When we make decisions we often know that we should do one thing, but don’t want to make that choice. This is because we often experience conflict between what we should do, and what we want to do.

Everyday life is filled with examples of the most virtuous intentions gone awry. People report intending to save money, but don’t; people spend millions of dollars trying to quit smoking and drinking, but don’t; people spend hours thinking about reducing their overeating, but don’t.

Two Harvard professors studied this behaviour by asking people if they would agree to enrol in a savings plan that automatically placed two percent of their pay in a savings account. Nearly every participant agreed that saving money was a good idea, but their behaviour said otherwise:

One version of the question asked if participants would enroll in the savings plan, starting in a years’ time. In this scenario, 77 percent of people said they would agree to do it.
In another version the participants were asked to enroll as soon as possible. In this scenario, only 30 percent of people said they would agree to do it.

This experiment was a one of a number which demonstrated that most of us have a tendency to care too much about our present selves and not enough about our future selves. We like to enjoy immediate benefits in the present, especially if the costs of our choices don’t become apparent until far in the future.

So what does this mean if you have a business? There are always things you could do to make your business – and your life – better but the problem is that “quick fixes” are seldom available. For example:

You may want to improve profitability but making the effort to really understand cost/profit relationships across different services and customers just seems too hard – as does the effort involved in identifying and implementing ways to operate more efficiently.

You may want to grow your business but identifying and evaluating opportunities takes time. Perhaps the effort involved in differentiating your business and understanding your real competitive advantage seems too hard, or you’re worried you won’t be able to do it.

You may want to do more family stuff but you just don’t have the time to put systems and processes in place that will help your business run without you. You think you will find time in the future – but deep down you know you probably won’t.

The point is that if you made a sacrifice to start on any one of these projects now, your business could be a better place in just one years’ time, and if your business is in a better place, so probably will your life be.

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