In life we often face the possibility of experiencing undesirable outcomes over which we have little or no control or influence. Yet we do have choices about how we face and manage those situations. For example, we always have a choice about how to view any situation, no matter how dire. This article is about our choice of actions to manage expected negative or undesirable outcomes.

There generally are two types of action we can take to influence a possible or anticipated future situation: preventive and contingent. Preventive actions are designed to address the causes of the undesirable outcome and prevent its occurrence - hence the name. The purpose of contingent actions is to address the effects of the undesirable outcome once it has occurred. The point is to mitigate those effects.

Let's take a simple example: remaining healthy during flu season. Using a preventive approach, we take precautions such as eating well, getting enough sleep, washing our hands, and perhaps getting a flu shot. These actions address the causes of the flu, and often they are effective: either we remain healthy or we get only a mild form of the flu. Despite our best efforts, however, sometimes we do become ill. In that case, it's time to switch to Plan B, which is to take contingent actions. We may stay in bed, drink lots of fluids, and perhaps take some medicine to mitigate the effects we are experiencing.

While most people prefer to avoid undesirable outcomes, they fail to take the preventive measures that would avert them or at least mitigate their effects. Either they stick their heads in the sand, hoping the expected outcome will go away, or they play the odds that it somehow will miss them. Sometimes playing the odds actually works! When it doesn't, however, they have to deal with the effects of the outcome, which often are more costly and time-consuming than they would have been if preventive measures had been taken. They're cleaning up the messes presented to them instead of being able to influence the effects to some degree — or avoid them altogether. So the question is this: would you rather deal with causes or effects? In the above example, would you prefer to increase the likelihood that you will remain healthy, or take your chances and deal with the effects of the illness?

Rather than put your head in the sand, make a conscious choice. Take the time now to engage in preventive measures, when you have some level of control or can influence the outcome to some extent. The alternative is spending more time and effort later to deal with something you are reacting to and over which you have no control — i.e., you have to take what comes. You have a choice here: you can pay now or you can pay later.

In what areas of your life can you optimize your desired results by taking preventive actions instead of contingent ones?

Pat Lynch, Ph.D., is President of Business Alignment Strategies, Inc., a consulting firm that helps clients optimize business results by aligning people, programs, and processes with organizational goals. You may contact Pat or call (562) 985-0333.

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