The Long Game

Too often in life, we do what’s easy now, whatever might give us satisfaction that very moment. And to an extent, there’s nothing wrong with that. Truly being and enjoying the moment is somewhat of a rare skill these days.

But there is a difference between being in the moment versus doing things now that will clearly have negative consequences in the future. There is a principle called “second- and third-order consequences.”

The idea is to every immediate consequence, there is a second and third order one. Strangely, oftentimes something that isn’t pleasant in the moment actually has a very positive second and third order consequence attached to it. And something that might be awesome right now, can have pretty detrimental consequences in the future.

Some examples.

You’re working on a business side project after work.

First order consequence: you don’t get to do anything fun with your friends.

Second order consequence: over time you’re building a new skill because of the effort invested.

Third order consequence: you start earning a really solid income from your side project.

On the opposite spectrum, you just bought a really nice sports car.

First order consequence: you feel good and get to show off a bit.

Second order consequence: your inflated car payments keep you from saving as much money as you’d like.

Third order consequence: you didn’t save as much as you needed to and now can’t retire until you’re pretty darn old.

In life, there will be many forks in the road where you’ll get to pick between short-term pleasures and long-term payoffs. You don’t always need to pick the long term path, but you should at least be aware of it. Because more often than not, playing the long game is a whole lot more fun, rewarding and profitable as life goes on.

By playing the long game, you give yourself the opportunity to benefit from compounding (here is my essay on compounding). It’s much easier to accomplish your goals and dreams by making incremental progress over time and then let that progress go to work for you. When playing the long game, you don’t need big wins. All you need are singles and doubles, which you then let compound over time.

So the next time you have a decision to make, question the short-term temptation and try to think about possible second- and third-order consequences.

What’s your long game?