Don’t Put Off The Important Stuff

Why do people fail to do the things they know they have to do? 
I’m not talking about the little and unimportant things like: Do your homework on time, do the laundry and other chores, or finish that work project in a timely manner.

I’m talking about the big stuff. I’m talking about the types of things that can cost us thousands of dollars, our own freedom and happiness, and even our lives.

I have a friend who is not a US citizen. He could easily become one because he married a US citizen over ten years ago. He has children and a good job. He knows that, if an accident occurred, he could be deported to the third world country he left behind in a heartbeat. He has seen the hardship that deportation can cause a family. Yet, he remains a permanent resident and not a US Citizen!

I routinely represent people and businesses who are builders. The Home Improvement Act requires that certain provisions be included in all home improvement contracts. Builders know this but they fail to put these provisions in their contracts. The homeowner refuses to pay them. Absent a couple of very limited exceptions, they will have no ability to collect on the amount that is owed (often tens of thousands of dollars or more). They get mad at the homeowner, but they have no one to blame but themselves.

People refuse to work on their retirement or savings plans. They refuse to do wills and create trusts. They don’t get routine medical exams. As a result, they have no money at retirement, their children fight over their ambiguous estate plans, and they die of illnesses that would have been cured or prevented if caught early.

Have you ever tried to motivate a person like this? If you have you’ve seen that the more effort you put into trying to get people to do the things they need to do, the more effort they seem to put into not doing those things. It’s infuriating.

Of course, I am also guilty of this behavior (as I’m sure you are). I think I’m pretty good at dealing with many of the most important issues of life. I deal with savings every day, I review and rebalance retirement and investments quarterly, I have all the appropriate insurances in place for my family, I have a will designed by a good lawyer (as opposed to an online LegalZoomy one), and I have systems at work to get projects completed in a more-than-timely fashion (even when I’m not there). Certainly, the world could tick along just fine without me.

And maybe it will! I have been meaning to schedule my annual doctor visit for the past few years now. I haven’t. I never get sick, so I never think about it. I also know exactly how to eat well and I know how to exercise. I don’t do either very consistently.

This behavior is maddening. At the same time, it appears to be human nature.

Numerous researchers have looked into the topic. For two great books, I recommend The Time Paradox by Phil Zimbardo and John Boyd and Stumbling on Happiness by Dan Gilbert. Both can help you rebalance your time perspective and understand the flaws of the human mind.

I have tried to get people to meet with me before legal problems arise. Prevention is, after all, the best medicine. I tell story after story about what can happen if things aren’t in order. But often times, people do not listen. They think (or at least fool themselves into believing) that bad things cannot happen to them. These people often come to see us after the bad thing that we warned them about does happen . . . and of course it’s a lot more expensive at that point.

Part of every person and every business’s day must include thinking and taking steps towards preventing bad things from occurring. Small and incremental steps can prevent a disaster. I just called my doctor to schedule a physical. The receptionist wasn’t sure my name was in the system. But she found my file. Fortunately, she is proficient in using the microfiche.

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