How To Think Long Term To Overcome Short Term Setbacks

Hidden Lessons

“Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

It’s easier to obsess over setbacks than to play the long game in life. After all, obstacles are real while the future is promised to no one. Disappointments have a way of overpowering us, however, they are just one aspect of our life. The key is to keep moving forward and to not become caught up in our problems for too long. We mustn’t allow what is taking place to overshadow our long-term plans. It was Henry Ford who said: “When everything seems to be going against you, remember that the airplane takes off against the wind, not with it.”

Like buried treasure, opportunities lay hidden in our setbacks if we look hard enough. Once the anxiety settles, we come to realise what is really taking place. Therefore, life should be measured in its entirety, not by our failures. If we’re lucky enough, we will live a long life. So, we must avoid giving too much attention to our setbacks, since we are likely to bounce back from them. That is, don’t overstate what is taking place. We have a tendency towards a negativity bias which gets the better of us. Yes, our setbacks are real, but we will overcome them to the best of our ability. We must move our awareness away from negativity and consider the long-term view. What could be taking place behind the scenes that we are unaware of? Is there is a hidden lesson contained within the setback?

Self-Control and Discipline

“It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.”— Confucius

The value of adopting a long-term view is in not taking things too seriously because ultimately it will resolve itself if we are patient. We must develop a clear picture of our intended future, instead of focusing on the setback. Obstacles are part of every person’s life. Whilst they are difficult to deal with, they allow for vital personal growth for the journey ahead. Therefore, self-control and discipline are required to think long term. No one knows what the future holds, but if we have a purposeful vision of what it might look like, we can overcome our short-term pain.

Long-term thinking helps us appreciate things will improve and we are never trapped in our present circumstances. Time tests our inner resolve, our strength of character, and our ability to withstand present conditions. Emotional growth occurs when we allow a situation to play out as it should. It is difficult to take a long-term view because our minds are not accustomed to think far ahead. We are conditioned to deal with what is taking place now and typically have a limited view of tomorrow. That comes at a cost to our wellbeing, because if we follow this script, we are constantly putting out spot fires instead of working on larger goals. To think long term, we must develop an introspective outlook while reviewing our plans for the future.

Imagine Your Proposed Future

We ought to take action, however small, whether it be things such as self-reinforcement, affirmations or visualisations. Success is found in the smallest details.

In his book The Time Paradox: The New Psychology of Time That Will Change Your Life, psychologist and professor at Stanford University, Philip Zimbardo, states there are six time paradoxes that shape our lives:


If you wish to take an inventory of your time perspective, I encourage you to complete the Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory test online. Based on his principles, your relationship with time influences every aspect of your life. So if you dwell on the past, you are less likely to appreciate the present moment and plan for the future.

The key to long-term thinking is to imagine our proposed future through the power of our imagination. We focus on the smaller destinations instead of the larger picture. For example, if our goal is to lose 10 kg (22 lbs) by the end of the year and we are suddenly injured (setback), this will make it difficult to exercise and adhere to our goal. However, instead of focussing on the setback, we ought to focus on what actions we can commit to during this period. Use the time to fine-tune our nutritional habits by consuming fewer carbohydrates, owing to inactivity. Later, when we can exercise again, we are likely to enhance our weight loss because of following sound nutritional habits.

Focus on the Long Game

There is always some action to take, however small, to move us forward towards our goals. Long-term thinking is something I’ve followed throughout my adult life. Whilst others excelled in individual areas and gained immediate results, I focused on long-term outcomes. I experience setbacks and obstacles like most others, yet I don’t allow it to consume me. When I find myself stuck in a situation, I consider it a minor speed hump in what is a long journey.

That is the framework of this entire piece; using our setbacks as a stepping stone for future success. It is what esteemed Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck calls developing a Growth Mindset. To overcome a setback, recognise it as a minor process in what is a greater plan unfolding. Deal with what is taking place by all means, but use the lessons to develop a Growth Mindset. In closing, I invite you to focus on the long game for your life. That is where the fruit of your labour lies waiting for you to seize it, rather than dwell on your past mistakes.

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