We are wired to crave instant gratification. Our brain releases dopamine, a so-called pleasure hormone, that “tells” us to prioritize short-term needs to satiate our desires of satisfaction. It’s an inherent habit that we can never run away from completely — and we shouldn’t. It’s okay to want short-term rewards, but not to the point that it is detrimental to your long terms goals in life. That’s because it pays to wait until the fruits of our labor materialize. In fact, delayed gratification is oftentimes more rewarding and more sustainable. That said, it’s crucial that we balance long-term goals (delayed gratification) with short-term rewards (instant gratification).

The Benefits of Thinking Long Term

Setting long-term goals gives us something to strive for in the course of our lifetime. These goals help shape our lives and give us the direction we need to stay motivated. Working for those long-term goals means accepting delayed gratification. Unlike instant gratification, which is instinctual, delayed gratification is a discipline that needs to be learned, and it’s something lots of successful people have developed. Unlike short-term rewards, the chances of disappointment are much higher, which is why many people don’t set long-term goals. Those who do, though, are more likely to be patient, prudent, and tolerant — three personality traits that can help us succeed in all areas of life.

Why Short-Term Rewards Matters Too

To be fair, our compulsion for instant gratification isn’t all bad. Yes, craving instant pleasure is often equated to a lack of self-control, but progressive education author and lecturer Alfie Kohn argue that this same “deficiency” can actually serve as the basis for vital personality traits like spontaneity, creativity, flexibility, and openness to experience.

Instant gratification also keeps us engaged, and more willing to work for life’s bigger pleasures — especially if we know the feeling of being completely satisfied or elated. Just as important, getting pleasure in the moment means we are proactively feeding our mental, emotional, and spiritual reserves in preparation for all the hard work of achieving our long-term goals.

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How to Balance Long-Term Goals with Short-Term Rewards?

The best (and most sensible) strategy is to break long-term goals into workable short-term ones. In this way, we make things easier to achieve, and set ourselves up for “small victories” that can lead to progress. This progress, in turn, can motivate and energize us to go after other short-term goals we’ve set. This can be applied towards any kind of goal you have: be it personal, financial, career, or retirement goals. Here we will consider how to balance long-term goals and short-term rewards in your finance and career goals.

Finance is often the area where we can lean more to short term rewards, rather than considering the bigger picture. Many people don’t have enough savings either for emergency funds or retirement goals. The best way we can reverse this is to create a savings account that locks our funds for a certain period of time. Case in point: a Certificate of Deposit (CD) is a high interest savings account that allows our savings to mature for a fixed amount of time. We can further increase the chances of profit through spreading our money across a CD ladder with different maturity dates. As the dates are different we can even split our savings into long-term and short-term rewards. By creating a savings account we can’t access without a penalty, this also gives us a set budget for short-term rewards, reducing the chance of overspending.

We can also apply this in our careers or at work. If we’re aiming to finish a project within a certain period of time, we can plan our tasks accordingly by mindfully mapping them out daily. In this way, we can go about finishing smaller, more manageable tasks spread out over a certain time period. In-between, we can take a break and reward ourselves with a well-deserved respite, a refreshing drink, or a delectable treat. While it takes a bit of work, meticulously planning out the steps you need to take in order to hit your long-term goals helps you keep going even when you’re exhausted or unmotivated.

There is nothing wrong with short-term rewards, and they no doubt make life more exciting and enjoyable. But losing sight of the long-term goals could cause a lot of avoidable issues later on which will lead to you not being able to enjoy or not being able to afford your short-term rewards.

This was a guest blog. Please review our guest blog disclaimer.

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About the Author: Erica Stanford

Erica Stanford is a tech writer who sees disruptive technologies as stepping stones towards the next phase in the evolution of humanity. As an aspiring data scientist, she believes that this evolution will be powered by raw data and the algorithms designed to decipher what the numbers are trying to tell us. With big data getting bigger with every minute, she also sees countless opportunities for leveraging disruptive technologies towards catalyzing this evolution. When Erica's not learning the finer points of writing and reading code, she likes to spend her time tending to her backyard herb garden.

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