The biggest mistake most people make in their lives – one that has an impact on their health, wealth, career, education and on and on is a simple one: failing to understand the long-term consequences of short-term repetitive actions. We’re all guilty of it. A soda a day rots the teeth, the guts, adds weight and does nothing to improve one’s life. They are expensive and bad for your health. Borrowing large sums of money for a college degree in Sanskrit falls in the same category. Taking the elevator from the 2nd floor to the 1st floor every day. Failing to deal, mentally, with a stressful daily commute.
In most cases, one time or infrequent actions don’t cause many long-term problems. If you drink water every day but splurge once a month to have a Coke, it’s unlikely to have any significant effect. If you decide to drop $100 playing the slots at that sales and marketing convention in Vegas, your retirement income won’t be affected. Now this isn’t always true: trying to grab a gun out of a police officers’ belt for a thrill WOULD have some serious consequences.
But in general the best way to understand how people fail is to look at their small, seemingly inconsequential actions on a daily or weekly basis. I know I make multiple small mistakes: I get too lazy to pack a lunch (health and wealth effects); I have coupons but don’t use them; I put off small maintenance activities until something breaks.
This is failure. Not a one-time massive mistake, but the compilation of a million small failures. It’s easier to avoid the large failures, too. Most of us know we probably aren’t going to reap health benefits from trying out at amateur parkour hour. But many of us – myself included – kid ourselves into thinking it doesn’t matter if we sit immobile in office chairs for 8 hours a day 5 days a week 50 weeks a year for 40 years. It will. There’s a reason why ‘Chinese water torture’ worked its way into our language: the small, innocuous drops of water will do damage. The way to avoid this: be mindful.