.
The easiest thing to do is to yell and start doling out punishments (“Pick up this room now!” “Go sit on the stairs now” and so on). That will often get the result that I want the fastest – in the short term.
The problem is that there’s often a big disconnect between the offense and the punishment from the child’s perspective. I certainly remember times when I was a child when my parents were upset with me and I really didn’t know why they were upset.
So, the best thing to do is to make it clear what the child is doing wrong, why it’s wrong, and what needs to be done to amend it. This will produce the best long term results. I’ve seen it time and time again in my own children.
The problem is that in the heat of the moment, that’s often far from the easiest thing to do. You just want the antagonistic behavior to stop and you want the problematic situation resolved.
The easy path right now gets you what you immediately want the fastest, but it doesn’t give you the best long-term results.
The hard path right now takes some time and effort in the moment, but it yields better long-term results.
The people that succeed are the people who stick to these two ideas as firmly as possible.
They don’t choose the path of least resistance in the moment. Instead, they choose the path that leads them to the best destination down the road.
That doesn’t mean that the choice in the moment must always be a challenging one. In fact, it’s often that seemingly harder path that ends up uncovering a great deal of life’s joys.
Some of my best memories I have with my children is time spent with them on my lap talking about a better way to behave – and, more importantly, why it’s a better way to behave.
Some of my best memories with Sarah involve long hikes in the park where we find some perfectly wonderful little pocket of solitude.
Some of my best memories with my friends involve playing board games around our kitchen table after a potluck dinner.
In each of these cases, there was likely an easier path to follow to get to where I wanted to be in the short term. But those easier paths involved sacrifices. They involved spending money. They involved a weakening of a long-term relationship. They involved consuming things to excess, leading to poor health.
The decisions in the moment seem small and inconsequential. Every time you tell yourself that as a reason to take the easier path, you not only give up a piece of the long term, you also miss out on finding new paths in the short term.