The most successful people in any society are those who take the longest time period into consideration when making their day-to-day decisions. This insight comes from the pioneering work on upward financial mobility in America conducted by Dr. Edward Banfield of Harvard University in the late 1950's and early 1960's. After studying many of the factors that were thought to contribute to individual financial success over the course of a person's lifetime, he concluded that there was one primary factor that took precedence over all the others. He called it “time perspective.”
What Banfield found was that the higher a person rises in any society, the longer the time perspective or time horizon of that person. People at the highest social and economic levels make decisions and sacrifices that may not pay off for many years, sometimes not even in their own lifetimes. They “plant trees under which they will never sit.”
An obvious example of someone with a long time perspective is the man or women who spends ten or twelve years studying and interning to become a doctor. This person takes extraordinarily long time to lay down the foundation for a lifetime career. And partially because we know how long it takes to become a doctor, we hold doctors in the highest esteem of any professional group. We appreciate and admire the sacrifices that they have made in order to be able to practice a profession that is so important to so many of us. We recognize their long time perspectives.
Long Time Perspectives
People with long term perspectives are willing to pay the price of success for a long, long time before they achieve it. They think about the consequences of their choices and decisions in terms of what they might mean in five, ten, fifteen, and even twenty years from now.
Short Time Perspectives
People at the lowest levels of society have the shortest time perspectives. They focus primarily on immediate gratification and often engage in behaviors that are virtually guaranteed to lead to negative consequences in the long term. At the very bottom of the social ladder, you find hopeless alcoholics and drug addicts. These people think in terms of the next drink or the next fix. Their time perspective is often less than one hour.
Delayed Gratification is the Key to Financial Success
Your ability to practice self-mastery, self-control, and self-denial, to sacrifice in the short term so you can enjoy greater rewards in the long term, is the starting point of developing a long time perspective. This attitude is essential to financial achievement of any kind.