There’s something wrong about the way many people make life-changing decisions (e.g.: going to college, getting married, moving somewhere, etc): There’s very little differentiating between a simple everyday decision, and a this-will-affect-you-forever decision.
I was having a conversation the other day with a friend that was thinking of studying to be an auctioneer because it’s supposed to be a short degree, and you can make good money with it (if you have the right connections, which I think he does). The problem is, his whole view was based on this 2 year degree being just a quick step, a little thing he would get out of the way fast so he could start reaping the rewards. The reality is that 2 years is never a quick step. Studying a degree is never an “easy” thing. Even in the first world, most people don’t have college degrees, and not because they are independent thinkers that question the educational system (a very tiny minority), but because many of them are not capable or disciplined enough to go through the whole process. The amount of low-discipline college drop outs that I’ve met in the past few years is astonishing.
The problem doesn’t lie on the the decision my friend made, but on ignoring the day-to-day hardships of that decision. Same with marriage: when people get married, most of them create a happy moment photo in their minds that justifies the decision, while the real marriage happens every day, and is rarely as glamorous as people picture it when they say “I do.” Some people adjust to this surprise better than others, but the surprise is usually there. This is self-marketing at its finest. We sell an idea to ourselves by looking at the end result without shedding too much light on how we are going to “pay” for that idea.
The opposite happens (or should happen) when dealing with daily unappealing decisions that improve your life. If you’re going to the dentist, focusing on the process doesn’t help (unless you’re one of those freaks that love going to the dentist). It’s ok to ignore the hardships in simple tasks because the process will be over quick. Not so much with choosing what to study or who to be with for the next 5, 10 years, let alone “forever.” (Side note: This impulse is universal. I’ve seen it happen everywhere, regardless of culture, age, sex or race).
Another example: My brother is considering studying physics. I have a strong belief on letting people choose their own path and make their own discoveries, but I did have a conversation with him to make him consider the day-to-day struggles that such a decision implies, because that’s where ugly surprises happen. We can’t control everything, and we shouldn’t try, but there’s a harmful habit of overlooking the less appealing but more impactful consequences of that decision. By focusing on the end result, we may incur in a standardization of goals, which is a big problem for people choosing harder paths. There’s a major difference in the grade of difficulty between studying marketing and studying physics, but both paths lead to a diploma. The diploma is not the thing to focus on.
The end result is always easy to imagine. It’s the process what causes failures or stops. Once the surprise occurs, many people freeze because of little preparation and mental simulation.
Bottom Line: An end goal focus is better for daily decisions. An everyday focus is better for bigger decisions with long term effects.