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Why’s it so hard for us to make the right long-term moves?

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I have a pretty big backyard in my San Francisco apartment, so I recently threw a party. I ended up having a bunch of leftover food, including a huge watermelon. I love watermelon, so I left it sitting in a plastic bag in the corner of my kitchen, where it sat…

…and sat…and sat. I just never got around to cutting it up or throwing it out.

A long time later, I walked in to my kitchen and saw a ton of liquid sitting on the floor. It smelled like alcohol. My first sub-conscious thought, “Sweet, who bought me free alcohol?” which says a lot about me. But then, my mood darkened. As I traced the confusing sitting liquid back to its source, I realized it was coming from the watermelon. But how can a watermelon have so much liquid in it? Isn’t it…just a watermelon? Ohh…it’s a water melon.

Apparently watermelons liquify and turn into some kind of alcohol-smelling liquid after you let them sit for 5 MONTHS. Who knew?

I’m not lazy. I’m not stupid. So why couldn’t I get around to picking that watermelon up and throwing it in the garbage?

Does it have anything to do with barriers?

More generally, why is it so hard for us to do what we know is best in the long-term? For example…

  • Working out even 30 minutes/day
  • Setting up an automated system to manage our money
  • Calling friends and family consistently

You don’t usually see other money-related sites talking about this. Instead, they simply use a battering ram to shove the idea of “just do it” or “try harder” down your throat…with predictable results.

Let’s get specific.

What’s ONE area of life where you “should” be doing something that would benefit you in the long term…but you’re not?

Why is that?

Leave a comment below. Let’s see what we can figure out together.

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89 Comments

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  1. Everyone has things they don’t consider for the long-term because there are infinite things we can do that will help us long-term. Unfortunately there is a finite amount of time to do these things. Naturally, we will gravitate towards accomplishing the long-term goals we care about the most. Those we care about the least (e.g. Watermelon), will fall by the wayside.

    That being said:
    * Finding a woman to marry. (Reason: There are limited quality options: living in the Silicon Valley, as well as limited time to find women: living in the Silicon Valley)

    • I agree, and I would add, “we often make excuses because we don’t want to be judged for making the ‘wrong’ choice.” I made a comment about wanting to change from Bank of America. The main reason I want to? Because many of my friends and people I admire hate the big banks and I don’t want to feel like a lazy jerk who supports The Man. If I look at it honestly, my feeling is, “I just don’t care about making 0.25% of interest or sticking it to the big banks that much if it means screwing with my rewards cards.”

      So many things, we don’t REALLY want to do, we just want to feel better about ourselves. I suspect that we change only when inertia is worse than action (having creditors hunt you down is much worse than paying a bill on time if you have the money) OR when we really want to do something or we really want to do something that requires doing the thing we don’t want to do. Everything else is about our ego — and ego isn’t enough because we can always justify ourselves in another way.

  2. Ramit, great post.

    I’ve had too many similar experiences with a sack of potatoes, a brown bag of bananas, and a pumpkin that “melted” on my hardwood floor…

    Anyway, my thing is (besides leaving vegetables and fruits to die) is building a blog.

    More specifically, building a passive-income machine. I’ve read, read, and read some more, and I feel like I could teach a class on building an income-generating website, but I have yet to really put those strategies into practice.

    Not really sure why–I’ve done little pieces, like started writing posts and articles, but just not enough. I’ve started a mailing list, but just haven’t pushed it enough. I’ve started commenting and leaving forum comments, but it’s just not enough…

    Starting to see a pattern here?
    Nick

  3. Getting an annual physical to catch and deal with any medical concerns before they become medical problems.

    Getting an annual physical will save you time down road, and money, too.
    Nick

  4. I’m fat. I mean, I’ve let myself get fat. Like your watermelon, I just let myself go, eating what I want, until the pain of continuing to gain weight outweighs the pain of doing something about it (i.e. changing my habits).

    I think the reason for this, one of the reasons, has something to do with black and white thinking; I’m either living a “healthy” lifestyle (eating right, exercising, etc) or I’m not (sitting on the couch eating ice cream and pizza and watching TV).

    How do I get to the point of accepting levels of grey, and bouncing back from set backs, instead of plunging into a binge?

    • I find that living in the grey actually HELPS me change my habits. For me, a big hurdle(s) is that the pain is not significant enough to warrant the change and I have to also combat a sense of “loss” for having to give up something that I enjoy (even if it is bad for me). Running with the “moderation in everything” motto, I’ve found it easier to begin incorporating small changes without having to give up my former behaviors completely. In the case of diet, tons of recent studies show that planned overeating is actually SUPPORTS fat loss. I’ve changed my diet so that I am eating right every day of the week except one (Saturday). On my cheat day, there are no holds barred – I mean, I get vulgar. Donuts, pizza, beer, gummy bears – you name it. It is not uncommon for me to consume upwards of 5000 – 7000 calories. Come Sunday, back to normal. Not only do I get to have my cake and eat it too (pun intended), albeit in moderation, I have been able to stick to this plan AND have achieved my desired results. I think another key is to simply focus on making the best immediate decision (eating the right thing NOW) rather than thinking about all the future decisions I’ll be faced with (eating the right thing ALWAYS). The latter is way too daunting and seems like an insurmountable task. The former, not so much.

  5. Geoffrey Williams Link to this comment

    Talking to clients is a big one for me! Basically I know in order for my freelancing to work I need to start pitching people often and in my work clients like to see a face instead of endless email with a stranger. I KNOW THIS but I still find it excruciating hard to get out of my car and talk to clients. I’m not socially awkward at all, but when I know its a freelance pitch that I’m about to do then all the barriers start popping in my head. “I need gas first”, “oops forgot to eat, better eat first before I go in”, “Its better If I just send him an email” etc.

    I do have a horrible solution that I have been using, i’ve been taking two shots of freaking “Grey Goose” about 20mins or so before I go and pitch or go into a meeting. It has worked but on occasion I have slurred words, which oddly enough makes me endearing to some clients (I live in the South, go figure).

    Anyways, until I find a better option I’ll have to stay tipsy or just keep filling up my gas tank.

  6. Failing to learn Spanish this year – I do have the excuse that I’m in Hong Kong, but that’s not very useful thinking if I’m going to be in South America in five years’ time.

    A-ron: Losing weight is “easy”, just like saving money is “easy” – in both cases there’s a plethora of tools on the internet to help you. If you’re fluctuating between binge and bust, you haven’t inculcated strong enough habits to stop. I found it fairly easy, but I did have a few steps to go through:

    1. Weigh myself every day. Feel bad if it went up, feel good if it went down, don’t actually do anything.
    2. Rinse & repeat for a few months.
    3. Get a medical check up, have the doctor tell me my cholesterol is too high and I’ll have to go on statins for the rest of my life.
    4. Panic. Stop eating cheese and fried food for a month.
    5. Go back to the doctor and laugh in his face as my cholesterol reading halved over a month.
    6. Weigh myself every day. If I’m getting heavier, eat less. If I’m below the weight I want to be at, eat whatever I feel like.

    It’s only working now because I have a nice feedback loop at stage 6, brought on by the previous steps. Measurement (which a lot of people like) without action isn’t going to get anywhere, but neither is action without measurement.

    But by the sounds of it, you’re not going to really commit to any habits until you get a proper sharp shock, so I think a simple heuristic would be:

    1. get terrified by a medical practitioner.
    2. Schedule a follow-up with the same person a month later.
    3. Spend the time in between fixing the problem.
    4. Carry on with step 3 afterwards.

    If you miss out on 1, and just think “hmm, I should maybe lose some blubber” then 4 isn’t going to stick, no matter what you do in step 3.

    • My husband laughs at me for weighing myself every day but I’ve found that it’s more motivating and keeps me honest every day whereas if I weighed myself once a week, I’d likely slack off the first 3-4 days of the week and then try to be REALLY strict the last couple knowing the weigh-in was coming. I had a nice “I told you so” yesterday when I weighed in and was at my pre-pregnancy weight. It’s hard to deny the reality of your weight when it’s in your face every morning. (Yes, I know weight isn’t ALL you should go by but it’s a big factor and definitely a motivator).

  7. Lots of minor health issues. I have been holding at about 20 lbs above my “comfortable” weight and about 30 lbs above my “ideal” weight for a couple of years. I exercise 3-5 times a week, and track calories off and on, but lately, I can’t seem to force the pounds off. I just recently gave in to ravenous hunger and ate a PB&J sandwich. Terrible? No. But not what I really needed to do to achieve my weight loss goal, either.

    And sleep. I should have turned in an hour ago to get a good night’s sleep. But here I am, cruising the Internet…

  8. I think you just answered the question right here “why is it so hard for us to do what we know is best in the long-term?” the answer is that it’s not best in the short-term! We have other better things to do with our time right now, or we rationalize it that way. Sometimes it is better I think to live in the moment, not be constantly doing things for the future, but sometimes not. It’s all about balance 🙂

  9. studying a new language. Every day. For 10-15min, 30max.

  10. Going out and making new, close friends. I’m all out of the old ones.

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