When I consider my life, all the moments that might be loosely labeled “success” were prepared for. They were fought for. They were long-term goals; the product of many days and months, sometimes years, of planning and organization and preparation. These were not creations of happenstance but products of having persevered over the long haul.
They required me to do whatever it took to stay the path and stick to the goal by building a habit of discipline.
And such is life.
Overnight success is not a realistic goal
The information age has made this habit increasingly difficult because the most sensational stories rise to the top. We’re inundated with instant and uncommon success stories. It’s easy to believe the exception is the rule.
We forget that the vast majority of thriving leaders arrived at their current positions through years of toil and sacrifice. Their platforms and credibility were constructed with the mortar of patience. We fail to remember that most profitable business ventures took years—decades, perhaps—of effort, involving many people.
Impulsiveness is the enemy of discipline and perseverance
Similarly, the innovation age has made this habit less common because the modern tendency is to assume that “newer” always means “better.” Whenever we hear about a new process or product, we want to pitch our old one and attain the newer, “better” one. But this behavior is not actually innovation; it is impulsiveness. True creativity is discerning, and it balances the need for “new” with patience and perseverance.
Instead of letting the influences of the information and innovation age throw us out of whack, leaders must instead learn to be disciplined in their current endeavors even as they reach for new ones; to be disciplined even with little resources or a less commanding title; to be disciplined in tending to the activities that matter most in your life (this goes beyond work to your family and friend relationships).
5 ways to stick with your long-term goals
Stick-with-it-ness is the foundation for legacy. And legacy starts now, wherever you are in life.
Here are a few of the most practical tips for stick-with-it-ness that have worked for me and leaders I respect.
- REGIMENT YOUR DAY. How much of each day are you spending with family? On work? With your spouse? In prayer? If you don’t manage your schedule, it will become impossible to manage. Instead, work on regimenting the day and keeping a scorecard of how long and when you perform certain tasks. Begin with the areas where you don’t need regimentation. For example, begin brushing your teeth each morning at 7:12 a.m. for two unbroken minutes. Not because it is right or holy but because you’re working to strengthen a muscle. Along the way, identify your weaknesses. Are you usually late? Are you on time but inconsistent? Do you tend to quit midway through? This will help you learn how to develop disciplines.
- REMOVE TEMPTATIONS. I’ve never understood why people who are trying to lose weight keep their pantry stocked with junk food or why those who struggle with pornography addiction refuse to install protective software on their personal computers. If you find yourself struggling to commit to the most important disciplines in your life, gather up the bad influences and toss them out with the trash.
- CRASH THROUGH YOUR QUITTING POINTS. Every runner knows that the peak of pain precedes a rush of adrenaline and endorphins. When you feel as though you need to quit, commit to another minute, hour, day of time. Crashing through your quitting points is a great way to build stamina over time.
- DON’T BE A DICTATOR. The goal of stick-with-it-ness is to keep you moving forward, not to remove all variations from your life. If you’re on a diet, treat yourself to a piece of pie on occasion. If you’re regimenting your time, schedule regular breaks. Are you reining in your spending? Reward yourself with a little fun money at the end of the month to use for entertainment or recreation. Unbending disciplines often lead to self-loathing, but flexible discipline will lead to self-control.
- HAVE DOUBLE GOALS. Every leader should be working toward daily goals and legacy goals. The actions that move you and your organization forward on a regular basis are daily goals. These will often be standing benchmarks and recurrent. Arriving at the office at a certain time, sending handwritten notes, encouraging team members, and achieving high sales numbers fall under this category. Legacy goals look at the future—the end points and the high points. This could be writing a book, winning an award, being able to retire, or—if you’re a professional football player with a career span of a few years or less—winning a Super Bowl.
See yourself as a steward. Have an ownership mentality. Be phenomenal in the middle of wherever you are. Be faithful with where you are and what you’ve been given.