You continually put off things that you really need to do in favor of what you feel like doing right now
1 – Recognize when you are choosing.
2 – Determine all the options you are choosing amongst.
3 – “Play the tape forward,” and imagine (vividly) living with the consequences of doing
4 – Recognize the opportunity cost of not doing each option. If you choose 1, you can’t do any of the others. What are you giving up?
So, let’s talk about opportunity cost, and what it means for an ADHD person.
Wikipedia defines Opportunity Cost like this:
“…the opportunity cost, or alternative cost, of making a particular choice is the value of the most valuable choice out of those that were not taken. In other words, opportunity that will require sacrifices.” (Link.)
Usually this in reference to financial decisions, for example, if you invest in stock XYZ, you AREN’T investing that same money in ABC…which means whatever benefit you could have had from ABC stock gains is lost to you. But can apply this concept to any “scare resource.” Guess what is a scare resource for ADHD people (and really all people these days)? Time. Time is your scarce resource. (Even if you are unemployed and live in your parent’s basement). Start thinking about the opportunity cost of your time investments.
For example: If you have a paper due Friday, you have laundry, dishes, and vacuuming to do, grocery shopping, and you need to visit your family before they disown you. If it will take you 10 hours to write the paper, which can only be done after work, you have 2 hours each night needed to write the paper. Assuming you get home at 6pm and are in bed by 10pm, your capacity each night is 4 hours. If, Monday night you think, “Oh I have ‘Plenty of Time’ to work on the paper…I can go see Mom & Dad!” That takes all four hours because they live 30 mins away, you stay for dinner, and we all know your mom can talk…
Now you have 16 hours of capacity left (over 4 nights). When weighing the decision to go see Mom & Dad versus working on the paper you must consider the opportunity cost of choosing time with Mom & Dad over working on the paper. There isn’t a right or wrong answer here. Maybe tomorrow Mom & Dad are in a terrible wreck…you will be happy you invested those 4 hours with them and not on a paper no one will ever remember. The key is, you should CHOOSE WITH AWARENESS of the opportunity cost.
Now it’s Tuesday night, and you have to cook dinner, do the dishes, and vacuum as the dust bunnies and pile of dirty dishes in the sink are out of control. You have chosen cleaning over paper. The opportunity cost is that now you are seriously diminishing you’re a) Ability to do quality work on this paper and B) Quality of life when you finally sit down to work on the paper. You will be a stress puppy because you left it to the last minute and cut every corner you can. You and I both know this.
Dr. Wes Crenshaw talks about this in his book “I Always Want to Be Where I’m Not,” which, btw, I love the title of this book. I can so relate to this. I’ll review the book in a later blog, but for now, let’s just talk about what he calls “Playing the Tape Forward.”
In order to see the opportunity cost of anything, you must be able to play the tape forward. This is, according to Dr. Crenshaw, the ability to imagine the future consequences of doing, or not doing, any specific action. ADHD peeps, notoriously impulsive, have major issues with this! No surprise there. However, if you can’t see the potential outcome of doing or not doing anything, you will never be able to weigh the opportunity cost.
So, step one is RECOGNIZE WHEN YOU ARE ABOUT TO MAKE A DECISION!!! This is harder than you think. And it goes to (yet another blog post to come) Microchoices. These are the teeny, tiny, infinitesimally small choices we make all day that add up to the totality of our lives. Maybe there’s a better word, or someone has already coined that term for something else…but this is how I define them in my life. And recognizing when I’m making a microchoice is CRUCIAL to this entire process.
Once you start to notice where you make a choice, be it big or small, you can identify the alternatives available in the choice. Let’s say you recognize that when you come home from work every day, you have grand plans of all the things you want to tackle before bed. Instead, once again, you find yourself zoning out in front of the tv until it’s long past bedtime. When is the moment of choice? When you plop down on the couch and pick up the remote. Tomorrow (cause it’s too late today), when you are about to plop on the couch, you will need to stop and consider your other options. Yes, I know you will FEEL like “relaxing” for just a minute. You are choosing none-the-less. And this is the perfect opportunity to make choices that will change the ease of your life.
So it’s tomorrow, and you are heading towards the couch. You think, “This is just what that blog was talking about.” What are your alternatives? You could, instead of plopping on the couch, quickly go change into your running shoes and get out the door before you have a chance to change your mind. Or, you could work on that Business Plan for the new business you dream about starting. Or you could do the pile of dishes in the sink, which will make your spouse supremely happy, and result in a more harmonious marriage. It doesn’t matter what your options are, you need to play the tape forward for each one. Then you need to understand that when you choose one, all the others are off the table to you. You don’t get the harmonious marriage and get to sit on the couch night after night. That’s not the way the world works. Your biz won’t ever take off if you know more about Game of Thrones than your new venture. You will probably end up with a heart attack at 55 because you “felt” more like “relaxing” than putting all that effort into running. I’m not being mean; I’m being realistic. And you need to be, too.
Everything you choose shuts off ALL THE OTHER OPTIONS.
I used to think, erroneously, that I’d “make up for it later.” Do you do that? Ok, well, if I spend “just a minute” checking Facebook, I’ll “work faster” on that paper later, and just get it done in less time. Or I’d somehow clean faster, or drive faster.
That’s called “magical thinking” and is not how reality works.
When I chose to scroll through Facebook, I’m giving up EVERYTHING ELSE I want to accomplish. That’s my opportunity cost. EVERYTHING ELSE. Do I still scroll through Facebook? Yes, sure. But, for very small spurts of time now, as I’m keenly aware of what I’m sacrificing. When I say yes to a meeting request, what can’t I do because I’ll be in that meeting?
Opportunity cost is everywhere. Not just finances and not just time management. If I give my attention to this person at the party for 3 straight hours, I’ve missed out on meeting many other people. If I wear this outfit today, I can’t wear it tomorrow to that special dinner because you and I both know I’ll never finish the laundry by then.
…And so on!
What are some opportunity cost scenarios you’ve experienced in your daily life?