Isn’t it amazing how our thoughts work? I’m sitting here, typing this article, and it’s October 7, 2009. There’s a part of my brain that is occupied with next word I’m going to type. There’s another part that’s focusing on an appointment that I have tomorrow – and yet another part that’s thinking about next year’s summer vacation. Even if I tried, it would be impossible to control just how far out into the future my thoughts are capable of exploring. I can, in a split second, imagine tomorrow’s breakfast, or, just as easily, the birth of my first great-grandchild, decades from now. My brain has absolutely no trouble imagining or picturing either event, with the exact same clarity.
However, even though I can see both events – the breakfast and the birth of the grand-child – the thoughts about the breakfast are much more linear in nature. In other words, while I can picture both events in my mind, the paths to each event are imagined in very different ways.
For instance, I know that I will be at home tomorrow and that my breakfast choices will be limited to the foods that are already in my house. I’m not really a big fan of cooking, so I’ll probably skip the eggs or the oatmeal. I am, however, on a bit of a health kick this month, so I will not be having pop-tarts or doughnuts. Let’s see. That leaves a nice juicy apple and a handful of almonds. Yes, that’s what I’ll have for breakfast tomorrow.
Did you see how that works? Very quickly, I was able to narrow down my choices and make a decision about tomorrow’s breakfast. For all intents and purposes, the decision about tomorrow’s breakfast has been made. Freed from making that decision, my brain is now free to think about other things.
Let’s consider the birth of my great-grandchild. Instead of the simple. linear approach that my brain took to figure out tomorrow’s breakfast, it’s now considering a nearly infinite number of scenarios that might lead to me actually holding a newborn great-grandchild at some point in the distant future.
My goal, honestly, is to free my brain up so that it can spend as much time as possible thinking about and planning for the future. Before it can do that, however, I have to be sure that I’ve taken care certain short-term goals – like preparing breakfast – so that I can then begin to think about long-term dreams – like seeing that great-grandchild.
There are certain times when it is important to focus on short-term, linear goals. Extremely important. I would never have gotten out of debt if I had spent my time reading books about investing or dreaming up scenarios for how to purchase a newer car. My thoughts would have been all over the place. I would never have settled on a specific plan. I would still be exactly where I was five years ago. Broke.
Compare that laser-like focus with where I am today. Debt free with an established emergency fund, I am able to consider a whole world of opportunities. The difference between where I am, mentally and emotionally, and where I was five years ago – it’s like night and day.
For a short period of time, I had to stop all of the mental-chatter and focus, focus, focus. Taking the time to get out of debt was the smartest thing I have ever done for myself. Taking the time to build an emergency fund was the second smartest thing. I spent two years on those goals and now, I am in a very good position to think about – and dream about- the rest of my life. Now, my thoughts are free to wander down a thousand different paths and my plans can be bigger than ever!
I would love to hear from you, my awesome readers. Where are you right now? Are you focused, like a laser, on the short-term? Or, are you moving into a place where you are ready to think long-term? Have you managed to do both? Comments are more than welcome.