We’ve all heard that success doesn’t happen overnight. A lot of articles have already been written on the subject.
It’s generally agreed that it’s much better to take the long-term approach to success.
And that makes sense. Big goals and achievements take time. It might take months or even years to reach some of the biggest goals.
Since success means looking into the long-term, it’s important to ask what qualities you’ll need to sustain you in order to reach them.
The Long Way to Overnight Success
These qualities are going to have to overcome the big fundamental problem to long-term success: time itself.
It’s easy to set down a small goal in the short-term and meet it. It’s quite another thing to make one for months or years down the road.
With a short-term goal, you’re more likely to find the motivation to do it. The finish line is right in front of you. Getting there doesn’t take much energy.
In order to meet a long-term goal, you have to keep yourself motivated even if you can’t see the finish line. It means putting in a lot of time and energy into an unknown future.
That’s hard for a lot of people.
Long-term success is like a marathon. You have to keep going even when you’re telling yourself to stop.
That means the traits most important to long-term success are those that keep you going all the way to the end so you don’t end up calling it quits too soon.
1. Grit & Determination
You have to be completely committed to seeing a long-term goal all the way to the end. If your goal takes years, you won’t make it if you’re only determined enough to do it for a few months. The math just doesn’t work.
Be realistic with the time you expect a goal to take. It’s bad to underestimate this time since it sets up an unrealistic expectation. When you don’t meet it, you feel de-moralized.
I try to overestimate the time it takes me to accomplish long-term goals just to give myself a little bit of room. This puts me in the right frame of mind by getting me to think in the long-term.
Just imagine a writer who wants to get his works published.
He may know the first one will get rejected. He probably knows the second and third ones will too. But is he prepared to handle a fourth and fifth time?
I once read that Edison tried 1000 times to create the light bulb before finally making it work.
His long-term goal meant slogging through 999 unsuccessful attempts.
That’s what I call grit. Being so determined that you’ll always come back and try again.
If determination is your fixed intent, grit is the passion and perseverance to see it all the way through.
2. Ability to learn/Flexibility
Those who succeed in the long-term constantly re-examine their strategies. Being able to self-reflect and analyze what went right and what went wrong is very important.
Edison once said that he didn’t fail 999 times to make the light bulb work. He just found 999 ways that didn’t work.
With each bulb, he noted what did and didn’t work. Then he brought those findings into his subsequent attempts.
This approach requires a lot of flexibility. It’s easy to become too rigid in one approach and think you can somehow make it work.
There are going to be times when you can (and should) make the world fit you instead of the other way around. But it’s important to realize when something isn’t working.
Lacking this flexibility and willingness to learn is a sure-fire way to become frustrated. That means bringing on a lot more pressure to simply give up.
The last thing you want to do is give up too soon.
3. Effective goal-setting skills
The problem with long-term goals is that it’s too easy to focus on the big picture. There are a lot of smaller goals we should also be setting along the way.
There’s an old proverb that asks, “How do you eat an elephant?” The answer is one bite at a time.
It’s intended to remind you that big accomplishments are met by completing a series of small ones. Make enough bites and eventually you’ll eat an elephant.
Reaching success means balancing between your long-term goal and your short-term tasks.
Think about athletes training for the Olympics. Their big long-term goal is to get into the Olympics and win. In order to do that, they have to complete a series of tasks such as training every day, eating well and practicing.
Effective goal-setting means consistently working on those small goals so they all add up to your big overarching long-term one.
When you focus too closely on the big picture, you stop paying attention to what you need to do at that moment. You might also forget how far you’ve come and instead focus on how far you still need to go.
That can be demotivating.
But you don’t want to focus too closely on your short-term tasks. You might forget what you’re doing them for and get off track on your long-term goal for a while.
It’s a balancing act. You have to keep the entire elephant in mind with each bite.
What long-term goals do you have?
photo credit: Woodlouse