The Power of Short Term Thinking
28 Mar 2016
I’m fond of planning. I’m a Plan Fan, a man who can plan. I plan, er…
… er, if you don’t respect anyone who can’t think of more than three rhymes for “plan” in a written medium, you might like to turn away now.
Anyway. I like looking ahead, you might say. But if I get too caught up in long-term thinking, I end up struggling.
This is because my imagined future always looks better than the present. (When planning, anyway, not when listening to the Impending Disaster monologue in my head.)
And this contrast between right now and the imaginary world where all my dreams have come true makes it difficult to enjoy whatever I have right now.
It also means I’m less likely to move forward towards that imagined future. Any time spent imagining how awesome the future will be is time I’m NOT spending on actually making it any better.
Constantly imagining achieves nothing except dulling down enjoyment of the present.
Now is Small
The whole “the only moment we have is now” thing may be a cliche, but it remains true. If I’m going to achieve anything, I have to do it now. There is no alternative time to do it.
The beautiful consequence of accepting this is that it forces whatever I’m doing to be small, and therefore more achievable.
Instead of thinking “oh god, I have to write a whole book”, I merely think “oh god, I have to write a few hundred words”. It’s still work – which my brain is not a big fan of – but it’s way less intimidating.
It’s the same for dealing with emotional struggle. Instead of thinking “I must sort out my entire emotional health and completely recover from anxiety” I can aim for something more short term like “I’ll now meditate for a few minutes and let go of some of this anxious feeling”.
You can never solve a complex problem all at once; you can only ever tackle a tiny bit at any given time.
And chaining together lots of short-term progress is the only way to get long-term progress.
Neil Hughes is the author of Walking on Custard & the Meaning of Life, a comical and useful guide to life with anxiety, and The Shop Before Life, a tale about a magical shop which sells human personality traits.
Along with writing more books, he spends his time on standup comedy, speaking about mental health, computer programming, public speaking and everything from music to video games to languages. He struggles to answer the question "so, what do you do?" and is worried that the honest answer is probably "procrastinate."
He would like it if you said hello.