One of the biggest obstacles we face on the path to success is the concept of time frames. As a species, humans are just so damn impatient.
Genetics plays a big role here. Put simply, delaying gratification was never the utility-maximizing strategy.
For thousands of years, scarcity of resources, non-existent property rights, and high mortality rates meant one thing only: live life now, because you probably won’t be around tomorrow.
No point delaying gratification if you only get to live to 25…
Cue in the modern world. For the first time ever, there is a tangible benefit in delaying gratification.
And yet, the majority of us are still struggling to control that lizard brain of ours, always searching for the next dopamine hit.
Whether it’s health, wealth, relationships, or careers, we keep sacrificing our long-term potential – because we simply cannot wait.
We don’t stick to our diets. Flutter money away on things that give us limited (if any) utility.
We keep avoiding tough conversations with ourselves – or our partners. And we don’t take the time to craft a solid strategy for succeeding at work, choosing instead to show up in body but not in spirit.
Will we ever find a way out?
It Won’t Always Be This Way
Last week, I took my first week of “holiday” in just under a year. Between the unused paternity leave and my five weeks of annual allowance, I needed to start making a dent in my vacation days before they expired.
Two days in, I’ve held nine work calls and spent another six hours or so fighting fires on multiple fronts.
Sadly, no one ever delays M&A transactions and board meetings to accommodate an overworked investment banker’s holiday schedule. If anything, clients get more impatient.
In addition, a real estate deal I’ve been trying to get over the line pre-Covid is now back on the table – and takes some proper sorting through.
Even my incredibly patient wife (no stranger to long hours herself) raised an eyebrow when I finally came down for dinner on Tuesday night.
But as I was gearing up to let out my frustrations, a thought occurred to me.
“It won’t always be this way”
At some point, the music will stop. There are thousands of sharp, motivated, hard-working individuals dying to step up to the plate – and elbow me aside in the process.
When that day comes, I want to know that I have given it all. Much like my favourite HIT workout, I don’t want anything left in the tank when I hang up the gloves. If I do, I’ll be disappointed in myself.
Do you? If not, you better keep going.
Process versus Outcome
The other problem created by the eternal dopamine chase is the focus on outcomes.
A promotion is an outcome. Another hundred grand in the piggy bank is an outcome. So is adding another 25 kilos to the bench press.
But if an outcome is the only thing you are focused on, you are destined to fail.
If you have been reading this blog for a while, you will have noticed that I often talk in decades.
It takes at least a decade to quit your job.
On the path to your first million, it will take roughly ten years to start gaining some momentum.
In sports, it takes even the top athletes at least a decade of hard practice to start leveling with the competition.
And in blogging, it often takes a decade to build up a truly successful blog (hence I chuckle when people call it passive income).
Unfortunately, a decade is just too damn long… unless you start to focus on the process.
You don’t get to be an NBA champion if you don’t learn to love those intense, sweaty, bring-you-to-the-verge-of-puking training sessions.
You also don’t get to be a world-class composer unless you are willing to go work though 10 years of silence (funny how the Kobe story pops up here yet again).
And to the extent your own goals are truly ambitious, you are probably fooling yourself by thinking you can get there in less than a decade.
Auditing Your Life
Think back to the most meaningful accomplishments in your life.
Graduating from university. Landing a coveted promotion. Running a marathon. Paying off a house.
Do you recall the moment you’ve finally cleared the bar – or the process that got you there?
On my long walks down memory lane, re-tracing the process wins every time.
Focusing on process has one additional advantage that is often overlooked: you don’t get to compare.
Sure, you can compare the number of sports titles, net worth numbers, or career accomplishments. But you simply don’t get to compare the journeys people took to get there. Everyone gets to paint their own canvas.
So admit it – achieving your goals will likely take far longer than you think. You won’t get to retire next year. You won’t become CEO of your company in five years. And you certainly won’t build a successful business overnight.
The path will be long and arduous. Along the way, you will feel spent and exhausted. Some days will be a real struggle to get through.
And that’s okay.
Because if you focus on the process, one day you will consider those tough stretches to be the most enjoyable part of the journey.