Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Opportunity Cost

When we make a choice to entertain certain thoughts or consume certain substances, there is an Opportunity Cost.

An Opportunity Cost is:  the loss of potential gain from other alternatives when one alternative is chosen.  It is the value of the best alternative choice forgone. 

Elder Dallin H. Oaks:  "Good, Better, Best"
So we are required to choose GOOD, BETTER, OR BEST thoughts to entertain in our minds.  We are required to choose how we will spend our time.  Time is like money.  We are given an allotment of it daily.  We have 24 hours to spend.  We are required to budget it.  We can't "buy" everything.  Eight of those hours should ideally be spent sleeping.  That leaves us with 16 hours.  If we use our time to accomplish one task, read one book, hang out with one person, we do not accomplish another task, read another book, or hang out with another person.  Usually we have enough time to accomplish various tasks, read several books, and hang out with a number of different people.  But at some point time runs out.  This forces us to make choices.  Who and what will we spend our time on?

 There are some processes, people, and substances we could combine with, that when chosen actually prevent us from being able to engage in other processes or combine with other people and substances.  Thus there are real Opportunity Costs in our choices.  When we combine with some processes, people, and substances over an extended period of time, they actually affect our Desire to combine with others.  We don't want to do certain activities.  We don't want to hang out with certain people.  And we don't want to partake of certain substances.  This can be good or bad depending on the Opportunity Cost.

For instance, when I was in college I used to go to the laundry mat which was next door to my apartment building and buy candy bars out of the vending machine there.  They were delicious to me.  When I ate an apple during that time in my life it tasted like cardboard.  No flavor.  I wasn't happy with the shape I was in at that time and in general didn't feel too good about myself.   
 Around my sophomore or junior year, I became more conscious of nutrition.  I learned more about how to take care of my body so I stopped eating the candy bars and started making healthier food choices.  That’s when I found out how delicious an apple could be.  I remember walking home next to the creek that ran along the south side of campus after playing racquetball.  I had purchased an apple from a vending machine and was munching it as I walked.  Delightful!  And it dawned on me that eating candy bars had an Opportunity Cost.  It actually dulled my taste buds so healthy foods that were naturally sweet didn’t taste so sweet to me.

So there are some other things that behave similarly.  For instance, in marriage, if I entertained thoughts of other men or old boyfriends, however mildly, I basically gave up the opportunity to develop my relationship with my husband.  Sometimes marriages can get pretty boring.  We take each other for granted after a while.  Yet we still need a relationship of Sustainable Attraction.  Some part of us inherently knows this.  If we do not believe that this can be obtained within our marriage, we may be unconsciously trying to obtain it in alternative ways.  Women tend to think about other men or old boyfriends.  The thoughts are usually platonic (intimate and affectionate but not sexual).  We think about a past relationship where the attraction never ended on our side.  We imagine that boy finally coming back to us and finding us attractive.  At least those thoughts came floating into my mind when apathy seeped into my marriage and I didn’t know how to resolve it.

One day I was pondering on the thoughts themselves.  I think I had a dream that an old high school flame was attracted to me and I was wondering why it packed so much intensity of feeling.  The thoughts would never lead to any kind of Result because as a good Mormon girl there’s no way the thought to act upon them ever even crossed my mind.  Yet for some reason I wasn’t actively deleting them.  I entertained them because they were interesting. That’s when I began to understand that spending my thinking time and feelings on these things had an Opportunity Cost.  I realized that if I ever wanted to redevelop the real thing in my own marriage, I had to delete the alternative thoughts.  They were like sparks of excitement that never got me any closer to obtaining Sustainable Attraction in marriage.  (Read:  2 Nephi 7:11)

And here’s the thing:  Obtaining Sustainable Attraction starts in our thoughts.  What we think influences the way we feel.  If we control our thoughts to focus on our spouse and his attractive characteristics, then Sustainable Attraction is nourished. 

Of course we all have a role to play in remaining attractive to our spouse.  We can’t just let the weeds grow up all around our homestead.  We can’t allow the exterior or the interior to fall into disrepair.  We make a commitment when we marry in so many words that we will do our best to take care of our body and spirit.  If we desire Sustainable Attraction in marriage, then we do all we can to sustain beauty in the body and spirit by consistently choosing the best physical and spiritual foods and dynamically growing to become like our Cause.    

Read:  Luke 13:35
Read:  D&C 88:119
Read:  Luke 6:41-42
 So even if a spouse may not be perfect in his/her side of the marriage bargain, it is crucial to focus on what we can do ourselves to eliminate processes and effects that DO NOT contribute to Sustainable Attraction.  So maybe we see a mote in our spouse.  Maybe even it’s a beam.  But A #1 Priority is to work with our Cause to get the motes and beams out of our own eyes.  Then we will be able to see clearly to assist our spouse with his own issues.  Then we will be motivated by love.

I am so thankful to my Cause for instructing me about how we often give up the Bon Fire of Attraction that could be ours in the end for the sparks that seem good enough in the moment.

I deleted the thoughts.  I worked diligently to keep that commitment.  And here’s what happened soon after.  I was pondering on my religion.  I said I belonged to the Church of Jesus Christ.  I said I believed in Him.  But the question that came to my mind was, “Who is Jesus Christ?  Do you know who you say you worship?”  And I didn’t know.  I had been a member of my church for all of my life.  I had heard of him.  I had read of him.  We talked about him all the time in church.  I had to confess that when I read about him and his atonement in the scriptures I glossed over it in my thoughts.  I never gave it much attention.  His name and the words the scriptures used to describe Him and His atonement had become so rote.  I had never taken the time to figure out what they really meant and who He really was to me.  That was when I embarked on a journey that has lasted for more than 8 years.  It has been the most exciting adventure of my life and it doesn’t get dull.  The fire is Sustainable.  I HAD NO IDEA!  

Another story about Opportunity Costs was when my kids were really young.  In fact I only had the two oldest—Aaron and Chris.  They must have been around 3 and 5.  I purchased a Nintendo 64 that came with the Zelda game.  I bought the system to keep the boys out of trouble but for some reason I didn’t feel good about it once I did it.  So I justified it by saying we were going to spend lots of time as a family playing it.  And we did.  Many hours together.  I got pretty good at Zelda but Aaron at 5 was just as good.  Haha.  I used to play Adventure on Atari when I was growing up and Zelda was the glorified version of Adventure.  Definitely my favorite kind of video game.  But each day after spending a few hours on the game with the kids, I got a bad feeling inside me.  I tried to ignore it.  

Around that time I purchased another game.  This one was for the computer.  It was called Myst and was really cool!  It challenged my mind and was like doing a puzzle, solving mysteries and equations.  My mind liked it.  I stayed up late at night to play it after getting the kids to bed.  When I was finished playing, I got that bad feeling inside me again.  In hindsight I realize I was trying to resolve my boredom.  I didn't know what else there was to do.  But it wasn’t long before I put two and two together and realized that my Cause didn’t want me playing these games.  He was signaling to me that this was a waste of my time (and His for that matter).  There were other things I needed to be working towards.  I have learned through the years how valuable my time is.  There are things to be working towards.  Like everything that is of great value, these things take time, effort, focus, concentration, and consecration to obtain. We seriously do not have time to waste.

Those censuring feelings from my Cause didn’t force my choice.  They were mercifully reminding me of promises I had made that I would some day remember but had temporarily forgotten.  I had a choice:  Listen to those warnings or ignore them.  If I kept ignoring them, they would eventually go away.  But even back then, when I was still so young, I knew the cost of losing my sensitivity to the Spirit.

(So when I have gotten after my kids about playing too many video games, I have both understood how enjoyable they can be but also how much of an opportunity cost they are.)

A page from one of my notebooks dated 2006
Later on when I embarked on my journey to understand who Jesus Christ was and who he was to me personally, I recognized that studying Him and the truths of His Gospel targeted the same puzzle-mystery solving section of my brain!  It was so amazingly fun and I didn’t feel the censure this time at all!  Quite the contrary.  I felt confirmation and encouragement.  Every day I understood Him and his truth in a new light.  “I can show you the world, shining, shimmering splendid…I can open your eyes, take you wonder by wonder!”

Listen:  “A Whole NewWorld” from the Disney soundtrack of Aladdin, sung by Brad Kane & LeaSalonga
Opportunity Costs.  Good, better, or best.  It’s a choice.  We just need to be aware of the choice.