Short-term thinking blurs big-picture vision

Column by Michael Norton


The need for instant gratification has truly compromised our ability to see beyond what is immediately in front of us. I mean in some cases we can't even see the next three hours that are directly in front of us let alone three weeks, three months, or three years down the road.

We want something and we want it now.

I do agree that part of this insatiable need for speed when it comes to our wants and desires has been shaped by technology and the fact that we can access information with one or two clicks on our computer, tablet, and smart phone. But I also believe as a society we have developed a perceived need to keep up with our neighbors, family members, and our competitors when it comes to business.

We want what they have and we want it now.

You see, short-term thinkers limit themselves to what they can have or achieve today instead of seeing the much bigger potential of tomorrow. And whether tomorrow comes in a day, in a month, or over several years … tomorrow will eventually come. And if we live only for the things we can have at our fingertips in this moment, we forgo the opportunity to enjoy the rewards that come by careful planning, temporary sacrifices, saving, being patient, and willing to earn and wait for the things that will provide enjoyment and security in the future.

Near-term thinking or seeking is driven by an attitude of impatience. Big-picture visioning and pursuing is driven by a goals-oriented and results-focused attitude. The student will make a decision to blow off a homework assignment today in exchange for a good time tonight. The unemployed person will stop sending resumes and applying for the position they truly want because they were not offered a job today. The person seeking to lose weight or improve their physical fitness will avoid the gym because the pounds are coming off too slowly or their endurance or strength is not improving rapidly enough.

There are countless scenarios where the shortcut and partial success are rationalized by the acceptance of fractional achievement of what we really desire. Our choice to accept the “almost-win” always seems easier at first, but ultimately leads to a life filled with “woulda,” “shoulda,” “coulda” thoughts and regrets.

Of course there are activities and tasks that require short-term thinking and immediate actions. However, when we allow everything we do to be driven by the near term, it is so easy to lose sight of the big picture.

So what do we do about this instant gratification epidemic? The first thing we need to do is to adopt an attitude of patience and big-picture visioning.

The second thing we need to do is to identify our goals. And as a best practice, categorize each goal into one of three buckets: near term, mid-range, and long-term. The first time that we go through this exercise we will probably notice that one of the buckets is filled with more goals than the other two. This is a good thing, as it will bring awareness to where our current focus lies. The next step is to go back and make sure that there is some level of distribution in all three buckets.

Once we have taken the time to identify and prioritize our goals into these categories, we will begin to see and internally own the roadmap for our personal success. This is easier than we think; it only requires some time and thoughtful consideration to get started. And there is no time like the present to get started.

How about you, is it about instant gratification or are you willing to put in the time, hard work, patience and sacrifice necessary to realize your goals and dreams? I would love to hear all about it at, because when we get our heads and hearts around what our long-term future can possibly be, it really will be a better than good week.

Michael Norton, a resident of Highlands Ranch, is the former president of the Zig Ziglar organization and CEO and founder of

michael norton, zig ziglar, highlands ranch, colorado


Our Papers

Ad blocker detected

We have noticed you are using an ad blocking plugin in your browser.

The revenue we receive from our advertisers helps make this site possible. We request you whitelist our site.