Making Decisions Based on Proximity

It’s taken me 38 years to fully appreciate the contribution of proximity to achieving goals and overall happiness. I thought I was immersed in this concept when commuting 3 hours a day for work. I could listen to a podcast or audiobook while driving to the train station or standing in a subway car, but the time would have been well-spent with my kids, doing chores, or resting. After I got a new job and my commute shrunk down to a little over an hour a day, a mountain of stress instantly crumbled away.

Real Life Application ... for Me
When I was looking for Master of Social Work programs, I zeroed in on the two programs that were 15 minutes away as well as those offered online. Even Lehman College, which is only a 30 minute drive, was removed from consideration because that extra time spent commuting would have dramatically lowered my quality of life and adversely affected my performance in the program. My kids will be in school for about 5 hours a day when I start the program, so any time spent travelling is time unavailable for actually being class, studying, or participating in volunteer activities.

... for My Kids
Similarly, I only enroll my kids in enrichment classes that are less than 15 minutes from home … preferably 10 minutes. Once we hit the 20 minute mark, the distance becomes an impediment, both logistical and psychological, on getting to class. I have friends who are happy to drive 30 minutes or more, but it’s just not necessary in the area I live. This concept has been thoroughly discussed in the example of commuters, for whom the reduction of one hour commuting is supposedly equivalent to the happiness associated with a $40,000 raise.

... for Shawn Anchor
In the Happiness Advantage, the author Shawn Anchor puts a spin on this idea by writing about “activation energy.” This is essentially how much effort it takes to do something and even decreasing the barrier by 20 seconds can make the difference in accomplishing your goals or not. He gave the example of practicing guitar. 

Despite his best intentions, marking off days on a calendar, and applying all his willpower, he stopped practicing after a 4 day streak. After a break, he regrouped and bought a guitar stand that he kept in his living room. By eliminating the activation energy needed to go into a closet and retrieve his guitar, he was able to start successfully turn guitar practice into a daily habit.

... for My Husband 
My husband takes this even further, in that he does not like to drive more than 10 minutes to a restaurant. He could be talked into 15 minutes, but any more than that and it just isn’t worth it to him. I’m guessing that the enjoyment he would get from the meal is outweighed by the burden of driving 20+ minutes to get to that meal. I'm sure the fact that he commutes 3 hours round-trip every day for work plays into his feelings on the matter.

In Closing
This concept can be applied in different ways, but ultimately, it’s about spending your time on the things that you enjoy and minimizing the time spent on non-value add activities. And maybe what you enjoy is driving, like one of my friend’s dad who spends his retirement on road trips to fulfill his love of driving. For me, I'd rather spend more of my time off the road.


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