#69: What is long-term thinking?
Putting life into perspective and choosing to worry about the right things
Long-term thinking is putting life into perspective.
On the highest level, long-term thinking is recognizing that we are all tiny blips in a universe that has been around for billions of years.
One level down, is recognizing that we are just one generation amongst thousands of generations that came before us.
Another level down, is recognizing that although our problems today are unique and different from past generations, human behavior has, more or less, stayed the same.
We know from years and years of experience that people’s personality influences their life choices, and then their life choices influence their personality.
This week, I watched a wonderful Scandinavian film called The Worst Person in the World. I read in the reviewer comments that Scandinavians are astute at understanding human behavior. After watching the film, I understand what the reviewers mean.
The film follows a young woman, Julie, who from childhood, knew that she wants to be a surgeon. She was diligent and conscientious and laser focused on her career goal. A typical type A perfectionist. At first, things were going fine. But then, problems started to manifest in her life. Most notably (the film is a romantic drama), she kept failing at love and, sadly, it was her fault. She had trouble navigating change — the turbulent waters of love and her profession — and her behavior was obviously self-sabotaging.
I like how this reviewer frames Julie’s character:
I particularly like the last part: Julie worries about the wrong things.
Since I don’t want to give away spoilers, I won’t dig into what these wrong things are, but I do highly recommend watching this film. Perhaps you'll see a little bit of yourself in Julie’s character and you’ll start to rethink how you relate to your problems and to your relationships. I know I did.
Long-term thinking is a mindset that can be practiced and cultivated. The first step is to stop worrying about the wrong things.
I like how Stew, the co-founder of the writing collective, Foster, frames long-term thinking in his atomic essay:
I particularly like the last part, “it’s about deciding which races to run in the first place” —because in order to decide which races to run, you need to worry about the right things.
Many people feel like they need to worry about the right things alone. So they become hermits — working harder whilst becoming distrustful of others. As their mindset becomes more rigid and fixed, their thoughts manifest in self-sabotaging behavior. Now their identity is tied to fixing things alone —to being a solo contributor. So they go deeper into the dungeon of their mind and wreck havoc on their environment.
This past weekend, I was at my local coffee shop when I met a cognitive scientist. He asked me what I do for work and I said I work in crypto. He was really intrigued and wanted to talk a little about decentralization. So he shared with me a personal example of how centralized power can wreck havoc. At Harvard, he told me, where he got his PhD, elite professors are on a power spree. Research shows, he told me, that centralized power is awfully dangerous because it eliminates the feedback loop. He continued to share with me that the elite professors at the top of hierarchy, who hold all of the power, do not get honest feedback from the people under them. They become dis-attached from reality and make self-interested decisions that are net-net bad for everyone who is not an elite professor.
It’s not that the elite professors are bad people. They are just shaped by the hierarchical system they are in —a system that encourages the aggregation of power to the top. Toss in prestige and status, where people with less power revere and idolize those with more power —honest feedback gets tossed out —and you’re left with a system that creates evil not because people are evil but because the system’s structure incentivizes evil.
So we’re all left with a choice: what things do we worry about today, in the short-term. And it comes down to the race we choose to run.
Do we run the status-quo race, committing our time and energy to excelling at moving up in the hierarchy in hopes of one day attaining elite prestige and status; or do we run the novel race of building new systems with different power structures in hopes of one day creating something that will leave positive lasting change on future generations?
Both choices are viable. And both options are hard work. But building new systems requires more patience because you’re working on a future that is not yet here.