I tell my young children that every decision they make or don’t make has a cost. Each time they say yes to something, like hanging out late with friends and going to bed after midnight, they are also saying no to other things, like feeling energized the next day. Since they don’t have unlimited resources — time, energy, and money — they can’t do everything.
I also tell this to my clients. Too often we avoid thinking about the consequences of our actions and our inaction, and of our words and thoughts. Everything has a cost. Consequences can be minor or significant, positive or negative (rarely neutral), and short term or long term. They can affect your mental or physical health, finances, productivity, well-being, or relationships. They can also impact others — your loved ones, neighbours, employees or society.
These consequences also deserve careful contemplation when we’re making our decisions, although of course, it would be insane to try to evaluate everything that we do, think and say. We make thousands of micro-decisions, say thousands of words, and have about 50,000 thoughts in a day. It would be a full-time job. However, people don’t usually paralyze themselves with too much self-analysis; more often, we do not take enough time to evaluate our habits.
As a leader, your job is to craft a vision, communicate it, and plan accordingly. But don’t get so caught up in your ideas that you can’t carefully consider their impacts.
Because each thing we do has consequences, it’s wise to stop from time to time to reflect on our choices.
I once heard a client say, “I told my spouse that my business is No. 1, and she is No. 2.” And he acted accordingly. I asked him if he was really aware of and willing to accept the consequences of that choice. Let’s think through a few situations:
If you decide to buy equipment or land you can’t really afford, are you aware of the consequences? Or are you lying to yourself that everything will be fine?
If you decide to not eat and exercise properly for years to save time, are you aware of the consequences? Are you really willing to jeopardize your health and your long-term productivity?
If you decide to push your child to take over the farm when it’s clear their heart is somewhere else, are you willing to face tension in your relationship?
When you strive to win first place in your category, what other things in your life will you abandon?
Even very small decisions create an impact. If I decide to yell at someone because he hurt my feelings, I’m choosing to hurt him and cause damage to our relationship. If I choose to not say, “I’m sorry,” I choose to miss an opportunity to nourish our relationship. When I log on to social media, I choose to be less productive, efficient and focused. When I choose to be a workaholic and never rest, I choose to let my physical and mental health break down.
Life is a series of decisions. We open some doors and close others. Those who live happy, productive and successful lives make decisions based, at least in part, on an analysis of the possible consequences of their choices. It’s like farming. If you plant corn, you will harvest corn. If you seed wheat, you will harvest wheat. And if you choose to ignore the weeds coming up in your field, you’re choosing to let the weeds choke out your good harvest. If you don’t keep your soil in condition, you’re choosing to let your yields wither.
When real farmers do such things, we call them foolish and short sighted. But sometimes we don’t see how some of the choices we make are just as detrimental to our personal lives and careers.
So what does this look like?
- If I invest my time in cultivating my relationships, I will harvest more harmony in my life.
- If I invest in my employees, I will harvest more productivity, engagement, and a positive work environment.
- If I eat well, get my eight hours of sleep and exercise, I will harvest more physical and psychological health in my life.
- If I take time for self-care, I will harvest a stronger sense of self-control and will be less prone to burnout.
- If I think about my values and priorities and act accordingly, I will harvest more satisfaction.
- If I live with honesty and integrity, I will harvest more serenity.
Next time you’re faced with a set of decisions — and we’re faced with decisions at every moment of the day — take a moment to contemplate the direction that your choice is leading you. When you say yes to this thing, what are you saying no to? And is that an outcome you’re willing to face?
Life is not a goal, it is a journey, so be a leader not just of your business but of your life, making informed choices and reaping the positive consequences.