Think of a choice or decision you had to make recently. It could be what you chose for your first meal, the moment you talked yourself out of walking in the rain, or something bigger, like whether you want to take a job offer. Did you consider what you were giving up by making that choice? 🤔
Every time we make a choice, we are saying “Yes” to one thing, and “No” to a million others. Every choice, every decision, creates a branch in your life that has the power to move you towards or away from your goals. This works the same if you say “No” to something as well since you are still saying “Yes” to something else.
When I was growing up, we used to make lists of the pros and cons of a decision and we’d discuss them. For example, a couple of pros of taking a camping trip might be spending time outdoors and getting exercise. While a couple of cons might be dealing with bugs and cold temperatures. Considering trade-offs is a similar process, but for me, it is a more in-depth and conscious way of looking at a decision. In this scenario, a trade-off might be that I am choosing time outdoors in exchange for spending the last days of summer in the house. Or that if I choose to stay home becaues of bugs and weather, I am choosing a comfortable indoor existence that doesn’t challenge me, make memories, or make me happy.
When I used to consider only the “pros and cons”, I was good at tricking myself into favoring the decision I was already leaning towards. This process often happened in my head very quickly. For example, in thinking about skipping my workout, my mind can concoct reasons that favor my lazy mood. In contrast, considering the trade-off requires me to think not just in black-and-white terms of, “Is skipping my workout good or bad?” but rather having to delve into what I am giving up by making the choice to skip it. I have to think about what I am sacrificing. A trade-off offers me more control, offering a type of currency that I am consciously spending versus just weighing good or bad. The trade-offs for skipping my workout would be include the risk that I fall off the wagon entirely, and missing out on the chance to enhance my health, improve my immunity, and keep my body strong. Considering the trade-offs means I stay focused on the long-term versus my current lazy mood.
This can apply to all decisions, big or small. Despite the click-bait articles, we cannot “have it all.” We can’t get married while remaining single. We can’t live a quiet, country life while living in mid-town Manhattan. We have to choose, and considering the trade-offs helps us to narrow down our decisions. This is especially true when it comes to choices that both have benefits and we have to decide which ones matter the most. There are benefits, for example, to living in the city and in the country. How do we figure out which one has the most benefits for us? Figure out the trade-offs.
What does this look like in practice? I have lived both in cities and rurally. We currently live rurally and I don’t see us ever going back to city life. There are still things we miss: the convenience of everything being nearby, lots of restaurant options, more school options for our kids, career options, mass transit and so on. But no matter how long that list of the benefits of city living is, for us the trade-off means giving up waking up to the loon calls on the lake, hearing wolves howl at night, seeing the stars, and being only a few minutes drive from numerous adventure opportunities. We drive 100 miles round-trip to go to Target. Our town has one school. In the winter we have five restaurants to choose from. Those are some of our trade-offs, and they are 100% worth it.
On a smaller, daily scale, this might look like choosing the salad instead of the burger and fries because you know you’ll feel better, sleep better, and that the salad offers plentiful antioxidants while the burger and fries mostly offer inflammation and excess calories. Sometimes I still choose the burger and fries, but knowing the trade-off makes it a conscious choice.
Our choices have a lot of power and we make an estimated 35,000 of them every single day! What if we made even a fraction of them from a more conscious level by considering what we are sacrificing by choosing one thing over another?
Some of the ways you can put trade-offs to work in your daily life:
An example: It’s a drizzling, grey day and it’s time to pick up the kids at school. Do you drive or walk? What are the trade-offs? If you walk, you give up the speed of driving. You give up the comfort of being warm and dry and instead get wet shoes and a drippy umbrella. But if you drive, you give up more movement for your body, more time to visit with your kids on the way home, and more time to enjoy the natural world and fresh air.
Meal and food choices. Do you grab the quick and easy option or sacrifice some of your time for better planning? Today we are spending four hours in the car. I can choose to take the time to bring a healthier option with or I can rely on gas station or fast food. Even within the gas station, I can choose the king-sized candy bar and a soda, or I can choose a piece of fruit, some cheese, and water. Fast-food offers no good options. I know that if I don’t plan ahead, I will be hungry and end up with the candy bar and soda, so instead I trade five minutes of my time to pack some fruit.
Do you ever think about leaving the phone home when you go for a walk or hike? Yes, you lose the ability to take a photo or being easily available to anyone who might call. But you gain attention span. You lose the connection to the minute-by-minute updates in the world, but maybe you gain a connection with yourself.
Big and small, our decisions shape the path of our lives. Chances are, you can look back and see where some of your major decisions brought you. Investigating the potential trade-off can help us make more conscious decisions, moving our lives towards our goals consistently.
What other decisions can you think of where using trade-offs might help? I’d love to hear your ideas or examples!
Have a wild weekend!