The Everything Jar

I have some advice for you today: Only do things that you would pay to do.

That’s a more easily-graspable way of saying “only do things that have value from your perspective.” I love movies; I’m a huge movie buff. I don’t actually go to the movies that often; instead I watch many movies on my home theater setup. Why? Because going to the movies is expensive, and watching them at home isn’t.

“Inexpensive” doesn’t mean “free,” though. Even ignoring all the initial costs to set up my home theater, and ignoring minor unit costs like the electricity to run it and so on, it’s expensive in time. I watch movies because I enjoy them, and there’s value in that. But from a strictly revenue-generating standpoint, I could certainly be doing something more effective with my time.

Obviously some relaxation and entertainment has value – it might even be essential. But we overindulge easily; especially when the costs are more hidden. I don’t go to the movies often because the costs are very obvious; I have to pull out my wallet. The costs in idle time are more subtle.

If watching a movie at home cost me a dollar – a real, immediate dollar I had to pay – I would still watch movies. I might not watch as many, but I’d do it.

But what if I had to pay a dollar every time I argued with someone on Twitter or Reddit? Would I still do that? Heck no. (Note: That’s just an illustrative example; in reality I find that so unpleasant that I rarely if ever actually do it. But I know it’s an irresistible temptation for many!) So that’s a good benchmark – think of every decision in your life as costing a dollar, and see which ones you’d still do.

Would you pay a dollar to spend time with your children? I hope! Would you pay a dollar to honk your horn at that jerk that cut you off? Maybe not – or at least you’d be aware of how often you did it, and maybe do it less.

This is the Swear Jar, but for every decision you make.

Once I started thinking about this, so many things immediately fell into the system for me. Would I pay a dollar to read a blog I found interesting? Almost certainly. Would I pay another dollar to read the comments? Heck no.

I think most people’s lives would get measurably better if they imposed a cost of a dollar on every action they took, even if only in the mind. It’s an easier way to discipline yourself into only doing things with real value to you, instead of the idle time sinks and negative responses we’re all so prone to as humans.

Hopefully the value of this blog was at least one hundred and one cents to you!

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