The Fallacy of Minimum Marginal Costs

  • What is the marginal cost of reading another tweet?
  • What is the marginal cost of scrolling your Facebook feed once more?
  • What is the marginal cost of watching another YouTube video?
  • What is the marginal cost of smoking another cigarette?
  • What is the marginal cost of eating one more cookie?
  • What is the marginal cost of skipping the gym one more time?
  • What is the marginal cost of spending another afternoon playing video games?

The marginal cost of the actions above are so small that they are negligible, but they form habits that result in bad health, bad finances, and steal years from your life.

If you waste one hour every day, you waste a complete year, 365 days, in 24 years.

If you exceed your caloric intake by one more cookie a day, you add two pounds each year and 20 pounds in ten years.

If you keep the smoking habit, you’ll lose at least ten years of your life.

“How do you feel about those marginal costs when you look at their long term effects?”

Do you still want to engage in them?

If you have a habit with a minimum marginal cost and huge long term effects, remind yourself the long term effects every time you want to engage in that habit. You need to do this before reading that first tweet, watching that first video, checking that first Facebook post.

Once you take the first step, the executive center of your brain shuts down and you get into an auto-pilot mode. Either don’t enter that loop at all or set a timer that will wake you up when you are in that half sleep state, so that you don’t waste the whole afternoon.

Act Now!

  1. Write down all the habits you want to quit.
  2. Write down all the long term effects of each habit.
  3. Read that list over and over until you internalize those consequences.
  4. Remind yourself the long term effects every time you feel the urge to engage in that habit.
Burak Bilgin
Software developer with a Ph.D. and 15 years of experience. I write daily on personal development and life lessons. Sign up to my email newsletter to receive a weekly overview of my latest content on personal development and life lessons.

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