Short-Term vs. Long-Term Thinking

Anyone trained as a physician understands the dedication, struggle, and need to prioritize long-term thinking.  Our journey is long and arduous, taking a lifetime to master.

Yet, in so many areas of our lives, short-term thinking dominates. This could be in our relationships with friends, children, and partners or in what we eat and how much alcohol we consume.

Even more insidious to our long-term focus is how we consume information. Soundbites or arguments on the social media platform of your choice.  Do you ever feel better informed?  Or better about the world generally?

I could spend this newsletter discussing how money fits into long-term thinking. There is no question that saving and investing for retirement or college meets the definition of long-term thinking.

But this concept is even more powerful in other areas of our lives – our health, our relationships, and continuing to learn and grow.

One of the most impactful books I read last year was The Good Life.  I’ve mentioned it before in this newsletter. The authors are the current lead investigators in the nearly ninety-year Harvard Happiness Study.

Among the many interesting and engaging stories, the authors demonstrate that strong relationships and community are the primary drivers of a satisfying life.

Deep, fulfilling relationships demonstrate the power of long-term thinking.  Deep relationships take time. We are all busy – with our patients, clinical care, and other administrative duties.  As our children grow, their schedules can consume our lives (please tell me there is another way!).

And our friends are just as busy.  Making time for a visit or phone call feels impossible.

But what happens when we have “enough” money and can retire?  What happens when we’ve lost track of our community and friends?

Or what if our health prevents us from playing outside or going for a walk?  What is the point of having enough money if we aren’t able to enjoy our relationships or don’t have close friendships?

Now that February has rolled around, many of us have forgotten our 2024 resolutions.  This is a good thing, I’d argue.

I am more in the camp if something is worth doing, it’s worth doing now.  And if you think what we are trying to accomplish with “resolutions” is identity change.

To create lasting change – i.e., long-term thinking – it must come from a shift in identity.  Creating an identity where you work out every day – even if it’s just for ten or fifteen minutes.

Or creating an identity as a good friend who shows up and listens. Or as someone who saves money just to save.  A new identity where you are resilient and have enough when the tides change.

In long-term thinking, you don’t see results this week or even this year.  But the results compound over years and decades to the point where they cannot be ignored. The magic happens at the tail end of the compounding curve.

Recently, I read an article about how making positive changes in your life shouldn’t be difficult.  I was confused at first. I think this notion feels counterintuitive for most of us.  When we talk about a diet or giving up alcohol, it feels like a chore.  But what if it didn’t have to?

A few years ago, a good friend started coaching me in weightlifting.  Up to this point, I’d avoided the gym, and if I did I would spend my time on the machines, not with free weights.

Once I learned proper technique and saw progress, I enjoyed lifting. I would notice when I missed a workout.  I didn’t have to struggle to “make it” to the gym; I enjoyed the process.

Reading more books has been a New Year’s Resolution for years (decades, really), but it never stuck.  I tried reading big, deep, “important” books, but I hated them.

When my son was born, a friend introduced me to the Slow Horse series by Mick Herron.  It was like candy and so much fun to read. And now I’ve branched out into other fiction and non-fiction.  Reading has become part of my identity.  So it’s not a chore to read rather than watch TV or mindlessly scroll online.

Here’s my ask to all of my readers: When you look ahead one year or even five years, what kind of person do you want to be? What parts of your identity do you want to change?  And what systems can you put in place to make that happen?  Perhaps, most importantly, how can you make this change fun?

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