Short-term vs. Long-term Game — What To Go For?

Winning a basketball match against the best player in the world is short-term. Being the best player is more of a long-term status.

Robbing customers of every and the last penny is a short game. Giving them discounts and loyalty programs is a long-lasting one.

Emptying a beer stein is short-term. Growing a beer belly is the underlying long game…

The examples are endless. However, we need more explanation.

What is a short-term game?

The archetype player: Homer Simpson

homer simpson scoring a basket with a donut
Illustrated by the author with help of

Short term game is happening right in front of you. It is the next moment, the same night, tomorrow, or the same week. It could be even a month or year.

It’s the next donut you decide to take. It’s a fun night at the bar. It’s the moment you say YOLO (if you ever even do) and engage in the thing you regret or physically suffer for doing the day after.

Short-term thinking is characterized by your limited overall awareness. To be specific, your focus is on the game (object) solely and completely for a short amount of time. Remember our friend Homer, it’s what he does…

Short-term games are finite games. Meaning, they have an endpoint.

Any sports match is a fine example of a short-term game. It lasts around a couple of hours, you are in it to win it, and you are aware only of the things relevant to the game.

Here are the characteristics of a game Homer plays:

short term game characteristics
Illustrated by the author with help of

What is a long-term game?

The archetype player: Elon Musk

elon musk looking at all of his inventions
Illustrated by the author with help of

Long term game is a game you play on a long run, daaah.

It’s a compass or a strategy for short-term action taking rather than a game with a defined set of rules.

It takes months, years, millennia for the results of the long-term game to unfold if they ever do.

Long-lasting games usually have less competition or none at all. These are self-orchestrated games mostly fueled by value systems, not end results. Elon Musk loves these games.

In long games, results are not an end goal, but rather an ongoing feedback mechanism on how well the game is played at given moments.

Long-term games can be infinite. The results are harder to measure, but the impact is obvious. They lack rules but cherish guides and principles.

Upholding the moral high ground is an example of a long-term game. It is a lifelong pursuit, there are no defined end results, and it serves as a life compass. The results are feedback mechanisms and not certificates of any sort. The results are integrity, social respect, meaningful relationships, etc.

Here, characteristics of the game Elon engages in:

characteristics of long term thinking
Illustrated by the author with help of

Short Term Game vs. Long Term Game

The epic battle between a fictional carton character vs inartificially intelligent almost-fictional character.

The games are best compared if we put their characteristics against one another.

Let’s see how they match up.

Instant Gratification vs Delayed Gratification

monkey brain vs monk: instant gratification vs. delayed gratification
Illustrated by the author with help of

Desires. These are at the center of instant gratification.

There is a part of your brain that meditation experts and some youtube folks call monkey brain. I absolutely love this term.

The monkey brain has desires only. The monkey brain is usually not thinking, it's craving. Therefore, short-term thinking, most of the time doesn’t even involve thinking.

When it does, however, the results are expected ASAP.

On the other side, delayed gratification is the ability to postpone your monkey cravings for later results. It’s the monk within us.

At the center of delayed gratification is resistance to temptation. The only way monkeys can be stopped from taking full control is to have long-term rewards or values.

This explains why children are usually not able to stop themselves from eating ice cream all the time without our governance.

Finite game vs Infinite game

Finite games are played to win. Short-term games are finite games more often than not.

For a better understanding of short-term everyday games we play, we’ll reference game theory. The game theory explains that finite games are played to finish, need rules (if they are conventional games), recognize boundaries, and usually need an audience.

Presidential elections, football, basketball, Supermario, Grand Theft Auto, parliamentary debate, idiotic masculinity contests. All finite games.

Ok, maybe machismo clashes are exceptions. They lack rules, and hopefully, they have no audience.

Oppositely, infinite games are played to keep on playing. Long-term games are known to be infinite.

These “never-ending” games switch players, have fluid or no rules, and obviously, there is no end. The examples?

Geopolitics, sports franchise legacy, Tetris, The Sims, Minecraft, integrity. When I think about it, macho contests can also go on forever…

Zero-sum game vs. Positive-sum game

zero-sum contest vs. positive-sum cooperation
Illustrated by the author with help of

By now you probably heard some random millennials mentioning these.

Zero-sum games represent a situation where the result is the win at the expense of the other side losing. Meaning, there are two sides. One is going to lose, the other is winning.

If the gains of side are added up mathematically, and losses subtracted, they will sum to zero, hence zero-sum games.

If you play zero-sum games, you will lose, you will win, and you’ll repeat it. The problem is your mind will consider it normal modus operandi to win at the cost of others. The competition is great, but should there be any when there is really no need for it?

Positive-sum games are the more sustainable option.

Situations in which the total of gains and losses is greater than zero are positive-sum games. Meaning, there are two sides, again. Both could be winning, both could be losing this time.

If two friends decide they want to run a business, it’s a positive-sum game. Both of them could end up wealthy. They could also fail and engage in a finite ultimate fistfight to decide who’s to blame. 😂

However, by engaging in positive-sum games, you are giving back to the world and yourself at the expense of no one. Sounds like a fine path to take.

Most people vs. Inspiring leaders

Most people engage in short-term games, you and I do as well most likely.

We mindlessly or pleasurably fall into it and stay in the loop. Which is fine, honestly. There is nothing wrong with playing basketball here and there, but should we perhaps stop playing social contests or gambling?

We don’t have to be Elon Musks of the world, nor will we ever be. If an up-and-comer teenage genius is reading this, don’t let me discourage you. Remember me when you get to the top, it’s a positive-sum game. 🤑

However, we should first bring our awareness to the games we’re playing daily. Seeing which ones we engage in could spark small incremental changes. Changes that will inspire us to play more in the long run. Longevity, friendships, integrity, business, innovations, writing to influence… All meaningful and worthy causes.

Inspiring leaders play for the long run. They inspire us as individuals, regardless of their field of interest. Those playing short games unfortunately go as far as having your email in their subscription box. Two months later you opt-out.

Go for the long-term games, go for the win-win. Someone might look up to you one day.

If you want to know more about the game theory or related concepts, let me suggest:



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