213 — Think Long
Everyone faces up more bravely to a thing for which he has long prepared himself, sufferings, even, being withstood if they have been trained for in advance. Those who are unprepared, on the other hand, are panic-stricken by the most insignificant happenings.
When you’re in the midst of a challenge it’s really hard to think clearly. It’s hard sometimes to remember that this moment is just this moment and will not be forever. In this episode, I’m going to talk about how thinking longer term can help smooth out the day to day rough patches and help you stay more resilient.
Short-term thinking makes people desperate, ungenerous, impulsive. Long-term thinking makes people calm, gracious, controlled.
— The Stoic Emperor
Short-term thinking is reactive, take no work, and often makes things worse. Short-term thinking is only focused on what you want in the moment. This can lead to being impulsive, reactive, and less of an ability to appreciate the consequences of your actions. Thinking short term means that you don’t have the patience to work things through and stick things out for the long haul. You’ll take short term gains over long term prosperity. You’re likely to give up easily because things don’t progress as fast as you want.
Long-term thinking is responsive, thoughtful, and takes practice. It’s being able to appreciate the intensity of the moment and doing the best you can, while keeping the longer term goal in sight. It helps you think through the consequences for your actions, and allows you to act well in the short-term. Big picture thinking helps you make choices in short term that will have a better chance of serving your long term interests. It also helps you to more realistic on the progress you’re making.
Why is Long-Term Thinking Important?
Misfortune weights most heavily on those who expect nothing but good fortune
When you think long term it gives you the opportunity to prepare for things that you otherwise not have anticipated. This is what the stoics call Premeditatio Malorum, or “to anticipate troubles”. When you assume that everything will just work out as you expect, you’re doing yourself a disservice and basically going in blind. When you prepare for things that could go wrong, then you are going in with eyes open and a willingness to work with what’s there, and not just fold because things aren’t as expected.
When we think long term it also helps us to get started. We recognize that our goals are going to take some time, and we can put our progress in perspective. We are willing to put in the work because we know that we’re not going to get this done quickly.
Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.
When we think long term, we can keep our eyes open to opportunities that present themselves. We can put the work in so that we are ready for those opportunities. We can put in the time to position ourselves so that we can be in the “right time” and “right place”. If we’re only thinking short term, then we’ll never build up the skills that we need to be ready. We’ll miss the importance of taking on tasks that we may not like, but will help bring opportunities our way.
When we think long term we can also put the time in to nurture the relationships that can help us along the way. We can find those that are willing to help us along the path and are willing to support us on our journey. If we only think short term, we only think about people in the regards to how useful they are to us now, and if they aren’t useful to us as the moment, they are discarded.
Life is a storm that will test you unceasingly. Don’t wait for calm waters that may not arrive. Derive purpose from resilience. Learn to sail the raging sea.
— The Stoic Emperor
How often do we wait for the “right time” before we do something? Whether that’s a new project, new habit, or even getting back on track, there is never going to be a perfect time. Waiting for the stars to align is just another excuse for procrastination, and short term thinking. When we think long term, we know that there will never be a perfect time, just today. So we take a step in the right direction every day, even if it’s just a small one.
We also need to look at why we’re waiting. It may be that that real reason we are waiting for the right moment is that deep down we really just don’t want to do it. And that’s okay. Just be honest with yourself so that you don’t feel guilty about procrastinating, and just own your choices.
Life is always going to be challenging, and when we are honest with ourselves and the circumstances around us we won’t waste time procrastinating and placing the blame outside ourselves. We’ll own it and do it, or not.
People are always looking for shortcuts. The only way to achieve greatness in life is to have patience, consistency, and discipline.
— David Goggins
Learning to persevere is one of the most important lessons that anyone can learn. We often want the thing we want right now and have little patience for things that take longer than we think they should. I think that one of the worst things that can happen to people is that they succeed too quickly. Later, when things get hard, they don’t have the skills to push through and keep going when things are hard.
A great example of this in literature is the story of Odysseus in The Odyssey. What should have been a trip of a few weeks ended up as a journey of several years. While it is certainly a tale of adventure, it is also a story of perseverance and dealing with all kinds of obstacles along the way home. With each challenge he and his crew overcame, Odysseus learned and he grew. Because he had his eyes on the prize, he was able to act well in the moment because he knew what his ultimate goal was — to make it home to his wife and family.
In our daily lives, when we try to start up something new we will often think about how great it will be once we achieve our goal. We get caught up in the outcome, and forget that it’s the process that is the most important. When we focus on enjoying the work, and doing good work especially when it’s really hard, that’s when we grow. It’s only when we take on the scary and difficult tasks that we see what we’re really made of.
Learn to detach yourself from the chaos of the battlefield.
— Robert Greene
While most of us will never have to engage in an actual battle, the commotion of everyday life can often feel like we’re under siege. With the complexities of life that we all have it’s easy to get bogged down in everything we need to get done.
When you think about it, our lives are more complex than those of our parents or grandparents. The amount of information we have access to, the sheer number of options we have when we go shopping, even the possibilities for jobs and relationships is pretty astounding. When I sit down to work on music, I have access to sounds and instruments and tools that allow me to create symphonies!
While all this choice is amazing, it can also be overwhelming. We can get lost in the sea of optionality. Some may find it impossible to begin because of too many choices. Just as on the battlefield, learning to clear your mind, and detach from the swirling emotions can help give you some clarity. Is that thing that’s stressing you out really that stressful, or is it just the thought that you have about that thing that creates the emotions you feel?
So how does involved detachment help us think longer term? If you are able to be in the middle of a stressful or chaotic situation and stay calm and relaxed, you are able to respond to what’s going on around you rather than just reacting to everything and being pushed this way and that way. It allows us to gain perspective on what seems so important at this moment. Is it really that important? Is it worth getting stressed out over? Is stressing out about this thing going to help us?
A useful practice, though this is challenging, is to set aside a few moments, take a deep breath and think about how you’ll remember this in 5 or 10 years time. Ask yourself if the way that you’re acting and the choices you’re making something you’ll be proud of? If it is something pivotal or life changing, then give it all your energy and focus. If not then breath, relax, and do your best, or maybe decide this is something to walk away from. Thinking long term give you that guiding star to help you achieve your goal. Without that guiding star, it making choices that benefit you in the long is nearly impossible because you haven’t put the time into know what you want in the long term.
Long term thinking is not an easy thing to do. We are conditioned in our world to get want we want when we want it. But learning to be patient puts you at an advantage over the crowd. When everyone else is focusing short term gains or the latest trend you are already thinking many steps ahead of them. When people treat relationships as transactional, you’ll invest the time and energy into friendships to help support you on your mission. When you think long, you have a purpose which helps you keep a clearer perspective on your every challenges. When you think long, you may not win every battle, but you’ll win the war.
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