- January 19, 2021
Let’s start with a quote:
Three men were laying brick. The first was asked: “What are you doing?” He answered: “Laying some brick.” The second man was asked: “What are you working for?” He answered: “Five dollars a day.” The third man was asked: “What are you doing?” He answered: “I am helping to build a great cathedral.” Which man are you?” Charles Schwab
Achieving long-term goals happens when you zoom out and take a look at the long-term implications of your actions. This is hard to do. You can’t see the end of the journey when you’re at the beginning. And it’s hard to have faith that the actions you do in the short-term are going to pay off in the long-term, but that’s the game.
Naval Ravikant put it well when he said that “self-help can be summed up in two words, delayed gratification.”
He’s right. Think of how many articles you’ve read from me or from other people that talk about self-improvement. We’re all coming at different angles to reach the same conclusion. The repetition is necessary because it can help give you the motivation to lay each brick.
Let’s take a look at an angle that might help you win.
Step 1: Win the day
I’ve been working on my writing career and business for nearly six years now. In that time span, I’ve had hundreds of days where I wasn’t productive at all and fell below my potential. I’ve lost entire weeks, multiple times, due to a number of different reasons like personal issues, health issues, and just the general frustration that comes with trying to achieve a long-term dream.
Yet, I’m here. I’ve managed to stay consistent enough and create enough momentum to never quit altogether. My secret? I’ve cultivated this ability to just wipe the slate clean when I wake up each day. And my primary goal is to win the day. Win the day enough times and you build that subconscious level of discipline you need to stay the course.
There are a number of different tiny little tasks I’ve had to do over the years, but I built the foundation of it all by writing pretty much every day. That keystone habit spills into other useful habits that benefit my business and my life. Then, if I’m able to cross off a list of tasks I planned to do for the day, I really feel like I’ve won.
For you, winning the day can mean you spend ‘x’ amount of time working on that project, or you make it to the gym, or you’re on point at your job. But the ability to stay present enough to have a solid day under your belt provides the foundation for the future.Win the day enough times and you build that subconscious level of discipline you need to stay the course. Click To Tweet
Step 2: Create a streak
I look at building momentum in your life and your career a lot like investing in the stock market. If you do it right, you’re going to have some lapses, but you’ll have good ‘returns’ overall if you have enough bull runs — consecutive days, weeks, and even months where you’re really really on.
In the past five years or so, I’ve had several of those streaks. When I first got started writing I was hooked and went on a tear for a solid year. Later, I had projects that kept me focused, like writing and publishing my books. When I was making enough money to be ready to quit my job, I went into overdrive. Now? It’s interesting, I’m not always as hungry for success as I used to be. I ebb and flow. But, my ‘returns’ are so high now that I can afford to do that.
How do you create streaks in your life? First, you stack consecutive days. There is no magic pill to being able to do this, but some of the self-help cliches do ring true and can help:
- Time block – Do the same thing, at the same place, for the same amount of time
- Focus on the keystone – Don’t try to overhaul your entire life at once. It won’t work. Pick one area first, e.g, write for 30 minutes a day
- Give the feedback loops time to build – You’ll get positive emotions and brain chemicals from that feeling of a job well done. Do this enough times until you create a virtuous upward cycle.
- Use cues and triggers – I’ve used strategies like marking an ‘x’ on a calendar to create a visual streak of positive activity. I’ve done things like putting my phone in another room so I have to get up and turn it off, which helped me wake up at 5 a.m. to write before my job.
- Think – My obsession with the future helped the most. I’d always extrapolate what doing the work today would look like down the road.
Step 3: Build pillars
Once you build one solid foundational area of your life, it’s easier to build others.
Here’s a list of habits I do routinely:
- Track calories on my fitness pal
- Waking up at 5 a.m.
- Tracking finances
- Shoot videos and record podcasts
I started picking up additional habits to facilitate the type of life I wanted to have. Meditation helped clear my mind. A clear mind helped me write better. Before I had a 9-5 type of job and a family, I wrote in the afternoons. But once my situation changed, I used waking up early to give me time to focus on my writing. Journaling helped me come up with good ideas for my business and my writing career.
I noticed that overall my health was affecting areas of my life I cared about — my business, personal relationships, and peace of mind. I realized that without health and longevity, being ‘successful’ was pointless. This lead to adopting the habits of lifting, yoga, calorie tracking, and fasting.
Now that my writing is established, I’ve focused on other creative avenues like YouTube and podcasting. I have the money, free time, and flexibility to do so. I managed my money along the way to ensure the success of the whole process too.
Notice how I didn’t decide that I wanted to be Tim Ferris and adopt a bunch of random habits for no reason. Notice how I didn’t engage in ‘productivity porn.’ I found something compelling to work on. Then, I found compelling reasons that fed into the primary pillar.
This simple strategy is how success works. Like investing, everything ends up compounding and it takes less energy and effort to continue leveling up. You look up one day and you’re standing in front of a skyscraper.
But you’ll never get there without emphasizing the impact of ‘laying each brick.’