How to Prioritize Long-Term Thinking

long-term thinking

There are many ways you can achieve your goals. No matter what road you take, you probably have to work hard at it. 

So here’s something to think about: Why do we often pick the shortest route?

We think we’re being smart by taking shortcuts in life. While that’s great if you’re driving your car from point A to point B, everyone knows that there are no shortcuts in life. To build a strong body, you need to work out and eat healthy food every day. 

To build a career, you need to learn skills, build a network, and provide value. Again, where are the shortcuts?

“But what about working smart?” You still have to work at it. For the first several years of my career, I didn’t respect this. I looked for the hacks and quick routes to success.

I only thought about the short-term. Here are a few examples:

  • How can I make more money, this year?”
  • “How can I get a book deal, this year?”
  • “How can I build more muscles, this year?”
  • “How can we increase our company’s earnings, this year?”

Naturally, I wasn’t successful. It was too much short-term focus. This is the biggest challenge in investing too.

Jeff Bezos was the first CEO who said something like this to shareholders: Look, we’re not going to be profitable this year. And you know what? We’re probably not going to be profitable for many years.

That was in ‘97. Amazon became consistently profitable around 2003. Five years might not sound like a lot if you look back. But running a company with hungry shareholders is not a joke. People are constantly pressuring you to become profitable.

Now, of course, Jeff Bezos is the most admired CEO on earth. He played the long game.

Long-term thinking in your own life

Playing the long game works on all levels. You don’t have to run a multinational company to apply this strategy. Let me give you a personal example.

When I started writing books in 2015, I thought, “I’d love to get published by Penguin Random House or another big publisher.” But instead of chasing a publisher, I put my head down and started writing.

I published one article after the other. Then, I self-published books. More people found my work. And this went on for a year, and then another year, and so forth.

Last year, after publishing 350 articles and seven books on my own, Penguin Random House reached out to me. They wanted to publish four of my books in India and South-East Asia. 17 countries in total. The first two books, Think Straight and Do It Today, are now available in those regions. Two others are getting published this year. 

There are obviously no guarantees. But I would’ve been 100% fine if no publisher ever reached out to me. Playing the long game requires dedication to your strategy. 

How to stay focused on the long game

Thinking about the future is a great strategy, but it’s one that doesn’t match our society. We value short-term gratification and want to have instant results with everything we do. 

We want to have a perfect romantic relationship from the start, we want to start a business and generate a million bucks in the first year, we want to get promoted and get a raise after six months of starting a new job.

To play the long game, you don’t need to be overly focused on the future and give up your life in the present. That’s a waste of life. We all know that life happens right now, and it would be stupid to give up the present so we could have a better future.

The only thing you need is to adjust your expectations. That will not only help you to appreciate the present more, it will also make you more patient. Ultimately, that’s what this concept comes down to.

You want to patiently work towards your goals and at the same time enjoy the process. This is not new advice. The Stoics talked about this 2000 years ago. And in Eastern Philosophy, which goes back even further, you can see the same ideas

Don’t chase short-term goals

You’re better off improving your skills, building better products, and working on things that you can influence. When you chase short-term goals, you’re often going after things that are out of your control like money, status, and approval of others.

So instead of chasing those types of things, work on what’s within your control. Eventually, others will come to you. This works on a small and big scale. The perfect example is Amazon.

While Amazon’s stock wasn’t attractive in the 90s, it’s now one of the best-performing companies in the world. And it has the most growth potential than all those so-called FANG stocks (Facebook, Apple, Netflix, Google). 

This means you have to go against your own nature. And that’s why the majority only focuses on the short-term. But if you can see the bigger picture and you avoid the drive to be successful right now, you’ll be better off in years to come.

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