Skip to main content

Humans are perfectly capable of philosophical thought and inner peace, yet we forgo it in the pursuit of rapid-fire responses and actions to address short deadlines — keeping ourselves stuck in a loop of stressors like political terms, quarterly reports, deadlines, and other rapid-fire events. Giving thoughts to the future 10, 20, or 100 years from now rarely gets priority.

“Unlike other animals, we have minds capable of imagining a deep future, and we can conceive the daunting truth that our lifetime is a mere flash in an unfathomable chronology. Yet while we may have this ability, it is rarely deployed in daily life. If our descendants were to diagnose the ills of 21st-century civilization, they would observe a dangerous short-termism: a collective failure to escape the present moment and look further ahead. The world is saturated in information, and standards of living have never been higher, but so often it’s a struggle to see beyond the next news cycle, political term, or business quarter,” writes senior journalist Richard Fisher.

Towards the end of the 20th century, as globalism accelerated, our views of the present changed. With a focus on earnings, short-term satisfaction, and immediate gratification, a failure to tackle large risks like climate change, pandemics, nuclear war, and more has resulted. And it’s stressing us out. Fisher has categorized these into an acronym, SHORT, to explain the temporal stresses that short-termism is causing:

  • Salience – “Striking, emotionally resonant events” that means people are more likely to perceive the future through the lens of current events.
  • Habits – Entrenched habits, like doom scrolling on negative current events further, populate the narrative in our minds and add further bias.
  • Overload – The pace of technology, news, and expectations is piling on, and we are feeling the effects of an information ecosystem.
  • Responsibility – The faster pace of 21st-century living has “diluted” our actions; there is a need to build self-responsibility.
  • Targets – Metrics have infiltrated every aspect of life (e.g., statistics, scores, returns, KPIs, GDP, ROI, etc.) which keeps us further locked in a state of presentism and can encourage bad behavior. Targets must be revised to how we gauge success.

The deeper future and motivating actions in the now

Temporal stresses are unlikely to go away, yet identifying and addressing them takes the teeth out of them over time and gradually helps shift harmful behaviors and a perpetuation of the short-term cycle. “These risks make it it increasingly important to extend our perspective beyond our own lifetimes; our actions are rippling further into the future than ever before,” says Fisher.

shutterstock_1579154623Deepak Chopra, a pioneer in meditation, mindfulness, and positive thinking, says the fivekeys to adopting a growth mindset and reducing stress include:

  1. Reframe situations to focus on the positive benefits.
  2. Practice “posting” or writing small posts about reactions to stress, anxiety, or discomfort in a notebook or smartphone. These reactions can be revisited later for a deeper look and reflection.
  3. Spending more time in mindfulness.
  4. Embracing a growth mindset wherein you stop seeing your limitations and choose to pursue your greatest potential in a way that serves the wellbeing of all.
  5. Practicing self-compassion.

Adopting a deep time awareness, will reduce the stress experienced right now by shifting our mind to the big picture and enrich our experience of the present. Awareness of deep time as well as acceptance of our roles in a grand design has the power to inspire heart-forward action. In the article, Fisher cites philosopher Immanuel Kant, who said, “(There will be) millions and millions of centuries, in which new worlds and world orders will be generated […] Creation is never finished. It once had a beginning, but it will never end.”

Each new year is an opportunity to plant the seeds of intention for the dreams we wish to manifest in the future. As 2021 approaches, awareness coupled with personal responsibility in its pursuit, will benefit the long-term thinking that is critical for moving us out of the self-harm of short-termism and into an infinite plane of possibility.