Playing the Long Game

Written by Ashley

Every single day, we all make decisions in our personal and professional life that have major consequences for our future personal and professional well-being. We often make decisions that are obviously bad for us in the long term. Choices that we know will lead us away from our own well-being.


One reason is that human beings tend to prefer the “short game” over the “long game.”

I believe that most human beings play the short game most of the time. If you’re mostly playing the “short game,” then you are setting yourself up for failure.

If you play the long game most of the time, you are setting yourself up for massive success. Every time you choose to delay some gratification and look towards the accumulated consequences of your decisions, the power of compound interest kicks in. And compound interest is one of the most powerful forces in the world.

So what’s the “short game” and what’s the “long game?”

Glad you asked!

Here are some examples of playing the short game:

  • Taking the escalator or elevator when you could take the stairs
  • Driving 4 blocks to the store when you could walk instead
  • Paying with credit instead of cash
  • Putting off your workout until the evening instead of knocking it out before your day starts. Yeah, I’m sure you’ll go to the gym at 6:00 on Friday night when your co-workers invite you to happy hour.
  • Failing to constantly improve at your job because you’re doing fine and everything seems good right now
  • Watching YouTube cat videos when you could be watching Kahn Academy videos
  • Not flossing your teeth
  • Cheating when you know you won’t get caught

Here are some examples of playing the long game:

  • Saving at least some percentage of the money you earn, regularly
  • Paying cash when you can instead of using credit
  • Developing a regular exercise routine
  • Meditating regularly
  • Learning about healthy eating habits, keeping up with the latest nutrition science, and then actually eating healthy on a regular basis
  • Investing in your personal relationships so you have solid relationships

None of the above is earth-shattering. Almost everyone knows you need to save more than you spend, pay cash instead of credit if you can, and regularly exercise. Almost everyone knows intuitively that playing the long game is a better strategy than playing the short game, most of the time.

So why don’t more people play the long game more often?

Because the long game usually isn’t exciting. You don’t see immediate tangible, rewards. You have to delay gratification, think about the future, have a solid plan, and have the discipline to execute that plan.

The short game is the little red devil on your shoulder. The short game is exciting (let’s go get drunk at the bar instead of exercising! Let’s surf Facebook for an hour instead of reading a good book!).

The short game, by definition, involves putting something easy or novel or fun or exciting ahead of something that’s hard, challenging, boring, takes discipline, and won’t give you immediate results.

The long game can be dull. Most people don’t play the long game all that often. The short game can be mesmerizing. Most people play the short game most of the time.

Look, it’s perfectly okay to play the short game from time to time. You can’t always play the long game. No one can. And you’ve got to have some fun now.

But the trick is to be deliberate about your choices. Pick the things that are most important to you and play the long game for what matters most to you.

For me, my family, my physical and mental health, my mediation practice, constant reading and learning, and my ability to add a net positive contribution to society as a whole are super important. So even though I don’t always play the long game in these areas, I play the long game most of the time, or at least as much as I can.

So this week, please consider asking yourself these two questions:

  1. What’s most important to you?
  2. Are you playing the long or short game in the areas that are most important to you?

I hope you find these questions as interesting as I did. And here’s to playing the long game together!

Trying to play the long game,


P.S. I got the idea of the “short game” versus the “long game” from Shane Parrash at the Farnham Street blog. If you enjoy learning new things, and in particular learning how to improve your thinking, Farnham Street is a great blog. Check it out!




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