Time eliminates the role luck plays in your life. If you play the long game, you’re pretty much guaranteed to be somewhat successful at something. It’s the cheat code to living a life most people won’t live.
See, most people are caught in a never ending trap of instant gratification and short-term thinking. They’ll pretty much run in place until they die.But you? You can play the long game and achieve whatever you want, become whoever you want, and do whatever you want.
It just takes time, effort, and patience, the three most unsexy yet extremely valuable commodities you have available to you. Here’s how to play the long game.
I got into self-improvement and writing around the age of 25. I’d dropped out of school and was working at a low paying job. I was optimistic about the future, but compared to my peers, I felt behind. Most of my friends had graduated college. They were making decent money, especially for being single. They went out on weekends and had fun with their friends.
Me? I was making $10/hr. Since I found myself in a position where the traditional route wasn’t going to work, I tried to figure out how to make a living online. This meant that I spent most of the spare time I had working on my craft or learning. For years, that’s all I did — work, write, learn, repeat. I didn’t go out much on the weekends, even though I wanted to.
I did feel like I was missing out on the typical young adult experience, but I knew things would turn around in time. Fast forward six years, and I accomplished pretty much all of my major goals. And many of my friends are still at those same jobs, except they feel a lot more stale than they did when they first left college. That’s how the long game works. Don’t worry about your position compared to others or what you’re missing out on. Focus on running your race.
If you want to get good at the long game, you have to make friends with repetition. If you can’t get your reps in, you’ll never be successful at anything. People constantly ask me how I got good at writing. I wrote my ass off for years without quitting. Three books, hundreds of blog posts, probably a million words or more.
But what do I constantly see when I observe new writers? Complaints. I swear most aspiring writers do more complaining and contemplating than actually doing the work. And I’m not trying to look down on them or be mean. I get it. Practice can be frustrating. When you’re not good, you can tell you’re not good. But that’s okay.
It’s okay to suck.
If you want to win the long game, you have to go through a period where you suck at whatever it is you’re trying to accomplish. Even though you know you can’t, you try to play this game in your head where you get good at something without first being royally bad at it. Won’t happen. What’s the magic recipe for bringing yourself to do the work? There isn’t one. But I can tell you the next best thing.
Here’s as close as I can get to a bullet-proof method for sustained productivity that helps you achieve your long-term goals. First, you have to find something engaging and compelling that pulls you toward it. Usually, things you have an aptitude for will pull you.
Talent matters. I took to writing quickly. Even though I wasn’t good at it right away, I had an intuitive sense for how to put an article together from the jump. Most successful writers I know started this way, too. God, the universe, whoever, gave you some gifts and didn’t give you others. Don’t cry about the ones you don’t have, enhance the ones you do (this guide right here can help you out).
After you figure out what might be a good fit, create a routine or ritual around doing it. Spend [x] amount of time working on [y] — [x] being the minimum amount of time you know you’ll follow through with and [y] being a piece of the puzzle that’s easy enough to get do. I started by spending an hour or so a day working on blog posts alone. I did that for almost two years before I even thought about expanding to a writing business. With that foundation underneath me, turning it into a profession was a lot easier.
There are so many little things that try to trip you up when you’re trying to play the long game. That’s why it’s so hard. You have your short-term emotions. You want to avoid negative psychological feelings in the present moment like rejection, embarrassment, mental strain, the tedium and boredom of doing mundane tasks to help you do the things you really want to do.
Everyone around you wants to play the short game and drag you into it. “Ah, just come out for a drink buddy what’s the big deal?” If you start to develop a high level of focus on a big long-term goal or just transforming your life in general, people will start to question why you’re working so hard. Funny how no one ever questions you when you’re engaged in bad habits or maintaining the status quo.
Pretty much everything in society is geared toward the short-term instead of the long-term. Don’t save your money, buy these clothes. Don’t focus on your craft, waste time on Twitter. Eat the cheeseburger now, don’t worry about heart disease decades from now.
The solution? You have to find a way to build a fortress for your mind in the present moment and think about your future self as much as possible to keep you motivated. I read a ton, watched videos, listened to audio, whatever. I’d repeat and drill these concepts in my mind over and over again. To stay focused, I brainwashed myself and kept strict boundaries about who or what I allowed into my life.
But I didn’t have to do this forever. Just long enough to help me achieve some of my long-term goals and buy a bit of freedom. See, I made this trade up front knowing it would be worth it in the future. What trade? The five year trade.
If you follow the five year rule, you dramatically increase your odds of making a major shift in your life, getting your business or project off the ground, or achieving any other long-term goal. I still remember the first time I watched a video by Jim Rohn and the question he asked always stuck with me:
Five years from now you will arrive, but the question is, where?
I must have watched that video several dozen times. It was my time horizon. I set my target — become a full-time writer — and aimed at it. I didn’t know how I was going to do it, but I knew that I would do it. And, I did it. Pretty much on the nose time-wise.
If you want a definitive timeline, give yourself five years. If you don’t have a dramatically different life, you did something wrong. It seems like a long timeframe, but compared to a lifetime, it’s not.
What are the things you secretly dream about? I bet you can reach those goals in five years. What does a radically transformed version of yourself look like? You can become that person in five years. Revert to the present moment and continue your daily self-improvement practice. Then do it again, and again, and again. You’ll win.
Want to know the best part about playing the long game? The longer you play, the easier it is to keep winning.
Once you have some money, you can make a lot of money.
Once you have a foundation for your project or business, you can dramatically increase your reach. If you’ve spent five years working on crossing a major milestone in your life, you can tackle new ones much more easily because you know you’ve done it before.
Once you experience just how much compounding can have a positive effect in your life, you’ll become addicted to it. You’ll keep winning for the sake of winning because winning is fun. Your life will be at a level you used to dream about and you’ll get used to it. So, you’ll just do it all over again. Not because you need to, but because why the hell not?
Play the long game.