In business and life, so much of the decisions you make involve trying to negotiate short-term benefits vs long-term benefits. In fact, many of the self-improvement books (and articles you see on Medium), are devoted to this topic. However, none of the books and articles seem to give you a single sentence or phrase that is easy to remember, apply, and actually works in the real world. After years of reflecting, that sentence came to me this morning.

Always think long-term …

Almost everyone in life is playing the short-term game, only thinking about what benefits or satisfies them today. This can be a huge advantage for those who are thinking about the long-term and bigger picture. In fact, many of the successful people out there are really only better at thinking, and thus planning, what they want their future to look like.

Want proof?

Innovation is often simply the ability to figure out what problems will be important in the future. Many times innovation is not really innovative at all, it’s just a little bit ahead of its time. It’s simply the ability of someone to think ahead.

The secret to becoming wealthy is as much to do with understanding the time-value of money (planning ahead) as anything else. In fact, the 20-year-old who consistently sacrifices short term spending for long-term investing and savings will almost always have a better future than those who prefer to have their toys today.

And in health and fitness, it’s always preferable short-term to eat the cookie or stay in bed for the day, but the long-term thinker understands the importance of long-term healthy living.

In business, setting clear goals and target let you know where you are heading, and most importantly what success and failure look like. Those people who simply react to the short-term usually spend their life unhappy and aggravated all the time because they feel like they are constantly running on a hamster wheel.

Here are some ways I personally have found success in making sure I focus on long-term thinking

  1. Keep a journal and constantly write, rewrite, and read your long-term goals. Thinking long-term is like any other skill, it needs repetition and practice.
  2. Spend 5 minutes each day reflecting on your decisions and figure if the actions you took would make your future self happy or sad. Without self-evaluation and an intentional effort to improve, you can not expect to get better at any skill, including long-term thinking.
  3. Create a single sentence for each goal in the format of If I want to get ______, I must first do _______ and _______. and write these on your mirror or sticky notes. These should be visible at all times.

while executing in the short term, …

If thinking were enough, philosophers would be the richest people on the plant. At some point, you have to execute today. This is where those who do not believe in goal setting or planning, often citing that tomorrow could bring anything so what’s the point, have it all wrong.

Thinking long-term gives you the why, but that “why” does you no good unless you start working on the what and the how, and for that, it’s all about immediate execution.

Once you have figured out your long-term goals, nearly everything in your life should be designed and executed accordingly to that vision. Furthermore, everyone has their personal tasks they must do each day to pay the bills and keep life moving along. Unaddressed short-term issues can be like an electronic-fence keeping you from staring your long-term journey.

If your long-term vision includes having recurring revenue or becoming a successful entrepreneur, start creating value and products immediately.

If you want to be Fit at Fifty, go outside and take a walk and replace today’s hamburger with a chef salad.

If you want to be a world traveler, book a trip today.

To help with execution, I suggest the following exercises.

  1. Begin each day with a list of no more than 3 things that you need to do today to make it a success. In my experience, anything more than 3 becomes ineffective at truly helping you get things done.
  2. Pick the most important item on the list and knock it as soon as you can. The sooner you can get the mental weight off your list, the better. Avoid attacking the ones that are the quickest or easiest.
  3. After you finish the first one, spend 15 minutes reading, writing, or exercising to clear your head. Once you’ve done so, revisit your list. If the remaining items are still the most important, knock them out. If not, choose an item that will help you tomorrow.

paying extra attention to being in the present.

Planning long-term and executing short term, without being mindful in the presents simply makes you a robot, or at least the equivalent of one.

The reality is, that while great planning and execution will greatly increase your chances for a better future, life is a very precious gift that can be taken away at any time. We’ve all seen the bumper stickers (Shit Happens!) and if you are not being mindful of the people and world around you, you will have missed out greatly!

Luckily, there are tons of great material out there right now on being present and mindful. I personally believe that mindful living will replace healthy eating as the next big self-improvement trend in the next decade.

If you don’t have time to read or watch the plentiful resources out there and want to start today, here are some quick tips.

  1. Meditate and reflect for 3-5 minutes a day. This does not have to be done in a monastery on top of a mountain, this can be done in a quiet place in your home or yard. Simply just calm your mind and let your thoughts come and go, without reacting to them.
  2. Start off each day listing out 3 things you are grateful for. There are gratitude journals and gratitude jars specifically designed for this purpose but for now, a notepad or note-keeping app will work just fine. Doing this can help remind you of all the good that surrounds you in the present.
  3. Spend a little time appreciating nature. Whether it’s watching a bird feed it’s young, an ant carrying a crumb over a sidewalk, or sunrise rising over an imposing mountain peak, seeing nature for what it is can help connect you with the outside world and strengthen your feeling of belonging.

Another life hack: if you have a long commute, avoid listening to books, podcasts, or the radio for the first 15 minutes when you get in your car. Instead, replace that time thinking about the world around you and your friends and family.

One sentence tells you so much.

You should always think long-term while executing in the short-term, paying extra attention to making sure to stay in the present.