There is a single key attitude of mind that will largely determine the success you achieve in life. It is the timeframe that you take into consideration when planning your day-to-day activities, and when making important decisions in your life. In other words, if you are a long-term thinker, then you are significantly more likely to achieve greater success in your life compared to those that aren’t.
The case for long-term thinking as a success factor
Dr. Edward Banfield of Harvard wrote about this in his book, The Unheavenly City Revisited. Banfield set out to discover why some people become financially independent over the course of their working lives while others do not.
He expected to find that factors such as education, intelligence, family background, and influential contacts would be the answer to his question. However, what Dr. Banfield discovered was that a person’s time perspective or how far they project into the future when deciding actions to take in the present largely determined their success.
The results of a failure to think long-term
It seems to me that a lot of what created the mortgage and financial crisis we are dealing with is short-sightedness. Consumers failed to delay their purchases until they could truly afford a new home. Bankers loaned money to unqualified buyers because they wanted to make an immediate profit. Politicians encouraged this behavior because they wanted to give more Americans what they desired to get their vote.
Everyone involved decided to immediately gratify themselves without consideration for the long-term impact. Apparently, none of these people looked into the future far enough to predict the outcome we are experiencing. This failure to plan long-term is what created the crisis.
A real-life example of long-term thinking
Obviously, some people think long-term while others do not. An example of this that stuck out to me early in my life occurred at high school graduation. Some of those that I graduated with went on to college while others immediately began working.
I’ll admit going to work looked pretty good. After all, these people earned decent money, drove nice cars, and were able to move out and get a place of their own. They immediately began enjoying a better life.
Those of us that went to college poured our meager resources into paying for tuition and books. We didn’t have time to work as much so we earned less, plus we had to study instead of enjoying ample leisure time. Basically, we made sacrifices believing in the promise of a better future.
I’ve never had the opportunity to poll my classmates to determine the specifics of how this worked out, but according to the Census Bureau, college graduates earn about twice as much over their working lifetimes compared to high school graduates. This is just one example of how looking to the future when making decisions results in greater success.
The psychology of long-term thinking
Why do some people choose to consider the long-term results while others are more apt to take immediate gratification? Well, researchers point to the need to relieve tension versus the need for goal achieving.
Apparently, those who want it now have a keen desire to relieve the tension created by doing without. This relief of tension outweighs any future gain. They can’t seem to delay gratification. Of course, this impacts their decision-making across the board which typically leads to less productive results.
Those that are long-term thinkers are more about setting and achieving goals. They have a vision for their life and are willing to give up certain things today to reach their goals tomorrow. As seen in the example above, this usually results in greater achievement.
How to start thinking more long-term
I believe everyone can achieve greater success by exercising more long-term thinking. Banfield found that the longer your perspective when making decisions, the greater achievement. Therefore, we all have room to improve. Here are some ideas for increasing your long-term thinking.
1. Create a vision for what you want your life to look like
What do you want your life to look like 5, 10, or 20 years from now? Where do you want to be living? What kind of work do you want to be doing? How do you want to be spending your time? Who do you want to be spending your time with? A very effective and creative way to do this is by creating a vision board. This is especially helpful if you are a visual thinker.
2. Write out specific goals for yourself
Goals serve as a road map for the future. They will help to keep you on track. However, you have to write them out and review them often for goals to work effectively. Write out the goals you want to accomplish in the next 1-year, 5-years, and 10-years. You should then develop plans for achieving your goals. This is essential to get the most out of your career, finances, marriage, and leisure time. It also helps you to expand the horizon of your thinking.
3. List your activities and prioritize them
What is most important to you? Make a list of all the ways you spend your time. You might want to do this over several days to get an accurate picture of where all your time goes. Once you have this list, go back and prioritize the activities. Decide what current activities you can delegate or eliminate to give yourself more time to focus on achieving your goals. The more time you devote to what is really important, the more likely you will be to succeed.
4. Practice worst-case scenario planning
The idea is to get yourself looking down the road and anticipating various outcomes to help yourself choose more appropriate long-term courses of action. When you face an important decision, write down a list of possible outcomes. Include in this list every worst-case scenario that you can dream up. Once you’ve done this, then consider ways to prevent these worst-case scenarios through actions you can take in advance. Again, this will help you broaden your perspective and achieve greater success.
Your greatest tool for creating success
The elevator to success is out of order. You’ll have to use the stairs…one step at a time. ~Joe Girard
A part of long-term thinking is understanding the quote above. It is being able to delay gratification believing that greater success is just around the corner once the hard work is done. Long-term thinking is a form of risk management for life. By taking the time to better prepare yourself, you increase your probability for success. We all need to embrace this idea and use it daily to achieve all that we desire. Long-term thinking gives us a power tool toward living life to its absolute fullest!
How has long-term thinking helped you in your life?