My children are going to be home in about fifteen minutes. I could go downstairs and ready a snack for them and set up a game or an art project for us, or I could tell them that their dad is pretty busy and instead work on some project so that I didn’t have to do it after they’re in bed tonight.
I’m standing in the checkout line and I’m tempted by that pack of gum. I could buy it and chew it and forget about it in a day or I could save that $1.25.
I could just sit here and watch a television show or read a page-turning novel, or I could get up and do the dishes or do some meal prep for tomorrow.
I just finished a novel on the Kindle. There’s a sequel out and I could buy it and start reading it with just a few clicks, or I could add it to my library reserve list and then start reading something else.
That little candy bar in the candy dish looks tempting. Supper’s in an hour, though, so I could just wait a little while to eat.
We are all tempted by the easy path when it comes to these kinds of small choices. It’s tempting to be lazy. It’s tempting to splurge a little. It’s tempting to put something off or to make a small long-term mistake in order to gain a small bit of pleasure or relaxation right now.
The problem is that when you take the easier road, you forget about that pleasure pretty quickly.
I might get that work task finished, but by the time the kids are in bed, I’d find something else to do.
I might buy that pack of gum and enjoy chewing a piece, but a few days later, the gum would be gone and it would have given me no nutritional value.
I might just keep reading that page-turner, but I’ll probably forget most of the plot in a few months.
I might buy that new Kindle book, but that choice means I have another book just sitting there gathering dust. I’m not really gaining new pleasure from the purchase.
I might eat that candy, but I’d still eat supper in an hour.
Even worse, the easy road often leaves something important undone.
My children come home and instead of spending an hour or two bonding with their dad, they just go watch a television show.
That $1.25 vanishes from my checking account and, along with a lot of other little purchases like that, adds up to not being able to afford something that’s actually useful.
The dishes are left undone in the sink, adding a bit of odor to the main floor and forcing me to do them a bit later anyway.
I spend $10 on the new book, but it’s money that just vanishes because I already have books to read. If I do that too often, again, it adds up to missing out on something important.
I look at the scale in a few weeks and wonder why my weight is headed in the wrong direction.
Over and over, the lesson repeats itself. We forget about that little pleasure, but the things we give up for that little pleasure stick with us. They add a little to our weight or add to the mounting pile of things that need to be done (until it seems overwhelming) or strip a little more money from our checking account, but we forget about them just a little while later.
The next time you’re trying to decide between making the “good” choice or the “bad” one, ask yourself whether or not you’ll remember the pleasure brought by the bad choice in a few days. If you won’t, take the harder road. Keep that money in your pocket. Skip that little sweet treat (or, for me, a savory one). Take care of that nagging chore.
Save the pleasurable choices for the things that you’ll actually remember. You’ll find that, later on, making the tougher (but better) small choice over and over again makes it very easy to jump on board when something great comes along.
You don’t buy that pack of gum a few times and skip buying that unnecessary book, but now you can afford to go to the movies with your friends plus you have a bit for your retirement savings to boot.
You stay up late finishing work so that you can spend the afternoon with your kids again and again, and somehow, they remember. Your relationship stays close as they move from childhood through their teen years to adulthood.
You never regret the good small choices.