One of my fundamental operating beliefs is that you can’t change the conditions of the world that led to a particular problem once you’ve already engaged with it. As soon as the problem is happening to you, right now, you have to just engage with it as it is. If it’s possible to change those base conditions to prevent such problems in the future, great – but the time to do so is after the current example of the problem is fixed.
People get very frustrated when they encounter a problem and then say to themselves “this problem would be so easy to solve if only the world were configured this other way,” and that’s this mental dead-end they’ve built for themselves that shuts down all creative problem-solving.
Here’s an example: someone I once knew got mugged and lost the money they needed to pay rent. This was a problem! But all they could focus on was how they wanted the world to be structured in such a way that crime like that didn’t happen (or at least, didn’t happen to them). They were completely unfocused on the actual problem they needed to solve, which was: “how do I get the money I need to pay rent tomorrow?”
Lowering crime rates overall, making yourself more crime-resistant, etc. – these are all conditions. They don’t do a thing to help you right now. Right now, the world as it is has left you a few hundred bucks short of your bills, and you’ve got to solve that problem. Focus.
You don’t want to hear that. No one does. When a company leader loses half their workforce because they didn’t keep up with shifting market conditions, they want to focus on how they wish employees were more loyal. But that’s not their problem – their problem is how to open their doors tomorrow.
It’s not that people are bad at long-term thinking in general. It’s that they’re great at it, exactly when it’s wrong to be great at it. They think long-term when it’s too late, and they don’t think about it at all when they should, which is after the immediate crisis is resolved.
Think of it like this: no matter what it seems like, there is always a problem in front of you. The only difference is distance. Sometimes it’s right in front of you, sometimes it’s a few miles off. Whether you should be thinking short-term or long-term is entirely proportional to how far off that problem is. If it’s right in front of you, think short-term to solve it. If you think there’s no problem at all, think long-term, because there is.
That’s the world as it is. You can wish it wasn’t so, but wishes aren’t horses, my friend.