November 13, 2011

Focus on Dream-Producing Activities

I think I need to re-learn to calculate the net present value of time. For example, how do I compare: 

#1 The present value of driving through a McDonald's and eating my lunch on the way to my next meeting 


#2 The present value of spending 30 minutes the night before to prepare a healthy lunch and then taking 45 minutes to pause during the middle of my day so that I can enjoy eating it?

On the surface, it would seem that if we are measuring the value of time then option #1 wins. But, as you might have guessed, this is a bit of a trick question. It's not actually correct to only measure the amount of time spent in that moment. Instead, we need to measure the value of time spent in that moment. 

If we take our one-day experiment to an extreme, we can imagine how we might calculate the net present value of time of option #1 vs. option #2 if we continued with each option every day for 10 years. 

While it might take us 10 minutes to drive through the McDonald's and eat the burger and fries, it might also require we spend more time at the doctor, in the hospital, and sick, as well as possibly dead at an earlier age. In addition, it's not just about the impact of what we would be eating every day, but also about the fact that we never paused during our busy day to rest. So with extra stress, loss of energy, and a general feeling of being overwhelmed, we might experience additional side effects that "waste" our time. 

With option #2, it would take us some time to buy the groceries, then 30 minutes to fix the meal, plus 45 minutes to eat it. That's at least 10x as much time required as option #1. But the result might be that we see the doctor, hospital, and sick bed less, and we get to live a longer life. In addition, with reduced stress, extra energy, and a general feeling of well being, we can actually enjoy the free time we have with our families in the evenings and during the weekends. 

Can this be analogous to the pursuit of our dreams? I have talked to a number of people who want to dream, but they have determined -- often before even analyzing what exactly is required -- that they do not have time to pursue their most audacious dreams. This thinking usually holds true whether the person is single, married, a parent of one or a parent of four. There is only time to pursue what can be had now or what "must" be done now -- in this moment, in the near future. To some degree, I believe many of us -- including myself -- choose "the McDonald's drive through" in regard to our careers, our families, and generally how we spend our time every day, instead of setting aside time to make the healthy lunch and actually take the time to eat it. 

If you have a dream that is far beyond what your present situation currently looks like...That is to say, if your dream is a Mt. Everest and you really want to pursue it -- to climb it -- then the climb requires a disciplined adjustment of how you spend your time. The pursuit requires that you change the way you are currently living, change the direction you are heading. The pursuit requires that you find time, that you make time. The pursuit requires that you re-learn how to calculate the net present value of time. 

How valuable was it to you and your family to do what you did yesterday? Does its value change if you change the lens through which you evaluate it? What if you switched out the "immediate, now, must be done" lens for the "future, long-term, life-changing" lens?

The bigger we dream, the more patient we must be. Notice I did not say: the bigger we dream, the more time we must be willing to spend. Instead, what I mean is that the bigger the dream, the longer the road and the greater delay in satisfaction. Immediate satisfaction often means a smaller level of satisfaction. Delayed satisfaction often means the opposite. Think of it as a graph. The x-axis is the amount of time, starting at the present and extending 5, 10, 20 years into the future. The y-axis is the size of your dream, starting at what you can have now and extending to the most big, hairy, audacious dream you have for you and your family.

The key question is this: what would you need to stop doing now so that you could start doing activities that lead to your biggest, most audacious dream? What activities now seem to matter, but when viewed through this lens really don't? What did you do yesterday (or this past week) that drove you closer to the biggest dream in your heart? And what did you do that did not? What are you doing that produces some measure of "reward" today (or this week or even this year) that will not have any bearing or value on your ability to achieve your biggest dream? If you can, stop doing that. Instead, focus on dream-producing activities. 

To some degree, I think we have to go back to the McDonald's analogy and use it in a different way: we need to retrain our tastebuds. We might have convinced ourselves that the best we can do given the time and responsibilities we have is a value meal at McDonald's. I don't think that's true; I think for our families, and for ourselves, we can make time every day to pursue our most audacious dreams. And when we get a taste of those dreams, then we'll never go back because we'll realize our dreams are worth pursuing...and a "McDonald's value meal" is not.

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