In a moment of crisis, it’s difficult to think beyond the next day, the next week, next month or next year.
In uncertain and extraordinary times, the prudent thing to do is to think long-term — plan for the life you want, invest for the future you expect.
A moment of reflection on the future it’s crucial to your survival.
Taking a long-term approach in life and career isn’t easy, but it pays off — think about life beyond today no matter how difficult it may be.
It doesn’t come naturally and will require you suppress your short-term instincts to get the results you need in the future.
“As we live longer in more complex and interconnected societies, short-term thinking is being displaced as the main factor for a successful and sustainable future; now long-term planning is key for such achievements,” argues Stelian Nenkov, a Senior Quantitative Researcher at WorldQuant.
Our values, goals, and personalities are always shifting.
But here is the funny thing, according to research: Most people don’t think it’ll happen to them in the future.
Three psychologists from Harvard, the National Fund for Scientific Research, and the University of Virginia wrote a paper about this phenomenon. They called it the “end of history illusion.”
“People have a fundamental misconception about their future selves,” they wrote. “Time is a powerful force that transforms people’s preferences, reshapes their values, and alters their personalities, and we suspect that people generally underestimate the magnitude of those changes.”
If time transforms preferences, it pays to be at least in control of some of the changes that directly affect you.
With everything you do, there are unbalanced returns in the long run.
This thought is true for business as it is life. Long-term thinking wins massively in business. Warren Buffet has been playing the long game for decades.
“If everything you do needs to work on a three-year time horizon, then you’re competing against a lot of people,” Bezos once Wired. “But if you’re willing to invest on a seven-year time horizon, you’re now competing against a fraction of those people, because very few companies are willing to do that.”
Trust the exponential, be patient, and you will be pleasantly surprised.
Most people over-optimise for the short or medium-term when they think they are optimising for the long-term. A better strategy is to take short-term steps with a focus on the long-term.
“Most people overestimate what they can do in 1 year and underestimate what they can do in 10 years,” says Bill Gates.
Long-term thinking is like a muscle. The more you use it, the more natural it becomes every day. And gradually you will become a long-term thinker.
Long-term thinking endured the great depression and even world wars. It will endure even uncertain and difficult times. Look for it everywhere. It’s the basic mindset for real progress in almost anything.
Long-term thinking with a broad view of how different systems work come together, in the end, is the key to wealth, health and being efficient.
Futurist Wendy Schultz once said, “While the future is uncertain and much of it is beyond our control, we can control many aspects of it. We choose our future: we create it by what we do or fail to do.”
Many people find it challenging to think far into the future because they are limited by financial constraints, fear and other worries in life.
The long term approach in life is almost ridiculous that people don’t see it as much as they should.
The consequences of short-term thinking are too great to ignore.
In a world where almost no one takes a truly long-term view, those who take that approach in almost everything are greatly rewarded.
The furthest out years are the most important.
What might happen in the future, our choices today, and what we know (or don’t know) about the consequences of our choices must be taken into consideration to build a better future.
Choosing the right path is not easy, but weighing our options might illuminate the next course of action. Many people make decisions based on immediate needs, with little forethought about how they might play out in the long-term.
For a better future, think about how your future-self might benefit from your actions or inactions today.
Strive to make the things you enjoy in the short term match up with the things you want in the long term.
To be successful in life, “it’s useful to focus on adding another zero to whatever you define as your success metric — money, status, impact on the world, or whatever. I am willing to take as much time as needed between projects to find my next thing. But I always want it to be a project that, if successful, will make the rest of my career look like a footnote” writes Sam Altman, the former president of Y Combinator and now the CEO of OpenAI.
Most careers progress in a single series of steps because many people make choices that will help them live in the moment.
People want to get through their jobs and enjoy the weekend. They occasionally think about where they are headed, those thoughts are pretty minor and are usually drowned out by their short-term goals.
Don’t get bogged down in linear career opportunities. Move towards a career that has an ever-increasing upward trajectory.
Embrace the long-term approach.
To make real progress in life and career each unit of action you take should generate more and more results.
When you think far into the future, what you do each day may not seem to produce significant results, but surely, you are moving towards the desired future that won’t disappoint.
How to think long-term when your situation is forcing you to think short-term
It’s not easy to make decisions with the future in mind but it’s not impossible.
First, figure out exactly what you want for your future self, and start removing the roadblocks in your current thinking.
Knowledge of what you want, expect, and demand of yourself in the future brings clarify. And clarity is power.
When you have a clear purpose, you can easily arrange your priorities around that purpose. Without a clear picture, your actions become “random” without any direction because there’s no real tangible force “guiding” it.
You react to everything coming your way instead of being proactive.
Once you know where you are headed, force yourself to live above what the environment dictates.
Financial constraint is probably one of the biggest reasons people settle without a long-term approach to life.
But you can make provision for the future, no matter how small your steps, and still live a fulfilling life today.
When you divorce yourself from the surroundings, you refuse to be affected by the economic, social, political, and financial demands of the present.
Warren Buffet is great at it.
Besides his skill in finding undervalued companies, another thing that makes him one of the greatest investors in the world is his ability to ignore daily market performance or bad news while holding on to his stocks and his decisions.
Successful people understand what they want, make decisions in the direction of their future selves, and ignore short-term setbacks.
Evaluate your daily actions. Are you taking important decisions or responding to urgent matters?
Strive to make the things you enjoy in the short term match up with the things you want in the long term. In other words, try to make as many of the things you do every day be in alignment with the big things you want out of life, writes Trent Hamm of The Simple Dollar.
What do you want your life to realistically want in life or career in the next five years? Ten years? Twenty years?
It’s a simple question but your response can make a huge difference.
The long-term principle can be applied to your health goals, intellectual growth, relationships, and pretty much anything you want in life.
You can evaluate every area of your life today and dig through your expectations carefully, writing out what you need to do every day to make your life and career awesome.
“At the start of each day, think of one significant thing you can do today that will make your life better a year from now and make that a top priority,” argues Trent.
In short, with long-term thinking, things will get easier down the road. With short-term thinking, life is practically linear with little or no improvement.
This post was previously published on Personal Growth and is republished here with permission from the author.
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Photo credit: Christy Lundy