You woke up this morning with $20 in your pocket. Now it’s time for lunch. You’re getting hungry.
You know what sounds good? A cheeseburger. Half a pound of lean ground beef, still a little pink in the middle; crisp lettuce; juicy tomato; a little Heinz 57; and thick, steak-cut French-fried potatoes.
Now you’ve got $12 in your pocket and a cheeseburger.
You were hungry. Your basic human need for survival was presenting a problem. You came up with a plan to solve it: trade $8 for an awesome cheeseburger. Problem solved, right?
Well, it’s more complicated than that. Maybe you’re trying to get in better shape and stop carrying twenty pounds of cheeseburger memories around with you. Having another cheeseburger could violate your need for Self-Actualization as you seek to become a better version of you.
Or maybe you just violated your need for Self-Esteem. “I should have gotten a salad,” you ruefully tell yourself. Except you’ve been having salads all week. Your need for Variety vetoed a sixth salad and starting cranking Jimmy Buffett. Your need for Self-Esteem says you could have chosen a sensible, healthy lunch. Instead, you’re staring down at heaven on earth with an onion slice, wondering if you really do have it in you to make better decisions.
You do. You absolutely do.
Life is an integrating function. Who you are now is the result of every choice you’ve made. Some choices take us towards the ideal self we’re trying to become, some take us further away. Some move us quickly, some are so imperceptible we don’t notice their effect.
Whatever the direction, whatever the magnitude, the fact remains: you made the choice. You’re why you’re where you are.
If you don’t like the results you’re getting, make another choice. Get different results.
You could trade another $7. You’d have $5 in your pocket, an awesome salad, and a cheeseburger that needs to be sent back to the kitchen, shared with someone, or abandoned. Your sense of Self-Esteem gets a boost (“I can do this!”) and you learn. Next time, you’ll know that you might feel better if you go straight to the salad.
That $7 might be totally worth it. It could turn your day around. If you need that $7 for something else, you can still adjust your sails. Split it with someone. Save half for later. Just because you’ve chosen to buy the cheeseburger doesn’t mean you have to choose to eat the whole thing. Those are two independent choices. It’s better to let it go to waste than go to your waist and carry its memory with you.
Next time, push pause before you make your choice. Ask yourself whether you’d rather have the cheeseburger or the salad while it’s still a $1 question. Think forward to how you’ll feel later in the day. Consider which choice will take you closer to the person you’re trying to become. Go with that one.
Choosing between virtue and vice is easy. Choosing between virtues is tough. It comes down to long-term wants and short-term needs. Sacrificing something good to get something better is a balancing act.
Few choices are permanent. Most last only until we make the next one. Some satisfy our needs better than others. We learn through our own experience. We should also learn through the experiences of others.
Make the best choices you can with the information you have. When you get more information, make a better choice.
And if you decide the cheeseburger is worth the sacrifice today, make it two. I’ll have mine with a pickle on the side and a cold root beer.