Do you want to be happier on a daily basis? If so, then you need to focus on short-term goals rather than long-term goals.
Short-term goals are goals that focus on the immediate future. They focus on today, this week, or this month. They have long been neglected as the unsexy stepchild of “real” goals, but they are, in fact, the guide to a better, happier life.
Here are seven ways to live happier with better short-term goals:
1. Use Short-Term Goals to Improve Your Quality of Life
Why do you have goals at all?
If you are like most people, you ultimately want to improve your quality of life. You hope that goals are the right tools for the job. This hope is justified – if you rely on short-term goals rather than long-term goals.
Have you ever achieved a long-term goal and thought, “Is that all I get? What now? Has my life changed?” This disenchantment is the result of a mental bias that psychologists call focalism. We focus so heavily on the long-term goals that we think we will be perfectly happy when we achieve them – but we won’t.
When we reach a long-term goal, all the other troubles in our lives remain. A promotion does little to solve our loneliness, and a new relationship is unable to fix our financial problems. These remaining problems reduce the happiness that we gain from the achievement and prevent the intended state of perfect bliss.
Unfortunately, focalism often leads us to sacrifice short-term pleasures. We accept bad days, months, and years to chase what we hope can bring perfect happiness, but it is a mirage. When the expected payoff fails to come about, we become depressed.
Short-term goals work better for our mental process. They help us to make the best of every day, and eventually, a long string of happy days will connect to a happy life.
2. Use Short-Term Goals to Define Better Long-Term Goals
Do you sometimes feel pressured by large long-term goals?
Fortunately, the right short-term goals help you set better, less intimidating long-term goals.
When you want to become a millionaire in the next five years, today has to be perfect. You would have to come up with a million-dollar idea, start a business, and become a great leader. If you are like most people, this pressure is more likely to lead to inaction than to great things – when the human mind is overwhelmed, it freezes.
To avoid a freeze, we have to set achievable goals. We can find achievable long-term goals by focusing on the short term first. Regarding money, this could mean setting the goal of being better off at the end of every month than at its beginning. We want to have paid off some debt and invested a little. This way, our financial security increases every month, which aids our quality of life – and that is the ultimate goal. Over time, these small steps will accumulate and significantly improve our quality of life.
Understanding our short-term possibilities helps us come up with better long-term solutions. Instead of making things difficult with a concrete financial life goal, we can say that we want to be comfortable. We want to be able to pay all our bills, buy a few nice things, and take a couple of vacations a year.
As studies have shown, making more money beyond comfortability fails to add to our quality of life. Alas, making this money requires so much effort, time, and sacrifice that we feel worse. The pressure of too large long-term goals often translates to a short-term loss of quality of life.
It is better to take many small steps than to hope for a giant leap and go nowhere.
3. Let Your Short Term Goals Be the Autopilot to Your Long-Term Goals
Sure, we would all like to be millionaires by age 50, but how does that translate to what we should do today?
If you have long-term goals, you probably know how difficult it can be to connect them to daily actions. Focusing too heavily on long-term goals can render our daily actions insignificant, leading to passivity and stagnation.
To avoid this problem, use short-term goals. When you want to be better off financially by the end of the month, saving $20 today is significant. So is controlling your expenses and paying your mortgage and your credit card.
The same principle applies to a happy relationship. Instead of saying that you want to have a happy family when you are old, short-term goals help you understand that you should bring your partner flowers today.
With the right short-term goals, you can almost forget about your long-term goals. You will automatically get there.
4. Let Your Short-Term Goals Guide You to Your Passion
Are you passionate about something?
If so, you most likely want to live this passion in some way. Short-term goals are a great way of connecting your life and your passions.
When we create long-term goals, we often focus on what we think we have to do. We doubt that we would be able to survive if we focused on what we like, which is why our fears and insecurities trick us into living lives devoid of passion.
Short-term goals help us do what we love on a daily basis. There is always a little time to fit in what you love. Without noticing, these many small steps eventually amount to a life full of passion.
5. Use Your Short-Term Goals to Free Yourself From Unrealistic Expectations
Short-term goals are often more realistic than long-term goals.
When you plan ahead for 30 or 50 years, you can hope for almost anything. However, when you plan for this day or the next week, you have to be realistic. This realism has significant advantages. It lends clarity to our needs and forces us to focus on what we can do rather than what we want to do.
Instead of hoping to become an astronaut someday, we have to understand which passion drew us to this goal and find a way to live this passion in the here and now. In this case, we might donate money, give talks to students, or start building rockets with our friends.
As we try more and more things, we accumulate skills and contacts that relate to our passions. More and more parts of our lives revolve around our passions, and we become happier. Of course, we are unlikely ever to become astronauts, but we will find a way to live the passion that makes us just as happy.
6. Use Short-Term Goals to Deal With the Chaos of Daily Life
Is your life sometimes chaotic and unpredictable?
Short-term goals help you to better deal with this unpredictability because they avoid the mistake of assuming that the next five or ten years will go exactly to plan.
When you think that what happens today is essential to your only dream in life, little distractions become huge disasters. When you focus on the short term, you might have to switch around a few things, but you avoid a crisis.
Short-term goals create happier, less stressful lives. They take the weight of big goals off your shoulders.
7. Beat Temporal Discounting With Short-Term Goals
Temporal discounting is a well-known psychological effect that destroys the effectiveness of long-term goals. Temporal discounting describes the human tendency to prefer smaller, immediate rewards to larger, distant rewards.
For example, when test subjects were asked whether they would like $400 now or $800 a year from now, most of them preferred the $400 now. Likely, most of these students want to be well-off in the future, but the distant goal leads to a bad decision.
Concrete, short-term rewards are more attractive to our minds than abstract long-term rewards. Our goal-setting has to reflect this bias and focus on creating constructive short-term goals instead of inefficient long-term goals.
The students could beat temporal discounting by saying that they want to make the best financial decisions in the here and now. With this strategy, better short-term goals would work better with their mental process.