People drastically overestimate what they can accomplish on a short time horizon. They also equally underestimate what they can accomplish on a long time horizon.
Time is either a big motherfucker, or your best friend, depending on your situation. Trying to accomplish that work deadline that someone else dropped on your lap? Pain my friend. Stress and pain, and maybe not even entirely your fault. But still our responsibility, even if we can’t really accomplish it on the timeline we are given. Trying to lose 15 pounds for the trip to Cancun? Three weeks out isn’t when you should be worrying about that, more like 3 months out.
See, the short term is easy to wrap our minds around. They don’t call it a get rich slow scheme. When we want something, we want it now Godammit! And without really having to work long at it. Some of my best friends have admitted they stopped practicing something new and simply gave up because they weren’t good at it right away. Kids are often like that too. They lack Grit. Most people lack a certain amount of grit. And it is so easy to compare ourselves to other people. To justify our lack of good eating habits because everyone else is eating like shit too.
When we do have that deadline or New Year’s Resolution or are on that new health kick, we go at it 100%…for about two weeks, then we fall back into our old habits.
On the other hand, if you develop processes, and put them in place, and are consistent, you can get over the hump and ultimately create lifelong changes.
That is where people underestimate the small incremental changes and what that may mean over the long term. On a long enough timeline, and with enough gumption, dedication, and processes, I could speak a dozen languages, have 7% body fat, be able to be a maestro on the piano, and write half a dozen books. And juggle.
A process is a sequence of interdependent and linked procedures which lead to a particular result. The process itself is half the fun. It is really cool to progress from total ignorant newbie, to kind of being competent, to being very competent, to being the master (if we ever get there). And what I have found is that once you start to become competent, it becomes a habit, which eventually is simply part of your life and who you are. Here are a few examples, and my experiences:
- Goal: you want to lose 30 pounds. Process: start eating paleo, stop eating refined flour, stop buying processed shit and get used to eating well. Repeat. [We changed the way we eat. I’d say we’re 80/20. We don’t buy bread, we eat a lot of meat and veggies, a few nuts. Our health is solid, maybe we aren’t at our goal bodyfat, but we’re trying and are within a few pounds of swimsuit shape most of the year, and are still figuring out dialing in the diet after 40, which is better than most of the fatties out there in my peer group.]
- Goal: you want to get strong too. Process: read Starting Strength. Find a gym with barbells. Win. Repeat. [I went from 135 pound Ironman triathlete to a 165 pound strength athlete with some beef. If you’ve ever made that transition, that skinny and weak guy inside feels like he is wearing a muscle suit, it is surreal.]
- Goal: you want to do an Ironman triathlon. Process: read Going Long (my most highly recommended book for those looking to be not just finishing, but competitive at the Ironman distance). And while you’re reading, you are biking as much as you can, and learning to swim properly (Total Immersion, which is how I learned, as did Tim Ferriss). Repeat. [I went from smoker, sedentary lifestyle, skinny fat, to a Hawaii world championship age-group qualifier in roughly 2.5 years by doing small incremental steps consistently over that timeframe.]
- Goal: you want to write a book. Process: have something to write about that is new or interesting or entertaining. Read a lot. Start writing. You will be crappy. Keep reading. Keep writing. Now go back to what you wrote. It will be crappy and confusing, so start editing and refining. Repeat. Eventually it won’t be as crappy and confusing, maybe it even makes sense. [This is exactly my process. Just setting up a process to find a quiet place to write and doing it every day is the secret to any writer. It took me 18 months I think, with maybe 6 months of real work to publish my book. I also write a lot for work, sometimes reports, sometimes grant applications that bring in a lot of money. A good grant application is a lot the same – it takes a lot of effort and time to refine that chunk of coal into a diamond. ]
- Goal: you want to play the guitar. Process: get a guitar, a cheap one is fine. Buy a tuner, a pick, and an intro to guitar book and a chord book. Practice. You will suck. Your fingers will hurt. Practice more. When you suck a little less, then take lessons. Practice more, play songs you like. Repeat. [When I was in my early 20’s, I wanted to learn guitar. I purchased one more fitting for a piece of firewood than to make music, but it started the ball. Learned to play along to my songs, along with a handful of chords. Took lessons, learned a little music theory, started writing and recording my own songs. Played a song I wrote for my wife (that she had never heard) in front of 30 family and friends at our wedding rehearsal dinner, brought the house down. Teaching our kids now.]
- And so on. Money (the process of saving, investing, and compounding and letting your money grow for you over the long term is a key one). Language. Gardening. Home Brewing.
Besides grit, having patience, being willing to make small sacrifices, doing those small things over and over and over again (develop processes for consistency), and being humble are the other keys from getting over the short term stopping point. These few things will help to keep the processes you are just starting to learn in place, and making those into lifestyle changes. You have to be willing to let the ego be quiet when you don’t see immediate results. To be OK with doing what you know will one day yield what you want, but knowing it won’t be tomorrow. That delayed gratification, like when you save an extra 5% a year for your future-self’s rich future at the expense of today-you’s new impulse purchase. That waking up 30 minutes early so you can read, or practice, or write. You are creating a process that yields success. And you understand that 1 year, 3, years, 10 years from now, all those individual small daily steps that looked like nothing, have added up to something huge. Remember that quote in Groundhog Day where Phil says maybe God isn’t omnipotent; maybe he has just been around so long, he knows everything? That’s you. Maybe despite your lack of athleticism, you’ve simply been showing up at the BJJ gym so long, you are now a black belt. Maybe you simply have planted a few bulbs a year but now have a huge garden.
So dream big my friends. I can’t guarantee fame and success, I can guarantee a more interesting, healthier, and generally better version of yourself if you make small changes on a long timeline through improved life processes. Start the journey today. Or if you aren’t quite there yet, start pondering that journey and set yourself up for success as we roll into a new year. Give it more than the 5 minute lip service a NY Resolution is, and really figure out the steps. Write it down. Find a community and have accountability. Keep a journal. Small incremental changes, not crazy changes which don’t last. But those small changes can make dreams come true if you do it long enough. Dream big and play the long game.