The hidden cost of every decision

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Every decision you make–big ones like whether to go to med school or law school, to little ones like whether to work on the Smith case this morning or work on marketing instead–require an investment of time, energy, money, and mental focus.

You consciously or unconsciously calculate these costs, along with the possible return on your investment.

But there’s a good chance you are omitting something from your calculation. It’s a cost that most people don’t think about, but should, because it might be your biggest cost. Deciding to make that investment might also result in a much bigger payoff.

It’s called the “opportunity cost”–what you give up by taking on project A, for example, when you could instead use that time, money, and energy, to do project B.

Project A might require less time. But when you factor in the cost of losing the benefits of project B, you might decide project B is the better choice.

Savvy investors understand the need to calculate the opportunity cost of their investment decisions, and so must we.

Of course we must also consider the opportunity cost of turning down one project in favor of another. I’ve turned down invitations to speak because I had other things I could do that offered a better return. But in so doing, I lost the opportunity to get my name in front of new people, which, long term, might have had the bigger payoff.

Every decision to do something includes a decision to not do something else.

Look at your task list and see what you have flagged to do next. Ask yourself what you might be giving up if you do it. But also consider what you might be giving up if you don’t.

You invested a few minutes reading this post, minutes that could have been spent reading something else or doing something else. Did your investment pay off? Was it worth it to be reminded about the importance of considering the opportunity costs of your decisions?

If it was, then I made the right decision to write about it.

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Are you riding an emotional roller coaster?

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You’re excited. you’ve got a new client or a new project and you love waking up in the morning and getting to work. Life is good.

And then it happens. You discover a flaw. Or something isn’t working. It looks bad. Real bad. And now you are discouraged.

Then you figure out how to solve the problem. Or you get another new client. And you are excited again.

Until the next time something goes wrong.

And there you are, excited one day, ready to stay in bed in the next. You’re riding an emotional roller coaster, up and down and up and down, and you’re about to get whiplash.

You’re heard that you must get off that roller coaster. If you don’t, you’ll get burned out. You’ve heard you need to even out the highs and lows and achieve a state of equanimity and balance.

But is it that true?

Clearly, you don’t want to be discouraged or depressed. But what’s so special about equanimity? Why can’t every day be exciting?

Is that even possible?

Yes.

I know, crap happens. We have problems we can’t solve, we’re human beings and we have bad days.

True. But just because we feel down and discouraged doesn’t mean we have to stay that way. We can turn a terrible day into a great day, and we can do it in a matter of minutes.

Not by ignoring our problems. By changing how we feel about them.

You’ve got a problem and it feels bad. You’re discouraged, unhappy, angry, frustrated. You’re at the low end of the emotional scale. How do you get to the “high” end–excited, happy, positive, optimistic, etc?

You do it incrementally, one thought at a time.

Think about where you are emotionally. Let’s say you’re discouraged. Things are bad, you don’t see any solution. You’re down in the dumps.

Now, think about the situation a bit and see if you can find some aspect of it that feels better. Even just a little.

Maybe you realize that the worst case scenario is highly unlikely. You know from prior experience that there has to be a solution, even if you don’t know what it is.

You feel a little better. You’re no longer discouraged. Your life isn’t over. You’re hopeful, and hopeful feels better than discouraged.

Now, reach for another thought that feels even better. Perhaps you remember a similar problem from the past that eventually got fixed. You realize that this solution may also work for the current problem. Or you realize that if you solved the former problem, you can probably solve this one.

You still may not know how you’re going to do it, but now you’re optimistic. And that feels better than hopeful. Which feels better than discouraged.

So you reach for another thought that feels even better. You realize that you have many resources available to you: tools, friends, ideas, experience. And you realize that the problem doesn’t need to be solved immediately, you have some time to figure things out.

Okay. Now you’re feeling even better. You know you can solve the problem. You might even be feeling enthusiastic. You’re on your way to being excited.

And that’s how you do it.

You reach for a thought that feels better when you think it. And then you reach for another thought, and another, moving up the emotional scale, continually improving your emotional state, until you feel excited.

You don’t have to settle for feeling bad or sad or down or discouraged. And you don’t have to settle for equanimity. You can move up the emotional scale any time you want to. You can make every day exciting, one thought at a time.

 

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Don’t ignore the bad news but don’t dwell on it, either

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There is evil in the world and we must acknowledge it. But we shouldn’t let it destroy our quality of life.

So let’s change the subject. I have a question for you that I was thinking about this morning:

If you had to, could you run your practice without computers and the smart devices in your pocket? Could you do everything with just pen and paper?

When I started practicing, some lawyers had computers but most did not. Very few had mobile phones. And there was no Internet.

My office had paper files, real law books, and a land line. I did have electronic typewriters, and a copy machine, but no fax.

And we did fine.

But then we didn’t know what we were missing.

We had what we needed to do our work, and we didn’t know what the future might bring. We felt good about what we had and what we could do.

Today, we can practice law from a device that fits in our pocket. We depend on this tech and if we had to give it up and use pen and paper, knowing what we were missing, it would be difficult. And sad.

But unless we get hit with an EMP or there is a zombie apocalypse, we won’t have to give it up. God willing, we never will.

And for that, we should be thankful. We should be thankful for all of the good things in our lives, because there are a lot of them, and there are more to come.

Don’t ignore the bad news, but don’t dwell on it. Because you get what you think about, think about the good things in your life and get excited about the good things to come.

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Why I get high at work and you should, too

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Think about all of the projects you’ve started but didn’t finish. All of your unrealized goals and forgotten dreams. When you think about them, or look at the unfinished documents on your hard drive, it’s not a good feeling.

You failed. You weren’t good enough. You didn’t do what you said you would do.

Ugh.

Now, think about the things you did finish. The projects you completed. The cases you settled. The documents you pushed out into the world.

Different feeling, isn’t it?

It feels good to finish things because doing so validates your abilities and value. Getting things done might mean more revenue, or simply the affirmation of a job well done, but whatever it is, there’s no question that it is enjoyable.

One reason it feels good is that finishing causes the pleasure centers of your brain to experience a rush of chemicals that literally make you feel good. You get high on finishing, so you are compelled to do it. And start the next thing on your list so you can finish that and enjoy the feeling again.

It’s a positive addiction and I encourage you to become a junkie.

Give in to your cravings. Finish what you start and feel the rush.

You need to know when to abandon projects that don’t “pencil out,” of course, but when you do that, use the reclaimed time to start and finish something else.

Something else that feels good: referrals

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Is that the best you can do?

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Does it ever seem like there’s an invisible ceiling over your head that limits your ability to earn more income? Do you ever wonder if you’ve hit a plateau in your career?

Wonder no more, my friend. If you believe you’ve reached your peak, you have, because your beliefs determine your reality.

Your limitations are all in your head. They’ve probably been there a long time. Parental messages probably had something to do with it, and a whole bunch of other things. But what’s important isn’t how you developed your current beliefs but how you can change them.

Because if you don’t change your beliefs about yourself and about what’s possible, those beliefs are going to continue to hold you back.

How do you do it? How do you change your deep-seated, long-held beliefs?

Hypnosis? Therapy? Visiting a sweat lodge? Can you read your way to a new self-image? Take courses? Hire a coach?

To some extent, all of the above have some value because doing them, even thinking about doing them, signals your self-conscious mind that you want to change.

But I have another option for you: get some new friends.

Yep, one of the best things you can do to change your life is to spend time with different people. People who have done what you want to do and people who have what you want to have.

While you’re at it, spend less time with, or completely disassociate from, people who don’t.

The so-called “law of association” says that we become like the people we associate with most. If you hang out with people of one political persuasion, for example, the odds are you are on the same side. If they work hard, you probably do, too. If they exercise and eat well, you are more likely to do the same.

If your friends and business associates read a lot, you’re more likely to do that, and more likely to read what they’re reading. If they invest their money wisely, you are more likely to think twice before buying into the latest fad.

When we associate with people, we tend to adopt their way of looking at the world. We learn their “language”. We adopt their habits. We share many of the same beliefs. Those beliefs influence our attitude towards what we do and don’t do, and those activities determine our results.

And let’s not forget that the people we know can introduce us to other people like themselves, and open doors to new opportunities. If you want new opportunities, you need to know some new people.

Think about the people you spend the most time with right now. Your closest friends. Your colleagues. Your professional contacts. The odds are that your income and lifestyle are on a par with theirs. If you’re happy about that, great. If not, if you want to achieve more, you should probably find some new friends.

Here’s how to find and meet new professionals who can send you referrals

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How to bring out the champion inside you

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Last night, The Warriors clinched a spot in the NBA finals by beating OKC. After being down three games to one, watching them come from behind to win the series was a beautiful thing to behold.

The message? Never give up. No matter how bad things look, champions never give up. That’s what makes them champions.

But there is another message.

After The Warriors won game six and evened the series, Charles Barkley said, “Your flaws show up under pressure”. That’s true. But what he might have also said is that it’s the pressure that makes you into a champion.

Whether it’s professional basketball, building a law practice, or doing anything else that requires skills and determination and hard work, it’s the struggle that allows us to reach our potential. If it was easy, there would be no growth and no greatness.

Don’t fear your problems, embrace them. Don’t lament your mistakes, learn from them.

Do you want more income and greater success? Solve bigger problems. Take bigger risks. Fight bigger battles.

Your flaws show up under pressure and show you where you need to improve. Every battle, every loss, every adversity you overcome makes you stronger and better.

Don’t hide from pressure, go look for more of it. It turns a lump of coal into a diamond and a rookie into a champion.

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Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better

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French psychologist Emile Coue famously promoted the curative powers of repeating a daily mantra: “Every day, in every way, I’m getting better and better”. Apparently, those who repeated this to themselves many times each day saw greater improvement than those who didn’t.

Whether this is true or not, and without debating the rationale behind it, I think we can agree that the more frequently we do something designed to improve our skills or knowledge, the more likely it is that we will see improved results.

If you want to become a better writer, for example, it’s better to write every day than it is to write sporadically.

The reason is obvious. It is the compound effect of your daily effort.

When you do it every day, you don’t start each day at zero. You have the previous days’ experiences to draw on. If you write only once a month, on the other hand, every month you start from scratch.

To become a better speaker, every day, even for a few minutes, study the advice of good speakers and practice what you learn. Work on your timing, add better stories, seek feedback from others, and make continual adjustments, however small.

As you get better at speaking, you will gain more confidence. As your confidence grows, you will get better at speaking.

And so on. Success creates more success, through the power of compounding.

Whatever you want to improve, work on it daily, even for just a few minutes.

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You know the answer, you just need someone else to say it

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I heard from an attorney who has been practicing for 15 years and is thinking of leaving his job with a law firm where he feels like he’ll always be the low man on the totem pole.

“I want to start out on my own. My wife [an attorney] is against this; we have 4 kids and a mortgage and she makes considerably less than I do.” He’d read my blog post about the costs of opening your own office but wanted to know more about actual costs. “I need a business license, insurance, an office, and a decent computer system. What’s your estimate for starting up?”

Here’s what I said:

“Okay, setting up the office is the easy part and it’s not expensive. You can get a furnished executive suite or take a spare office from another attorney in return for appearances or overflow. If you have a laptop computer that does what you need, you’re in business. If you don’t, you can finance one for next to nothing from Dell.

Insurance can wait. (That’s not legal advice). So can a lot of other things. One nice thing about low overhead is that it doesn’t take much to stay afloat.

The hard part is the family. You have to work that out. Your wife is scared and perhaps she has a right to be, but most people don’t understand “the itch” and aren’t willing to scratch it. So you have to have a long talk. Or a series of talks. And if you can’t get her on board and you still want to do this, you may have to do it without her permission. And then work your butt off to bring in lots of business.

Sometimes, when I’ve taken big scary leaps in my career, I first asked myself, “What’s the worst that can happen?” Will I die? End up in prison? Lose my house? Lose my wife? End up homeless, penniless, on drugs and wanting to die?

When you think about the worst case scenario in all it’s overly dramatic splendor, you realize that most of this is highly unlikely, and whatever does happen is probably something you can survive. Bad things may happen, but you probably won’t die, and as they say, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.

Whatever you decide, don’t second guess yourself. Stay or go, but don’t look back.”

He wrote back and said he’s going to talk to his wife and will keep me posted.

But here’s the thing. He’s a smart guy and surely knew I couldn’t give him an estimate of how much he would need to open his own office. But that’s not the real reason he contacted me. He was reaching out because he’s nervous about the whole idea and wanted to hear a friendly voice who had been there and done that.

Here’s the other thing. I’m sure he also knew the part about making the leap with or without his wife on board. He knew it but needed me to say it.

We all know more than we realize we know, don’t we? But we don’t always trust what we know.

Sometimes we use logic to guide us to the right decision. Sometimes we throw logic out the window and let our gut get us past the fear so we can do what we want to do.

When you face big a decision like this, it’s good to talk to someone who’s been down that path. They can provide information and encouragement and ask you questions that allow you to sort things out. You could also pray on it, write in a journal, talk to experts, and do a lot of research.

But while these might be the mature way of handling things, sometimes you just have to jump and see what happens. As Helen Keller said, “Life is either a daring adventure or it is nothing.”

I’ve made many leaps in my legal career and with businesses I’ve started. Things didn’t always work out but I never wound up homeless and I always learned something about myself and about the world I was able to use down the road.

So am I saying you should do what you want to do even when there are lots of reasons why you shouldn’t?

No. I’m not saying that. You are.

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If I could save time in a bottle

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You know the wisdom of putting money into a saving account or retirement account each month, and not touching it. In five or ten years, or twenty, you’ll have a sizable nest egg.

If you’re not doing this already, the easiest way to start is to have your bank automatically deduct a certain amount each month and move it to a savings account. When it’s done automatically, you don’t think about it.

It’s a simple way to “pay yourself first”.

Start small if you must, with an amount you won’t miss. Even $25 or $50. You can increase the amount down the road.

Saving money isn’t difficult when you pay yourself first. You just have to start.

Now if it were only possible to do the same thing with time.

What if you could put away an hour or two each month, to be used at a later date? You wouldn’t miss those hours, and in five or ten years, you’d have enough time saved up to be able to take major vacations, retire early or spend time with someone you love.

Okay, that’s not possible. But you could do the next best thing.

What if every month you invested a few hours in yourself? It’s called personal development. The more you do, the more valuable you become. If you do it regularly, in a few years you may be good enough to earn fifty times what you earn now. A few years more and you may have enough money and passive income to be able to do whatever you want with your time.

If you do it regularly, in a few years you may be good enough to earn twenty times what you earn now. A few years more and you may have enough money and passive income to be able to do whatever you want with your time.

But first, you need to invest time to work on yourself. The easiest way to do that? Automatically.

Use your calendar to schedule time for personal development. You can schedule 15 minutes a day, or an hour a week, but whatever you do, you should do it regularly and automatically.

Without thinking about it.

If you calendar an hour every Friday at 4pm for personal development, you must keep that appointment with yourself.

Read, watch training videos, learn something new. Spend time with people who can teach you things about business and life. Learn from them and observe them so you can model their attitudes and behaviors.

If you do this regularly, the time you invest in personal development will have a tremendous payoff down the road. Five years from now, you’ll look back at the person you were when you began your journey and you’ll be glad you decided to pay yourself first.

Get good at getting referrals

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By the inch, it’s a cinch

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I saw a quotation the other day that is a testament to the value of personal growth. It said, “You don’t overcome challenges by making them smaller but by making yourself better”.

Jim Rohn said, “Don’t wish for fewer problems, wish for better skills”.

If we want to achieve more, we need to become more because we don’t necessarily get what we want, we get what we are.

As we increase our skills and knowledge, we can handle bigger problems and achieve bigger goals. But is personal growth the only path to success? Are there no shortcuts, no ways to bypass the rigors of personal growth?

I think there are. I think we really can overcome challenges by making them smaller.

If you have a big problem right now, break it down into a series of smaller problems that are easier to solve. Break down your big goals into a series of smaller goals that are achievable now.

Let’s say you have a goal to double your income in the next two years. Traditional thinking says that to earn that kind of income you must first become the kind of person who earns that kind of income.

But maybe you don’t.

Maybe you could double your income by getting some better-paying clients or bigger cases. Maybe you could partner up with another lawyer who’s better at marketing than you. Maybe you could change practice areas, open a second office, or finally take the plunge and do something about that website of yours.

Am I saying we don’t need to work on personal growth? Not at all. For long-term success, it’s imperative. Think about the many lottery winners who go broke in a few years because they weren’t millionaires on the inside, they simply had millions of dollars in the bank.

What I’m saying is that while you’re growing and developing, look for ways to break up big problems and big goals into smaller ones. Because by the inch, it’s a cinch.

Attorney marketing made simple

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