By its very definition, a ‘wasted effort’ refers to things we spend time and energy on which could have been better deployed elsewhere. It is an opportunity cost.
Through its inverse, bypassing unworthy things saves you time and money, and also significant suffering and hardship. The absence of negative forces invites contentment into your life.
Our lives are full of waste. I’ve lost entire Saturdays going down stupid wormholes. But only a day was lost. The price can be so much higher if we don’t adequately police our behavior.
Internet tensions are a vacuum of your time
Six months ago, a friend announced on her Facebook feed, “If you plan on voting for Biden, unfriend me now!” Sometime later, she popped up in a comment section, arguing with people about election-related issues. Each comment got more corrosive and personal than the next.
We live in the key swing state of Florida, where tensions are particularly high during elections. With her, and others, I’ve seen the dissolution of friendships that went far beyond clicking the ‘unfriend’ button’.
John Stuart Mill, one of the fathers of modern utilitarianism, argued, “So long as an opinion is strongly rooted in the feelings, it gains rather than loses stability by having a preponderating weight of argument against it.”
Mill was a proponent of building opinions solely on facts. He saw, one hundred years early, the futility of internet arguments. Our rationales are dangerously burdened by our emotions and sense of identity. I have yet to see an internet argument end with two people saying, “Great! I’m glad we had this discussion. We learned so much.”
I made a rule when I began writing online: no internet arguments. The mask of incognito is an enemy of civil discourse. I redirect that energy to other things. Is it really worth going through your day, angry about what a stranger said to you online?
They say the lottery is a tax on people who can’t do the math. I would say arguing on the internet is a tax on people who don’t value their time.
Personal relationships becoming a black hole
Nearly a decade ago, I was sitting on a couch in a marriage counselor’s office.
As one could presume, I was going through a very difficult time. My therapist was speaking with me individually without my partner. I think he’d grown tired of me waving my hands around, explaining away all the bad omens in our relationship, why I thought we could fix things.
He said, “Let me tell you something. When someone says they want to leave, the best thing you can do is hold your hands up and wish them the best of luck.”
It might seem like a ridiculous thing for a Ph.D. in Marriage and Family Therapy to say. But he’d detected a power imbalance between us. I was clawing to save a relationship the other person didn’t want to be in. It was projecting me as a low-value person. And more importantly, it was delaying the obvious inevitability of my divorce. Sometimes it's a relationship counselor’s job to identify a doomed partnership.
In the end? The counselor was on the mark. Good marriages don’t usually end. Divorce is horrible and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But there came a day, many months later, when the sun was shining, the sky was clear. I felt alive and new in a way I hadn’t felt in a very long time. I looked back through time with curious fascination, wondering why I tried so hard to save things.
We become so acclimated to unhealthy situations that we stop noticing the toxicity. When that situation finally starts to go away, as it should, we rake the ground rather than rejoice. It’s almost like a drug withdraw. We should be happy we are quitting. But there we are, itching for more of the poison. When a person, in no uncertain terms, says they want to leave — let them.
When relationships are organic and natural, they have their own sort of gravity. They stay without too much effort.
Passion is the source of very long term problems
You would be shocked by how many partners, who I’d only just started hooking up with, urged me not to wear protection. We’d had no conversation around contraceptives or testing. They just didn’t like the feel of it.
And look, I’m not this avatar of perfect health behavior. I’ve just been lucky to get scared straight a few times without consequences. I’ve had my scary trip to the clinic, sitting there going down memory lane, wondering, “What was I thinking?”
We should have closed this chapter after 8th-grade sex-ed class. The rate of unintended pregnancies continues to hover around 50% in the United States. I once sat in the parking lot, feeling nervous about buying condoms, and realized, “If I’m not mature enough to buy them, I shouldn’t be having sex in the first place.”
I hate to use the word ‘problem’ while referencing a child but unintended pregnancies create other unwanted problems that last far longer than you realize. You are suddenly co-parenting with someone you can’t stand. You have daycare costs, food, and myriad unexpected things to manage. Every aspect of your life is fundamentally changed because you didn’t spend $5 on protection. After my divorce, I was stunned by the number of single parents on dating apps.
It might feel good at the moment to break the rules. But mark my words, there’s a sinking feeling that comes later on. Be willing to say no when it is most difficult.
To deploy these strategies most effectively, ask yourself this affirming question, “Am I going to be happy with this decision hours, days, months from now?”
It was that very question that finally got me to quit smoking. I knew I’d never look back decades later and wish I’d smoked just a little longer. Life is full of wasteful activities. Avoid them and you will be ahead of the pack.
Recap for your memory: three things that aren’t worth it
- Getting caught up in arguments on the internet
- Trying to save dying relationships (even when you desperately want to)
- Winging it on birth control (wear protection, plan ahead)