Shifting from Short Term to Long Term Thinking

When I stand in a bookstore (or a clothing store or whatever it is that excites you) and ask myself what I want right now, that’s short term thinking.

When I stand in a bookstore and ask myself what I want for my life over the next five years, that’s long term thinking.

Short term thinking leads to a better moment. Long term thinking leads to a better life.

One of my biggest personal goals over the past few years has been to try to shift as much of my thinking as possible toward the long term. If I’m in the bookstore, what’s the best move to make with the long term future in mind? If I’m spending time with my family, what’s the best move to make with the long term future in mind?

Here are some specific tactics I’ve found during this process.

I mostly stick to entertainment that makes me think or improves my health. When I’m trying to decide if I’ll watch a movie or read a book, I’ll look at reviews and see if it can make me think along the way.

This doesn’t mean that I’m sacrificing entertainment for that sake. It means that I’m looking for things that can both entertain and engross me while also making my mind work and grow in some fashion.

On the other hand, I also like to look for leisure activities that improve my health. A hike in the woods can do that, as can playing at the park with my children.

Simply put, I look for things that will provide some long-term benefit beyond just providing enjoyment in the short term. I have fun now and build a better person for later.

I try to look for items and activities that have a lower cost. If you’ve been reading this site, that’s not surprising. That doesn’t mean, however, that I just buy the cheapest thing. I usually try to identify a good version of something using resources like Consumer Reports, then I strive to minimize the cost of it.

Cost, however, doesn’t just mean money. Is there a space cost associated with this? Is there a time cost, both in actively using it and in maintaining it?

Take buying a DVD, for example. It might cost $10 at the store. However, I have to have a spot for it in my home. I also have to maintain it – take it in and out of the DVD player, put it in its case, keep it on the shelf, keep the shelf clean, and eventually deal with selling it or donating it. Money. Time. Space.

I’d much prefer to pay $2 to stream that movie once to my home. The only way I would actually be behind in terms of money is if I watched it more than five times, which I can name only a few movies or programs I would ever do that with. The storage space is almost nonexistent (there’d have to be some sort of multipurpose device for viewing) and the maintenance time and effort is extremely small, too.

Focused family time is invaluable. There are many times when I’d rather engage in an adult activity than play with my kids or engage in a solitary activity. Yet, I find that time spent with the family tends to pay off again and again due to the deeper bonds that are built.

I can see the many hours spent doing family things in the behaviors and relationships I see in my home. My children aren’t constantly clamoring for attention because they’re confident in the relationships they have. Everyone seems happy, comfortable, and unafraid at home. Our children ask questions of all kinds and aren’t afraid to dig deep into what they’re curious about. Will this always remain in place? Probably not, but we have a good foundation and things are going well so far.

Everything we do today builds toward the future in either a positive way or a negative way. How we spend our money. How we spend our time. The things we bring into our home. How we interact with the people around us. All of these things sow seeds for the future. Either those seeds will grow a beautiful garden or they’ll grow weeds. It’s up to you to decide what to plant.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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