The Long Game is the Best Game How to play and increase your likelihood of success over the long haul

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This morning I made a journal entry describing in detail how 2021 has been the year of patience for me. With full transparency, I used to be highly rash and had a hard time grappling with/reeling in my emotions. I would feel anger, impatience or frustration in one moment and act on them instantaneously—a far cry from a cool head. My expectation of receiving instant results immediately following actions was the norm; I guess you could say I was a little out of touch with reality.

Instead of being hard on myself, I’ve taken this as a learning experience and discovered a valuable lesson: we’re all emotional beings and emotions, as Robert Greene explains in the Daily Laws, are “a kind of disease.” Greene writes, “The only remedy is to be aware that the pull of emotion is inevitable, to notice when it is happening, and to compensate for it.”

When we set and strive for goals that are meaningful, it’s important to level-set your expectations. Nothing worth fighting for comes easily; it takes hours and hours  and oftentimes, years of deliberate practice and focused attention to move even an inch closer to that goal. Patience is the golden ticket, my friends. But how do you find that motivation to keep persisting? We’ve all fallen victim to procrastination—that little detriment that makes us believe we lack the discipline to reach our goals.

We want to write that book, but our mind is telling us that we’re hungry so we need to eat first. We sit back down and then seemingly out of nowhere we get the urge to check the ‘gram. So, we give in and feel the push and pull of our body and mind—inner forces that conflict with our intentions and pull as away from the ‘mundane’ tasks that are necessary to help propel us forward. It’s as if our mind is a petulant child—demanding we take care of it, before anything else.

We want what Brad Stulberg describes in The Practice of Groundedness as the “M&M’s”—the candy that provides the quick hit and sugar rush, but ends up making us feel like garbage shortly thereafter. Lasting fulfillment on the other hand, to stick with Stulberg’s metaphor, is akin to eating the brown rice; certainly not as tasty as the candy, but gives us the nourishment our bodies need and thus provides us with the slow release of energy. The more we opt for brown rice over the candy, the more we train our minds to resist the temptations and pulls of quick fixes and instant gratification.

But doesn’t it require so much self-discipline to show up every day to do our work? Where does this motivation come from and why do some “possess” this quality while others struggle? The answer is that at the beginning, it does require a good amount of will power—to get to the gym, work on that business, write the first few chapters of your book. However, the more you do it, the more automatic it becomes and the less self-discipline it requires to keep showing up. It’s important to not make it too hard too often or once again, we’re going to be exerting a ton of will power. Starting small and capturing tiny successes builds up our confidence and helps us continue to propel forward.Sitting down to do a daunting task is going to result in a side of procrastination—there’s not really a way around it.

To find the fuel to endure, to play the long game or compete in the ultramarathon, it’s important to look inward. Intrinsic motivation is eating the banana in a race—the slow release of energy. Extrinsic motivation are the gels or chews—a quick hit of energy, but fast fading. Many people live in their own illusionary world that’s driven by ego: once the goal is accomplished, it will bring me money, fame, notoriety, social status, ad infinitum. 

However, decades of research has shown that these are weak frames to harvest the long game. Setting aside time to reflect on intention before taking your first steps towards a project or life goal is important. By choosing intrinsic forms of motivation (learning, self-growth, building connections, exploring your curiosity, enjoying the activity for the activity itself, etc.), your chances of success will increase exponentially.

Jot it Down

In December 2020, I decided that I wanted to write a book in the upcoming year. My goal was just to write the draft in 2021 and work on fine tuning and publishing in 2022. I already knew what I wanted the book to be about—the contents have been imbued in me for at least a year, so the book outline came relatively easy. Before I started the very large, daunting task of starting to research and write, I took a step back and really thought through the reasons why I wanted to accomplish this goal in the first place. 

This is what I journaled on December 17th, 2020:

I made a bit of progress on my book outline/forward and feeling pretty confident on what I want the book to be about. I just need to put my ego aside and remember why I want to do this: I want to immerse myself fully in a creative challenge (selfishly), but also be able to genuinely share all the knowledge I’ve accumulated over the years to help others. There have been so many life changing books or at least parts of books that have really resonated with me. I want my book to do the same.

It’s interesting – the more I write, the more I find my vocabulary and communication drastically improve. I’ve been overcoming procrastination more easily and I no longer feel a sense of dread prior to a writing session. In fact, I feel a bit more excited, more focused and patient with the process. I think I have a different mentality when it comes to writing a book vs. a blog post. While I do want to set deadlines to keep myself accountable, I also want to give this everything I have and not rush the process. While the finished product is indeed motivating, I don’t want to focus on making this a bestseller, but rather a piece of work I can truly be proud of. I have a unique perspective on the topic of fitness and nutrition that I think can provide significant value to the world and lives of others.

As I’m writing this blog post, the book has been written. The draft was completed in June, but since I’m working with a publisher, it requires more patience and time. The developmental edit is complete, but now we’re in the midst of copyediting. There’s a lot of moving parts when it comes to writing and publishing a book, but I’ve learned a ton. While I had originally set a goal to write the draft in a year, it ended up only taking a fraction of the time which I attribute to the following reasons:

  • I created my own writing ritual
  • I had strong intrinsic motivation
  • I studied other writers and the craft of writing (reading several books on the topic) while writing
  • I experimented with the process and landed on one that worked for me

Create a Ritual

We’ve all experienced this before: setting a big goal, feeling super motivated and excited to start working on said goal and then after a few weeks, our motivation plummets, we tire of the boredom that accompanies the work, we start to lose interest and then finally, we quit. It’s a sad narrative arch I’m sure we’re all familiar with. The length of this cycle depends, but it’s structure is always the same. Here’s the truth you need to realize with any goal: the process isn’t glamorous. It’s showing up day in and day out whether you feel like it or not and putting in the work. Eating brown rice every day is not fun nor delicious. While it’s still necessary to eat the brown rice, we can add a bit of flavour—some “seasoning” if you will, to spice things up.

The seasoning I’m talking about is a ritual; a repeatable practice that has almost a spiritual side—one that puts you in the zone and can increase the likelihood of getting you into that flow state. Similar to an athlete’s pregame ritual that puts them in the headspace to compete, you’ll want to develop your own way to get your “head in the game” – for whatever your endeavor might be. It’s a way to signal to your brain that it’s ‘go-time.’ 

I’ve mentioned my writing ritual many times, but it’s always the same. Wake-up, make my bed, turn on the coffee machine, meditate, read for 45 mins – 1 hour and then write. I listen to an instrumental playlist on Spotify (with no lyrics) and the night prior, I typically jot down the writing task or task(s) for the next day which include: book edits (or re-writes), blog posts, medium posts, or social media posts. If I don’t have any publishable content planned or am feeling the sting of creative blockage, I’ll use my writing time to journal privately instead. To “replenish the well” in Julia Cameron’s words, author of The Artist’s Way. As soon as I wake-up, the ritual has begun. Reading helps wake up my mind and helps me practice focus. Passively consuming words and then switching to actively writing words is an easy transition. My phone is on airplane mode, my messaging apps are closed, and my email is off. Only once I’m done with my writing session for the day, I’ll connect with the world. My morning ritual is my distraction-free time that I purposely carve out for myself every day. 

Intrinsic Motivation

I’ve written about this countless times so I’ll make this short and sweet: discovering deeper reasons for your pursuits—aside from ego-related motives—will help provide you with the energy and will-power to endure. The better you get, the more competent you’ll feel, the more benefits you’ll derive, and the more likely you are to show up. While everyone needs to discover their own intrinsic frames, mine include: helping others, working towards mastery, and exploring my curiosity. Steve Palvina, in his course Amplify also explains another level of motivation or “frame” and that is the life level. I interpret this as making a conscious effort to contribute to the human race; for right now and for future generations to come. This life level removes me of the menial day-to-day, and helps me focus on the big picture—the much bigger picture. It’s a powerful form of energy that we all have the capacity to tap into.

Study the Craft

Whatever goal you may have, whether it be starting a business, running a race, or like me, writing a book, doing “research” into the goal and how others have achieved it can help you along the way. For me, that was reading several books on creativity and writing. A few that gave me particularly strong insights included: On Writing Well by William Zinsser, On Writing by Stephen King, The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B. White, The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp, The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, Perennial Seller by Ryan Holiday, Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, and Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg. Some of the books were more on the technical aspects and mechanics of writing (On Writing Well + The Elements of Style), while others explained more how to connect with your creativity and practical applications to devise and optimize your own creative process. Most importantly, several of these books will help guide you in dealing with the negative, self-deprecating self-talk that we all experience when working on building skills or creating art.

Experiment with the Process

There is no one set process for everyone when it comes to any goal pursuits. We’re all uniquely different and thus should adopt the experimenter’s mindset when it comes to creating a process that works for us. When I first started writing my book, I struggled hard to stick with it. I wasn’t able to figure out my groove. It seemed so messy and I felt a lot of resistance showing up each day—the procrastination was real. When I talked to my good friend Kirstie and my cousin Sara who are working on their own books, I took bits and pieces of their advice while also testing out some of my own ideas. The solution was time blocking and creating a schedule. Many writers will set a word count rule per day (ie. write 1,000 words or a single page). I chose time-based writing goals. I would work on my book draft for an hour and then use the second hour to work on blog content, social media content, etc. For some of the more research-heavy sections, I would cut into my reading time and start researching 30 minutes before writing. Once I felt like I had done adequate research and felt knowledgeable enough of the topic, I could use the material to just write—taking what I learned and reiterating it in my own words and style on the page. I followed the same ritual every single day (even on weekends). I made sure never to leave the tank completely empty and would pull up additional research articles or leave on a good note so I wouldn’t face so much resistance starting the next day again. I wrote out my strongest motivational frames on note cards and taped them on the wall above my desk. They served as strong reminders to keep going—in Robert Greene’s words, to “[creatively] endure.” The point is that we need to experiment with our own daily processes to figure out a way to get us to show up consistently to really move the mark in our goals. There is no one set “successful” routine—despite what the latest ‘life coach’ influencer preaches.

Final Thoughts

While the long game may not be the most exciting game, in my opinion, is the most rewarding and fulfilling. There is no end destination in writing for me—there’s always more to learn, experience, and write about. The work is the reward that keeps on giving. The same is true for running. Running is the reward itself and while I do enjoy signing up for races, challenging myself, and clocking mileage, having the ability to run every day for as long as I’m physically able to is my long term goal.

The long game is all about consistency—it’s showing up whether we feel like it or not and putting in the work. Creating a ritual, experimenting with our own process, taking the time to learn how others accomplished their goals (through research and/or mentorship), and finding deeper, more intrinsic reasons why we want to accomplish our goals are all hallmarks in sustainability. 

Success that comes quick can actually be a curse—we don’t learn the process of consistently showing up for long periods of time and putting in the needed to work to achieve sustainable success. “Be extra wary of sudden success and attention,”  Robert Greene warns in The Laws of Human Nature. “They are not built on anything that lasts and have an addictive pull. And the fall is always painful.”

1 Comment

  1. Wow, you make a lot of amazing points here. And what’s important to realise is that great goals really take time. Nothing worth achieving is attainable in an instant, and it does feel much more satisfying when you reach said goals. Anyway, thanks for this post!

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