6 habits of short-term thinkers who never seem to get ahead in life

If you’ve ever read Stephen Covey’s famous 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, you’ll know that his Habit #2 is “Begin with the end in mind”.

Through this habit, he extolls us to act in our minds before we act for real. We’re told to create a vision for the future first and then work towards it.

I’m sorry to say that there are way too many people out there who haven’t read this book or else read it and didn’t take this advice to heart.

Instead of those highly effective habits, they follow the six habits of short-term thinkers who never seem to get ahead in life.

If you’re one of them or know someone who is, take a look at these habits that hold people back. Hopefully, once you recognize them, you can start to make changes to help you plan better for the medium- and long-term and succeed in your goals.

1) Focusing only on now

When you’re young, it can be easy to live in the moment and focus on the now.

And while this is a great ability to have, there’s something else missing.

If you want to get ahead in life, you need to think about the future just as much, if not more, than the present.

The world is full of people who live hand-to-mouth, just getting by and never getting ahead. If you want to have more stability and security for your future, though, this isn’t the way to do it.

Yes, people will tell you that if you want to be happy, live in the present. But don’t go thinking that they mean you should ignore the future and not make any plans for it.

Imagine a dancer who shows great talent from a young age.

Most people might suggest that she work towards getting into an esteemed dance school and there learn all she can so that she’ll be able to secure a place in a prestigious dance troupe.

Instead, though, this dancer just lives in the moment. 

She dances when she feels like it but also pursues other interests and never finds the tremendous focus needed in this competitive profession.

She’s easily overtaken by people who have less natural talent but more drive and, most importantly, some plan and vision for the future.

2) Not making sacrifices now for the future

In addition to not thinking about the future or making plans, people infected by short-termism also don’t make the necessary sacrifices.

Most people understand that if you work really hard or live frugally now, you’ll be able to secure your future success.

I’m not only talking about money here. Just like in the dancer example above, you can invest in your skills and training as well. But here’s a monetary example to show you in numbers how this can work.

Sam loves having Barstucks coffee but decides to skip the extra sugar and drop from two down to one cup per day.

He saves $3.00 per day by cutting out this extra coffee, and over one year manages to save ($3 x 365) $1,095. Great! 

He thinks about buying a cool new TV, but the old one is actually doing alright, so instead, he invests this money in a product that promises a modest five percent return. But the investment also compounds.

So after five years, he’ll have nearly $1400 to spend however he needs, when he needs it. But he’s also still not drinking that extra coffee, so he keeps saving, and every subsequent year, he’ll have another $1400 to play with.

And it all starts from that little sacrifice of not having a second coffee each day.

Sounds easy, right?

But if you don’t make sacrifices now, you’ll find it’s pretty hard to set up your future so nicely.

3) Not setting clear goals

Most short-term thinkers don’t think about the future or make sacrifices so that their version of the future might actually come to pass.

What else do they habitually not do?

People who are stuck in short-term thinking don’t make clear goals to orient themselves toward. Without these targets, they don’t know what they’re aiming for, and they end up doing things that waste their time and energy or, worse, take them in the wrong direction.

Think back to that dancer from our earlier example.

If she set clear goals like passing an audition to get into her dance school of choice by the time she was 15, she’d immediately know which activities were contributing to this goal and which weren’t.

She might decide to give up being a part of her school swim team so that she could practice dance for two extra hours each morning and not end up with prune hands.

This could help her reach her goal and, in combination with her natural talent, might be enough to get her ahead of the competition.

But without a goal like this that’s timely, achievable, and measurable, she’d probably continue to be unfocused and miss the boat.

4) Doing too many things at once

Without clear goals for the future in mind, people often take on too many responsibilities at once.

This leaves them totally busy, stressed, and spinning their tires.

The problem is that they spend all their energy going in too many different directions.

I know all about it because I was just like this years ago. In my early 20s, I was full of energy and wanted to try every experience I could.

I moved to a foreign country to teach English for a day job. But I also found work doing voice recording, and eventually, that led to minor acting work. Plus, I started a charity with some to help needy kids, and I was also doing freelance writing on the side. And there was the rock climbing club, the gym, the language lessons, and the cooking classes.

That’s not to mention a social life and a love life on top of everything else.

I definitely had a great time doing all these things, but I also ended up pretty run down. I also hadn’t gotten very far in the language studies, and the charity wasn’t able to grow.

I was offered a few acting jobs that may have been big, but they conflicted with my work schedule, and I had to turn them down. 

Then, at the end of the first year, my contract wasn’t renewed. My boss said I wasn’t invested enough in the job. Well, I guess he was right!

So, I pretty much ended up spreading myself too thin and not making progress in any direction. I was just too short-sighted in my thinking.

5) Looking for short-term gains

Like just about everyone else in the world and their dogs, I got into cryptocurrencies during the 2021 boom in that market.

Happily, I got into it for a short time, got a bit bored, and got out a few months later, just breaking even. But I had two close friends who had totally different experiences.

They both bought into crypto just a month or two before the bottom fell out of the market.

One friend put in more and more money as he was making little daily gains and hoping he’d hit the jackpot. 

The other friend put in a single investment and ignored what was going on, locking his money in for five years.

In a few months, when the market crashed, the first friend started to panic. He started making wild trades and huge sacrifices. He finally got out of the market with only about ten percent of his initial investment intact.

The other friend?

His money is still there. It has doubled and then been slashed in half and then doubled again. But he’s not worried. He’s sticking to his initial plan to invest long-term and not stress about it.

He’ll get out when he’s made a gain.

What a difference it makes when you focus on long-term plans rather than stressing about short-term gains, right?

6) Procrastinating

Never put off until tomorrow what you can do today.

So goes the old saying.

Sure, there’s work to be done. You could get the jump on it right now and lighten tomorrow’s load.

Or you could stay on the sofa and watch another episode or three of your latest show.

Procrastinating is the bane of short-term thinkers.

They tend to do it because they want to feel good or be lazy right now, but they don’t recognize how this damages their prospects.

How can you get around this?

Well, let me ask you a question. Do you like getting presents?

Sure. Who doesn’t? So why not do something now that tomorrow will feel like a gift to your future self?


If you recognize these six habits of short-term thinkers who never get ahead in life, now’s the time to change.

Look past today and farther into the future to see how you can make life great for future you!

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