There’s an irony in the sense that I am very much an advocate of living in the moment, while being a big time critic of short term thinking.
It’s hard not to acknowledge the damage short term thinking can cause. I think most people are familiar with the havoc instant gratification can bring. Everything from Donald Trump’s desperate need for constant attention and validation to the heroin addict’s decision to shoot up instead of spend time with family or go to a job interview or engage with his life at all can be traced back to that short term concept.
The economy is destroyed, over and over again by financiers speculating and creating Wall Street strategies that only care about an immediate boost in stock, over long term viability. Short term goals were an immediate driver of the 2008 financial crisis. Big companies again and again find themselves in bad positions or treating customers and employees like garbage in order to satiate short term gains. Look at GM. Look at every mega-merger in the last hundred years.
And yet, living now is what is needed. The problem is that there’s no presence in short term thinking. Focus comes from long term plans. The ability to focus on the task at hand is dependent on a wider understanding of the universe as a whole.
We slow down and focus on what we are doing now, because it serves a higher purpose, one that can last our entire lives. If we’re just looking for the next shiny object, we’re little better than children with attention deficit disorder, unable to focus, unable to think about anything beyond what it’s our face right now, while constantly scanning our peripheral vision for the next distraction.
If I want to create a grand unified vision, a canonical tapestry that leads the reader from one place to a higher plane, over a series of books, I need to consider how that plays out over a number of different genres and topics. When I’m working on that particular genre and topic, I can focus on that, because overall, I know where it’s headed. That question is solved. The trick is how to make that happen in real time, with what’s in front of me now.
It’s like taking a long journey across country by car. You know the direction you are headed and maybe you’ve programmed the GPS or laid out a map. You may have side trips you want to take, or are willing to head down some unknown paths because something catches your eye or there’s construction or traffic or a detour, but still, you know the direction in which you wish to head, so you can always find your way back or an alternate route. You can enjoy now, because that route, that direction, is there to bring you back on course.
Thinking only short term is like saying, “I want to go somewhere,” but having no idea where that there is, so every intersection becomes a major decision, and a completely random choice based on random whim or learned traits (turning right got me ice cream last time, so I’ll just keep turning right). Sometimes, it might work out, mostly it will just cause undue stress and aggravation, and not just for you, but the drivers around you who are desperately waiting for you to make a decision.
That kind of haphazard driving is often unfocused and uncertain, and leads to reckless or poor driving, which can then harm yourself or others from its carelessness, just to relieve the pressure.
Living in the moment benefits from longer term thinking because the bigger picture is there. It’s melding into the energy of the universe, with an important caveat: there’s a universe. A bigger picture. You are here. You are now. You are one with the world around you. If you’ve ever had that moment of pure presence, you know the sense of connectedness that comes with it. That connectedness is the big picture, with you in it.
Living for the short term means operating blind, with limited options and vision no farther than your own nose. There’s no universe. There’s only you, separated from the moment, distracted and making snap decisions that don’t take anything bigger into consideration.
It’s a bit of a paradox, but it’s true. Broader views stabilize and de-stress, allowing for greater focus. Limited views make for uninformed, ecologically unsound thinking, often distracted and selfish and surrounded by fires, which makes focus next to impossible.
Except for that next short term thought. That next validation. That next hit. That next big score.
And you wonder why we’re all so fucked up.