We Can Always Do More, But at What Cost?

Jeffrey Keefer

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Do you ever have the sense that you did not put yourself fully, meaning 100%, into something, and as a result, did not succeed in the way you may have hoped?

Perhaps you competed in some sport and just lost to somebody slightly faster or with a more rehearsed performance?

Maybe you tried your best in studying for a test, yet a classmate still scored a bit higher than you. Or, perhaps you passed with a small margin, and not the A you really expect from yourself?

Whether you did, in fact, do 100% of what was really possible given the many complexities and distractions in life is really not possible to ever know. You indeed could have one more preparation and focus for it, or you could have really done the best you can given the context. We will never know if we could have done better at this time, yet we always have that nagging sense of believing we did not do our best.

One thing is certain, and that is that doing something with greater effort would have only been possible at some cost to you--cost to your time, your other activities, energies, or even financially.

A Little More Effort = Less Remaining for Other Things

All of us can always do more, but the trick is to ask yourself, "At what cost?"

If doing more leaves other aspects of ourselves troubled, then is it really worth that pain? To be a little faster, or more accurate, or more focused means that something else has to give. I can't put more effort into losing weight, saving money, scoring higher, or paying off debt without there being some effect someplace else in my life.

This is the flip-side of striving for success, or rather striving for something we may not perceive as being real right now.

We often look at these sacrifices for the benefit of some greater accomplishment. However, that is never guaranteed. If anything, to improve some aspect of our lives always implies something else must decrease to make room for it.

Want to lose more weight? It happens in one of two ways--eat less or exercise more. Both of them have other effects, such as pangs of the munchies in the evening or more time needed to work our resulting in less time doing other things.

Want to save more money? Great, what will you stop spending your money on otherwise? Limit travel or make your own lunch and not buy-out or wait a bit longer before trading in that mobile device--all means you need to stop spending it. It can be done, though only when you really commit to doing without something else you simply must have.

Want to score higher on a test? Sure, that means you need more hours of focused study, so that time must come from someplace else, and that means other activities need to be limited. Other factors such as a quiet location, access to improved studying materials, or improved processes all play a role.

How about paying off debt? Sure, and that also comes from one of two ways--bringing in more money or cutting other expenses. Both of these are much more easily said than done, of course!!

Do More With Less?

I am not suggesting we all begin doing less, but rather that our actions to improve something always means something else must be sacrificed for it. There are limited hours in the day, and much of that time is taken by others who require time and effort. If you have a family, job, or pets, then you know exactly what I mean! Not all of our time is our own, so we cannot shirk or cut back on those requirements we have that demand time we must give. So, where else will this come from?

We all want to do better in various aspects of our lives, though without an unlimited supply of everything, including time and energy, then something must give.

Often when we want to do better in some way, and kick ourselves for not taking steps before whatever we wanted to improve was needed, we are able to see where we could have done better. While most people I know don't find themselves sitting around all day wondering what to do with all their free time, money, or energy, when new things come up that we find valuable enough we really want to focus upon, we have a way of shifting things around to make room. This is not always possible, though if we want to do better and believe we really can if we put ourselves fully into it, then we can find a way to do more with less.

How to Measure the Cost?

Let's say that we wish we would have done better, and we have another shot at it or another opportunity to excel. How may that work?

We have one and only one question to ask ourselves--if we really want to put ourselves 100% into something and improve our prospects for success, "What else will we do to succeed, and what will we let go to allow ourselves the capacity to get there?"

Knowing what exactly we will do is a big step in the right direction, yet it is only part of the equation. Doing anything else means something must give way to allow it. This is true for time, energy, cost, attention, and even passion. We only have so much of ourselves to draw upon, so to increase in one area means to decrease in another.

There may be ways you can take from several other parts of your life and not really miss it, and if that is the case then it is clear you could have done more even at the beginning!

However, 24 hours exist in the day, and that is about the only part of an ordinarily hectic day we can really calculate exactly! Everything else, whether to study or practice or perform or excel will always require a trade-in or something.

What makes this all worthwhile is when you do succeed given the additional efforts. THAT is when we say all our efforts and sacrifices are well worth it.

Given all this, what will you use to determine what efforts are worth your giving up to improve in some other way?

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Educator. Writer. Open Knowledge Advocate. Institutional Researcher. I help people navigate their learning needs and take informed action.

New York City, NY
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