When we want to inspire and motivate others, we often pitch the idea of ‘begin with the end in mind’ or to focus on what you want to achieve in the world. This sort of thinking can help boost motivation and can spark the fire of enthusiasm.
However, this laser focus on achieving our life-long goals can often distract from the importance of living in the moment and enjoying the short-term pleasures in life.
For decades, society has emphasised the importance of achieving things that can bring value to our lives. Therefore, enjoying short-term pleasures that could get in the way of us achieving these long-term goals are typically viewed unfavourably. For example, taking a week off work when you’re wanting a job promotion, or treating yourself to something nice when you’re saving up for a deposit. However, is being able to enjoy short-term pleasures really that bad?
The short answer is no, but let’s take a closer look at why.
What the research says
The researchers found that people who were able to relax and enjoy the small pleasures in life without constantly stressing about achieving their long-term goals reported significantly greater levels of life satisfaction and well-being.
These people also reported being happier in their lives and experiencing fewer physical symptoms associated with stress, anxiety, and depression. Although self-control (an important trait for achieving long-term goals) was positively linked to well-being, the effect of high Hedonic capacity was more significant.
The key takeaway? Even though long-term goals are important for goal setting and are positively associated with well-being, being able to enjoy the small pleasures in life are just as, if not more important.
Why are short-term goals important?
They keep you on track
Having long-term goals gives us something to work towards, but short-term goals are what helps you achieve them. By breaking these almost ‘unattainable’ life-long goals into smaller, more easily achievable chunks, any small progress we make creates motivation. Consequently, we’re more energised to keep pursuing our long-term goals. Having short-term goals will also help you quickly realise if you’re going off track.
They make you more productive
Short-term goals minimise the likelihood of procrastination - there’s no room to deviate from the task at hand if you focus on one thing at a time. Seeing the tangible differences your small efforts create will make reaching the end goal all the more exciting. Your behaviours will also have a greater sense of purpose and you’ll be less discouraged if you do end up slightly off track.
Developing the right mindset
If you struggle to take a step back and press pause on life, here are three tips to help you out:
1. Give yourself permission
It is important to trust yourself and treat yourself accordingly. One small pleasure doesn’t have to be the start of a chain reaction of veering off course. Therefore it is nothing to fear, hide from or ban. If you’ve worked hard enough to earn it, then give yourself permission to reward yourself.
2. Stop comparing yourself to others
In modern society, we’re constantly comparing ourselves to one another and viewing life as a competition. However, comparing your progress and accomplishments to other people can often leave you either lacking self-confidence in your ability, or stuck in a constant loop of trying to stay ahead.
These poor coping behaviours and doubts often lead to burnout and can make you feel demotivated about your life choices. Your progress and life is your own. Once you shift your attention away from others and onto yourself, you’ll be able to appreciate the little things in life a bit more and see your own achievements for what they are.
3. Slow Down
More and more people are reporting “time poverty” – too much to do and not enough time to do it. However, as Bill Watterson once said: “We're so busy watching out for what's just ahead of us that we don't take time to enjoy where we are”.
Stop saying “I’ll be happy when…” and start focusing on why you should be happy now. Take a step back and reflect on all the things you have achieved so far in life. If you’re too busy or too stressed, you’ll miss all the reasons why life is great now. So slow down and reflect. Ask yourself if you absolutely need to be doing everything that you’re doing, and whether you’re actually taking the time to enjoy life or just going through the motions.
It’s about achieving a balance
Although rationally we prefer our long-term goals, our bodies are wired to seek out instant gratification – a phenomenon called ‘Present Bias’. Our brain naturally produces and releases dopamine into our system - often referred to as the “happy hormone”.
When presented with the option of short-term rewards, the emotion-related part of the brain is activated. This part of our brain finds it difficult to determine the future consequences of the choices we make now as it wants that quick dopamine rush.
It’s okay to enjoy the small pleasures in life, but not when doing so will have a detrimental impact on your ability to achieve your long-term goals in life. At the end of the day, it’s about achieving a balance between your short-term and long-term goals.
Although long-term goals are an important part of life, we shouldn’t forget or diminish the benefits of taking a step back and enjoying the smaller pleasures in life on overall well-being.
However, like most things in life, it’s about achieving a balance between the two. Being too focused on long-term goals can result in stress and burnout, whilst being too focused on the here and now can impact our ability to achieve any long-term goals we have.
Ultimately, breaking it down into shorter-term goals and taking the time to take stock of where you are will make progress easier and help you feel better about your efforts. And perhaps more importantly, it will show you that you can treat yourself every now and then - you deserve it.