It's easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and lose sight of long-term goals.
The instant gratification that comes with short-term goals is alluring. Plus, future plans often feel out of reach. But if we want to have sustainable success—rather than being a one-hit wonder, or simply coping throughout life—then long-term thinking is a must. It gives us insight into what matters most by showing us the bigger picture. And this benefits us for a lifetime.
Let's explore why thinking long-term is so important and how it can help us better invest our time.
What Is Long-Term Thinking?
“All overnight success takes about 10 years.” - Jeff Bezos
Our actions have consequences.
And these consequences unfold over a time horizon—weeks, months, years, or even decades. This is especially true when habits form and actions get repeated, creating a compounding effect. A simple example is your diet. Consider how your eating habits now will impact your quality of life in 5, 10, or even 20 years from today.
This is why long-term thinking is so important: It allows us to see the consequences of our actions, both good and bad.
But this way of thinking is challenging and uncommon.
Achieving long-term results means you have to delay gratification. You may even have to endure a bit of pain in the short term—working out feels uncomfortable, resolving relationship conflicts is stressful, and achieving your financial goals takes hard work. The average person would rather experience pleasure right now. But short-term comfort has major implications for your future—a sedentary lifestyle hurts your future health, avoiding tough conversations leads to future blow-ups, and financial recklessness jeopardizes your future security.
Long-term thinking can be challenging, but the payoffs are exponential.
In fact, the rewards are much greater than the initial discomfort. These rewards last much longer than the discomfort. And if you keep moving towards the long-term vision, success is inevitable.
Jeff Bezos: The Posterchild for Thinking Long-Term
"We like to invent and do new things, and I know for sure that long-term orientation is essential for invention because you’re going to have a lot of failures along the way." - Jeff Bezos
In business and self-help circles, Jeff Bezos is touted as the supreme model of long-term thinking (and for good reason).
He's known for:
- Running experiments that won't bear fruits for 5-7 years.
- Planning his day by focusing 3 years into the future.
- Donating millions of dollars of his own money to a “10,000-Year Clock.”
- Deferring Amazon's profits, prioritizing long-term market leadership and cash flows over short-term profitability.
- And more.
Bezos' long-term thinking has certainly paid off.
Amazon was founded in 1994 and is now the world’s largest online retailer, with a market capitalization of over $1 trillion. His personal net worth is over $130 billion, making him one of the wealthiest people in modern history. And Bezos didn't achieve this level of success overnight—it took years of experimentation, calculated risks, and delayed gratification.
He always thought about Amazon's long-term potential, even when it meant forgoing short-term results.
How To Start Thinking Long-Term
"Long-term thinking supports the failure and iteration required for invention, and it frees us to pioneer in unexplored spaces. Seek instant gratification – or the elusive promise of it – and chances are you’ll find a crowd there ahead of you." - Jeff Bezos
Most people play the short game.
They choose what feels good in the moment without considering the long-term consequences. But here's the truth: Short-term thinking may help you survive, but it won't empower you to thrive. Long-term thinkers have a different mindset—they're willing to delay gratification in service of their larger goals.
Here's how to play the long game.
1. Develop Your Capacity To Think Long-Term
Building your capacity to think long-term takes time.
Playing the long game doesn't make sense when you're living paycheck to paycheck, or when you're so bogged down with the day-to-day that you can't see past next week. It's a catch-22: Your future success requires long-term planning, but you may not have the luxury to think long-term. And this can feel frustrating.
If you find yourself here, then you'll want to create buffers in your life.
Specifically, there are two key areas where you can do this:
- Time buffers
- Money buffers
First, you can improve your time capacity—either increase it by squeezing more hours out of the day, or decrease the number of obligations you currently have in your life. In the same way, you can improve your financial capacity—either increase your cash flow, or decrease your living expenses.
Over time, this will free up time to think long-term instead of just trying to cope throughout the day.
2. Work on Your Limiting Beliefs Around Time
All limiting beliefs around time boil down to a scarcity mindset.
Most people believe there's not enough time in a day, leaving feelings of busyness and overwhelm. They often feel enormous pressure from their to-do list. And as a result, people rationalize that they're "hanging on by a thread," viewing long-term thinking as a waste of time or a luxury for those who have an easier life. After all, who cares about the next 20 years when you're just trying to get by today?
But there's a flaw with a time-scarcity mindset: the future comes quicker than we realize.
For instance, investing in your long-term financial success doesn't mean you'll experience the benefits when you're 80. You may start to experience the benefits within the first couple years of investing. Or eating healthy food. You don’t have to wait years to experience the health benefits. You’ll probably begin to feel energized within a couple of days.
As paradoxical as it may seem, working towards long-term goals improves your life in the short term.
3. Think Strategically and Track Long-Term Metrics
An effective long-term thinker is strategic and meticulous. Use Jeff Bezos as inspiration.
In his 1997 shareholder letter, he explains that Amazon prioritized the present value of future cash flows instead of optimizing the appearance of its GAAP accounting. And in their 2001 shareholder letter, Bezos expands on this:
"Why focus on cash flows? Because a share of stock is a share of a company's future cash flows, and, as a result, cash flows more than any other single variable seem to do the best job of explaining a company's stock price over the long term. If you could know for certain just two things—a company's future cash flows and its future number of shares outstanding—you would have an excellent idea of the fair value of a share of that company's stock today."
Now, consider these questions for yourself:
- What's your long-term vision?
- Which long-term strategies will help you get there?
- And which metrics will you use to track success?
Strategic thinking combined with meticulous tracking will serve you well.
Our actions have consequences that impact our long-term success. And if you're willing to play the long game, you'll be better equipped to achieve sustainable success.
Want to learn more models for how to better invest your time? Check out our article: The #1 Indicator That You’re Maximizing Your Time and Effort.