It’s quite common for many of us to strive to lose X weight in Y months. It’s an arbitrary goal of course, and we know it. There is no rationale why we want to achieve this goal in the time duration that we do. We just do. So, we resolve to lose weight, and we tell ourselves, once we somehow manage to reach our ideal weight (in the short term using “hacks” or whatnot), then we’ll figure out a long-term plan to sustain it. But, for now, we’ll do whatever it takes to reach our arbitrary goals (only to gain all of that weight again). The thing is even if we’re able to somehow achieve the ideal weight for a short while, we’ll likely struggle to keep it that way for long, not the least is because our application/execution is rooted in the “doing.” As long as we are focused on “habits”, we’ll cease to make progress in any meaningful way.
All of this to say we focus on short-term outcomes at the expense of long-term sustainable growth, even though it takes more effort (time, money, resources) to do things right in the short term, which is simply not worth it in the end, if for no other reason than how we do anything matters more than what we do. Besides, we forget life is meant to be lived, and not to be “done.” Again, it’s not enough that we do what we do, but how we do what we do.
The easier (and better) alternative is to play the long game, of course. Simply put, it’s where we make better (or sometimes even final) choices keeping the long term in mind. Not only is it more cost-effective in terms of time and money (and one that doesn’t rely on having “goals”, (which are limiting at best), but the progress can also be exponential over time. The only tradeoff with this approach (if we can even call it that) is we may not see any visible progress in our endeavors for a while (which is fine), but that’s not to say its not happening. As long as we keep doing the right things (and stop doing the wrong ones), we’ll start making progress right away.
Long-term progress trumps short-term results. Coming back to our weight loss example, if we stop doing the wrong things and start/keep doing the right ones (based on the decision to live a healthier lifestyle in the long run, of course), then it matters less that we start “getting results”, and it matters more that we keep making progress. Ironically, it’s only when we shift our focus away from short-term outcomes (such as “goals”) and commit to a long-term journey, do we give ourselves the space to make exponential progress over time. This is as true with personal growth, as it is true with sustaining long-term organizational growth.
Apart from making progress towards losing body weight sustainably, doing things right in/for the long term has wide-ranging applications in all aspects of our lives. Here are three of them.
I bought a yoga mat about 5 years ago. Although, it seemed expensive at the time (in terms of money alone), it came with lifetime warranty, so I didn’t mind paying more, because I factored both time and money into my decision. Many of us only look at how much something costs when making a purchase decision without considering the potential longevity of the item itself. By investing in quality items (not always expensive), we end up paying less, because we end up using it for longer, so the real annual cost of owning it is far less. Of course, we also need to take care of our items to ensure its longevity.
This is in stark contrast to buying something that isn’t quality and is likely to last only for a short while. Although we paid less money for it, we end up buying more items, because they didn’t last, and yet we don’t learn. Suffice it to say, it’s expensive to keep spending time and money in perpetuity. By the way, buying fewer, but better items is not only in our interest (saving time and money), but also in the interest of our planet.
Here’s an example from the public sector. It’s easier to fix the city roads once (and maintain them) for the long term than to keep fixing them every year. This is not the case with many of the city roads in India, for instance. Typically after the monsoon season in my home state, the local government patches up the speed bumps and potholes on the road only for it to resurface later in the year or during the following monsoon. Somehow, the government always has the resources to keep fixing things half-assedly, but they never have the inclination to do things right at the outset.
In other words, they are willing to spend resources on something every year than having to invest in something for the long-term once and for all (before maintaining it, of course). Unbeknownst to them, they are spending more time and money over the long term than they would otherwise need. In other words, they are implicitly okay with going through the agony involved in fixing things ad infinitum. Suffice it to say, this is a lose-lose situation for the government, and its tax-paying (and law-abiding) citizens, who deserve better.
The same is true in many organizations. Somehow they always have the funds to keep fixing the same challenges that pop up repeatedly (to keep seeing “results” in the short term, which is misleading at best), but they never have the budget to do things right at the outset, not the least is because it takes time to define the challenge and to see visible long-term progress. Not only does this short-term approach cost them more time and money in the long haul, but the challenges remain unresolved. That’s a lose-lose.
Today, we are caught up in achieving short-term “results” at the expense of long-term growth. We look for outcomes in the short term to make things work quickly and we say to our selves, once we are through, then we’ll look for the long-term solution. Unfortunately, this is the sad reality not only in the organizations we work in, but also in our personal lives.
We say to ourselves we’ll do anything to lose weight in the next X days, and then we’ll figure out a way to sustain it. This way, we only make it difficult for ourselves by spending more effort than we would otherwise. The easier approach is to start out the way we intend to carry on.
Similarly, when it comes to making choices in terms of living on a sustainable planet, we can opt to make better (long-term) choices at the outset, both from an individual and organizational standpoint. It’s cheaper, more efficient, cost-effective, less decision requiring, etc in every way to do so. There is no downside. Long-term progress trumps short-term “results.”