I saw a quote about success the other day that said, “Long-term thinking really is the key.” That’s true whether you’re trying to break a bad habit, start a new good one, or just follow your dreams. Keep reading for tips on how to learn to think long-term, plus grab free printable habit trackers.
Long-Term Thinking Really Is the Key to Lifelong Success
Let’s start with the full quote that inspired this post. Marketing coach Richard Yuzee wrote it, and it goes,
“It might take you 30 days to create a habit, but that habit could change your life for the next 30 years.
It might take you 1 hour to complete a workout, but it will keep you in a good mood for the next 12 hours.
It might take you 30 minutes to complete a morning routine, but it will build momentum for the rest of the day.
It might take you 5 hours to read a book, but you’ll keep the knowledge forever.
It might take you 3 months to learn a new skill, but that skill could make you millions.
Long-term thinking really is the key.”
It makes sense, right? We all grew up with cliché sayings like “slow and steady wins the race” or “patience is a virtue.” Somewhere along the line, though, we kind of lost sight of those lessons. If you ask me, it happened right around the time high-speed internet became a thing.
We’ve become a society that wants- no, demands- instant gratification. We want everything, and we want it RIGHT NOW. We’re always looking for hacks to shortcut our way through life. The thing is you really can’t hack your way to success. There are no true shortcuts when it comes to creating a new habit or learning a new skill.
Plenty of fake ones, sure. Lots of people claim that they have the secret to fast success. They’re even willing to share that secret with you for just four installments of $99.99! But when it comes down to it, long-term thinking really is the ONLY way to find real lifelong success.
Create Good Habits & Lifelong Success Through Long-Term Thinking
The question, now, is how does a society that’s become obsessed with instant gratification switch gears and learn to think long-term again? I have a few ideas that might help. Let’s check them out, shall we?
Don’t just define your goals, define your motivations too
As the quote below says, “Motivation is what gets you started. Habit is what keeps you going.” It’s not really enough to say, “I want to start a new habit where I work out for one hour every day,” or “My dream is to make a million bucks a year.” You have to have to know WHY you want those things.
Be specific and keep asking “why” until you home in on the one thing that will give you all of the motivation you need. Just take inspiration from your favorite toddler! For example, if your goal is to work out every day, your first response to “why” could be “because I want to be healthier.”
Why, though? Why do you want to be healthier? Maybe the answer is “because I want to live longer.” Why? “Because I want to see my kids grow up.” Why? “Because I love them, and because I promised I’d always be there for them for as long as humanely possible.” That is your motivation: love and a promise that you made to your kids, not just a vague “I want to be healthier.”
While I’m a big fan of positive thinking in general, when it comes to creating new habits or going after your dreams, I agree with the findings of a 2020 University of Bath study: it’s time to get real on the power of positive thinking.
According to the study, realists feel “a greater sense of long-term wellbeing than optimists,” especially when it comes to “decisions on employment, savings and any choice involving risk and uncertainty.”
That said, they were quick to point out that, “Negative thinking should not replace positive thinking though. Pessimists also fared badly compared to realists, undermining the view that low expectations limit disappointment and present a route to contentment.”
So, I think the key to success is to find a happy medium between being positive and also thinking realistically. Maybe set rational goals but believe that you can reach them.
Stage your goals and make a plan
If long-term thinking provides the path to success, short-term goals are definitely the stepping stones along that path. That goes for both creating new habits or making your dreams come true.
Let’s go back to that “work out every day” habit that we’re trying to create. If you haven’t really exercised in years, diving right into an intense hour-long routine right away is a surefire way to ensure that you don’t succeed. Instead, set smaller goals. Work out for 15 minutes every day for the first week, 30 minutes every day the following week, and so on.
The same goes for your dreams. Don’t just set the end goal, give yourself a TON of smaller ones that lead up to it. Set one for every month, week, or even every single day. You’ll need those teeny achievable goals for the next step.
Build on your success
A 2014 Stony Brook University study found that the old “success breeds success” cliché is actually very true. According to the study, “[Findings] suggest that a modest initial success may be sufficient to trigger a self-propelling cascade of success in various success-breeds-success scenarios.”
This is where staging your goals comes in handy. You can use the momentum and joy that you feel from reaching a smaller goal to “propel” yourself on towards the next one, and the next, and so on. Even just reaching an itty-bitty goal can help you feel good about yourself.
Track your progress
According to a 2015 American Psychological Association study, “If you are trying to achieve a goal, the more often that you monitor your progress, the greater the likelihood that you will succeed.” Researchers found that any type of monitoring- even just checking in with yourself from time to time- was beneficial. However, they also found that monitoring progress “had an even greater effect if the information was physically recorded or publicly reported.”
Consider buying or making a journal to help you keep track of your progress. Or you can print out a colorful habit tracker right here. I also have this minimalist black-and-white one if you don’t want to use so much printer ink.
Either enjoy the journey or give yourself permission to start a new one
Last, but very far from least, take the advice in the quote below, remember: Creating a new habit shouldn’t make you miserable, and neither should pursuing your dreams. Look for the joy in the journey. If you can’t find it, make it.
If you can’t do that, consider whether this is truly the habit you want to create or the dream you want to follow. I’m NOT saying give up when things get hard. Not at all. But it is okay to give up when you realize that what you’re chasing isn’t something you really want to catch, after all. It’s okay to change your dreams or change the path you take towards creating a good new habit.
Remember, great things take time!
I’ll leave you with one last quote, from Denis Waitley. He said, “The winner’s edge is not in a gifted birth, a high IQ, or in talent. The winner’s edge is all in the attitude, not aptitude. Attitude is the criterion for success.” If you shape your attitude to focus on long-term thinking instead of looking for instant gratification, success will be yours. It may take longer, but as they say, great things take time.