Consequence; such an impactful word, that just the sight of it elicits a stressful response. It carries a negative connotation that we just can’t seem to shake. What scenario do you envision when you read the term consequence? Maybe you or someone you care about are in trouble. Or maybe you have experienced a loss or a failure. And then all of a sudden as your mind recoils, your body follows suit. Your breathing becomes rapid, you may sweat, your chest tightens, you lose focus, the list goes on.
Today I hope to challenge you to change your perspectives and considerations towards consequences as well as your interactions with them.
A consequence is simply just the result of an action
Let’s start by deconstructing the meaning of the word. A consequence is simply just the result of an action. Well then, why the pessimistic response? There seems to be two aspects of this we lose sight of. First, as basic as it seems, remember that the results of the majority of our actions aren’t negative. Caring for others, whether it be sharing a song, recipe, your couch or a ride, and the consequences of caring for yourself through gratitude, love, exercise and nutrition, all tend to have positive results; we just seem to reserve different terms like “benefits”,“results” or “outcomes” for positive consequences. We must allow for these instances to have as much of an impact on our minds, bodies, and spirits as the negative ones do. Secondly, negative consequences can generate learning opportunities. They can provide feedback on the decisions that we have made, allowing us to accumulate experience and grow as individuals. The problem is that it requires a positive mind/body response to a negative consequence, which is incredibly challenging. It is important to remind yourself that this skill, like in any task, develops over time and with practice. So, negative consequences can often have positive influence in our lives as long as our response that follows is also positive. If we continually remind ourselves of these two functions of consequence, we can change our reaction to the term and its impact on us altogether.
Next let’s explore the development of consequences in relation to time.
Consequences have a surprising ability to mutate over time. Initially, positive or negative consequences can diverge through repetition and consistency developing new expressions. Here is an example of an initial positive consequence that we are all familiar with; the snooze button. You decide to wake up at a specific time for a reason that shows significance to you, but when that alarm goes off, you choose to press the snooze button instead. You attain an initial feeling of ease, comfort, and satisfaction. However, over time and repetition, this originally positive feeling turns sour as the task you hoped to achieve is left undone. Allow me now to invert this example. You have woken up with the pre-set alarm, earlier than you are accustomed to, and experience initial unpleasant feelings like tiredness, bitterness, and discomfort. Although, by way of consistency and time, the reason you wanted to wake up in the first place has received the attention you hoped it would.
Negative consequences can often have positive influence in our lives as long as our response that follows is also positive
The underlying difference between the two examples above, and many more that you could put forth, is the time frame at which you receive the benefit. Short-term consequences are just that, short-term. Whether they are good or bad, comfortable or uncomfortable, negative or positive, they are easy to become accustomed to. You get used to them; the additional 10 minutes of sleep, the soreness of exercise, and even the taste of fast food. Short-term consequences display great fragility in the face of time. On the other hand, long-term consequences have a beauty and a curse for the opposite reason, they are constant and noticeable, yes, but the time frame at which you receive them is unfathomable, leaving them solid and durable. Long-term consequences are received and perceived over a lifetime, which is an incomprehensible amount of time. You may argue a lifetime is conceivable, but the term itself implies a start and an end. I bet you can’t remember the start of your own life, and if you're reading this, you surely have not experienced an end. Long-term consequences are infinite.
Before closing, I would like to quickly bring recognition to the reason behind setting the alarm in the snooze button example above, whatever it may be. Each of us has aspirations, goals, desires, and ambitions that are specific to how we expect to achieve our individual joy and fulfilment. The intent of this text is not to shame those of us who base decisions on short-term positive consequences or are ignorant of the long-term implications, as we are all guilty of these acts. However, one of the most tragic outcomes is suffering consequences we did not fully understand when making the decision and responding in a way that is detriment rather than beneficial. With this writing, I hope to provide a new thought process, bringing deeper consideration and mindfulness into the utility of consequences so that we may move towards our own personal fulfilment and allow us to be at ease with the decisions we choose to make.