When short-term rewards can’t prevent you from reaching a long-term goal


Popular belief says “You need to sacrifice short-term rewards to reach your long-term goals”. Evidence-based researches prove otherwise.

Achievements stir up reactions like amazement; “I don’t know how he/she did it but wow!” Another is defeatism; “I’d never be able to do that”. Defeatism rests in part on the fact that Humans are bad at accurately estimating the amount of efforts necessary to complete a certain task when they have no prior (comparable) experience or knowledge in a given field. How many hours of training would you need for being able to complete one Ironman race if you never ran a mile? What if you wanted to run 50 Ironman in a row, like James Lawrence successfully did in 2015? [1] “I don’t know but… I’d never be able to do that.”

In itself, completing an Ironman (or reaching another goal) isn’t an impossible. The required investment (in time, efforts and money) might make it appears as such, though

The interesting part is that you have your own long term goals. These “One day, I want to ______”.

Finding the path that will take you from “I want to achieve this” to “I did it” is the tricky part. (Nowadays, Google lets you find a “yellow brick road to follow” for almost anything.) One notch above, though, is the crunchy part. “How am I gonna stick to my goal?” That’s where most long-term goals get crushed. Because of fading self-motivation and focus.

In 2004, scientists have shown that short-term rewards and long-term goals (e.g. delayed rewards) are controlled by different parts of the brain. [2] What makes someone choose which reward she’ll pick? How long she expects to wait for a reward to be delivered. Longer the delay, slimmer the chances she perseveres towards a long-term goal (making 20M$ in sales per year), but goes for short-term one instead (like making a quick buck).

This research somehow reinforced the popular belief that achieving a goal is a mind battle. “You need to sacrifice short-term rewards to achieve long-term goals”.

However, a study published this past February proves otherwise. Sacrificing one type of rewards over the other isn’t the best solution. Combining them actually is. [3] Meaning, having short-term rewards mixed in the pursuit of a long-term goal increases someone’s persistence towards the latter. For instance, making small but regular and increasing-in-value sales.

The impact of a “rewards mix”? You get more work done and gain more financial growth than if you’ve had sacrificed the short-term rewards. All that while still getting closer to your long-term goal.

In reaching a (long-term) goal then, the dilemma isn’t in choosing what reward you should sacrifice. It’s in defining what stages of a project would provide enough progress that once reached, you should be rewarded for it. Therefore, creating a context where sticking to your long term goal becomes easier. As you’d find self-motivation through experiencing the benefits (short-term rewards) of keeping on focusing on the long-term. Both, short-term and long-term pursuits, feeding one another.

As science and real-life cases teach us, going against our Nature isn’t the best strategy. Either to succeed in business, getting more fit or else. On the other hand, adapting the way we doing things to who we are increases the chances of reaching any goal. So succeeding might still involve sweating the small things, not necessarily sacrificing the little pleasures.

QUESTION AUX LECTEURS:                Of the long-term goals you have these days, which one do you feel is the 1st you’d like to reframe in a “short-term-long-term-rewards mix”?

Signature PF