Time, Opportunity Costs, Choice

We like to think that our life has a concrete shape or form, that it is a product of our constant molding input, and that only major events impact us, serving as those key turning-point moments that alter our trajectories irrevocably for good or bad. But what we forget is that it is the small things, the finer nuances and the mundane details of our lives, that when changed/tweaked can and do have a profound impact on our lives, their tiny effects cumulatively aggregating to a substantial whole. And crucially our focus on engaging in some pleasures and sensations, while voluntarily forgoing others – i.e. making firm choices – follows our lives around like a halo – underlining it for strengthening emphasis or striking through it with a reductive force.

Both Life and Time you see is akin to a Zero-Sum game – with a circular interdependence among them – each dictating and influencing the other. At any given time snapshot, you have a choice to invest that time in some activity, event, task or enterprise – be it study, work, creative pursuit or some productive endeavor, or indeed even rejuvenating leisure, and last but not the least – the boredom of empty inactivity. What you choose at every given instant slowly but surely impacts the big-picture.

However, while there might be a plethora of alternatives available to you at any given moment, you must of course resolve the multitude of possibilities down to a single thing. And in doing so, obviously miss out on all but one of the possibilities. And this is the dictionary definition of a choice – narrowing down a field of possibilities into a single, firm, resolute option. Meaning simply, that at each given moment, you make a conscious (or often unconscious) choice of either listening to music, or watching a film, or writing a blog post, or selling your skills to the marketplace to get some income (i.e. work), etc. But you can’t possibly engage in more than one (or perhaps two at most) of these activities together simultaneously. And therein lies the conundrum of Opportunity Cost, and associated regret of what you might be missing out on, should you commit yourself to a firm choice at any given moment. And there’s no escaping this conundrum, and choose you must – for the act of not choosing anything is an implicit choice in itself – yielding of course the nothingness of idle boredom, of wasted potential.

Opportunity Cost is a potent and powerful factor in all the major decisions in life, and it often has an almost imperceptible bearing on the small day-to-day and moment-to-moment minutiae of our lives. And yet most people in all likelihood are either unaware of the term – of its meaning and significance – or blissfully unaware of the cognitive processes underlying the foundations of all kinds of choices they make. For life and time is a Constraint-Satisfaction-Problem, full of navigating a minefield of Trade-offs – long-term, medium-term, short-term and yes even *this* very instant. What do I do with the time I have – over the next minute, the next 30 minutes, the next day or so, the next week or so, the next month or three, and the next year or two? And these questions are always tinged with the double-edged sword of the pleasures of a firm choice versus the regret on missed opportunity costs.

Question 1: What kind of things do I want to do? What kind of sensations do I want to experience?
Answering this requires clarity of thought, focus, drive, and decisiveness.
Question 2: What kind of things, sensations, experiences can I tolerate missing out on?
Answering this requires reflection, introspection, inquisitiveness and indeed resilience – resilience to losing out on potential pleasures.

While everyone thinks obviously and consciously on the first one, few ponder and linger on the second one, either arriving at a vague answer through a haze of unconsciousness or avoiding answering it altogether. Perhaps you would be surprised by how significantly this latter question impacts the length and breadth, the scope, the direction, the largess or smallness, the shape and the form, the clarity and specificity of our attitude, our outlook, our successes and failures – and our life itself.

After all – we are as much a product of the pain we are willing to tolerate (and conversely the pleasure we are willing to miss out on) through tough choices, hard-times and our persistent toiling – as much as the pleasurable sensations we yearn/aspire for.


6 thoughts on “Time, Opportunity Costs, Choice

  1. Very well articulated thought 🙂

    It is indeed very scary when we realize that we have a finite amount of time to live and we spend most of it doing the most mundane of things like waiting at traffic signals, sleeping, and doing things we’d rather not do, but are compelled to do due to various reasons (all mundane). Yet, we have some choices that we can make and turns that we can take to fine-tune our life. This makes life bearable and sometimes even enjoyable.

    I would in fact, love to be blissfully unaware of this reality, so I never have to think too much about these choices and be guided blind by life. Alas! It is too late now.


    1. Thanks Aamil. Ignorance, as they say, is always bliss. So my apologies if I spooked you with the post 😛 🙂
      Also I do hope I have incorporated some of the feedback from people, in terms of editing the post down to a byte-sized chunk that can be easily read and digested. I did the best I could restricting the length of the post to about 750 words or so, but my brain still operates at esoteric frequencies, and some of the references might be obscure. Nonetheless, I am glad you read and enjoyed the post! 🙂


      1. It was really good. Very well composed and nicely presented. Definitely not overwhelming. The emphasis that you used from place to place really did the trick 🙂


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