Life is truly a marathon it is not a sprint. In times of great uncertainty we have to really take the long view. If we take a long view of life our happiness levels increase and just the very act of thinking about the future releases positive chemicals in our brain. As Angela Duckworth says “Grit is passion and perseverance towards long term goals.” I found this to be true because if you have a long term vision for your life you will be able to meet short term setbacks with the appropriate level of poise. So the first step to view life as a marathon is to clearly define a vision for your life. Here I have expanded each letter of the word marathon.
Mastery – When you have a long term view of life you will understand that mastery is the key to a fulfilled life. The key to mastery is to identify the area you need to master. You cannot spread your energy in too many directions. Focus is the key. So decide exactly the area where you have to focus and improve only in that area. It doesn’t matter if you don’t play the piano well because that is not a key result area for you. Of course being a master is asymptotic because you never reach there. You are always striving for becoming better and this will keep you engaged most of the time in pursuits that get your juices flowing.
Action – When something goes wrong it is the action you take to make it better that is the key to keep your emotions in check. The only cure for worry is action towards your long term goals. Keep pushing towards your personal frontiers and treat your short term setbacks as a pebble in the beach. If you take some sort of action daily towards your end result you will be able to face your problems with much more gusto. Action is the cure for procrastination and worry.
Responsibility – You will find this word mentioned in every success book. That is because it is very important to a fulfilled life. From Jim Rohn to Stephen Covey to Jack Canfield all of them talk about taking responsibility for the way your life looks. When you take complete responsibility for your life you feel calmer and more in control. This however does not mean you will not encounter bad things. It just means you will be able to bounce back faster. Let’s say you got a bad rating or bad score you can feel bad for a few hours or a day but beyond that you take complete responsibility for the result. You then take action to ensure it doesn’t happen again. Of course there will be areas where a lot of things are totally out of our control and we can take appropriate actions for those. While our circle of concern maybe very huge it is in our circle of influence that we can exercise our responsibility.
Accept Reality – As Max De Pree observed “The first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.” While this may seem to contradict the vision part it is not. While having a vision can propel you forward, you have to match that with the reality of the current situation. In Good to Great Jim Collins talks about the Stockdale Paradox about the prisoner of war (James Stockdale) in Vietnam. He was one of the most decorated officers in the history of the U.S. Navy and how he dealt with the unimaginable period of 8 years as a prisoner of war was termed by Jim Collins as the Stockdale Paradox. He said you should accept reality but have unwavering commitment that you will thrive in the end by confronting the brutal facts. He said it was the optimists who didn’t make it because they were always thinking they will be out by Christmas but Christmas came and they were not out. Then they believed they will be out by Easter and Easter came but they were still not out. This went on for years before they gave up. So never confuse unwavering commitment with the definition of reality. Confront the brutal facts while maintaining an unwavering commitment that you will succeed in the end. You can’t have a brand new start but you can create a brand new ending. His own words “I never lost faith in the end of the story, I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”
Teamwork – You cannot move forward in life without a team. No successful person made it big without a supporting team. Steve Jobs had a great team to execute on his ideas. There is always a team that supports you in the pursuit of your long term goals. Never stop from asking for help. We all need help in different areas of our lives and asking for it is a sign of courage. Resolve to be a team player at work and you will have greater joy as well.
Hours – Life is a marathon but that doesn’t mean we have all the time in the world. Our time is truly limited and this is just a reminder to use our hours to the activities that help us feel better about ourselves. It also reminds us that we have to focus on our high leverage activities that will take us to where we want to be at the end of our lives.
Optimism – Optimism is having a generally sunny disposition to life. Even when you encounter a setback you are able to look at the bright side of life. Gratitude is a great tool which lubricates optimism. When you are progressing towards your goals on a daily basis you are generally happier and optimistic. Again the way to be optimistic is to do the things that make you happy. Find some time daily to do the activities that you get joy from. The ways to be optimistic are to take responsibility for your life, learning from setbacks, making sure you input is positive and staying grateful. You can get more from my article on optimism. The Optimists Manifesto
Never give up – If we want enduring success we cannot be impatient. Rome was not built in a day, we can’t lose weight in a week, and we can’t become world-class in a year. As researchers have confirmed for anyone to attain mastery in their chosen craft it requires 10000 hours or roughly 10 years of deliberate practice. Deliberate practice is not easy, it involves sacrifices a key word to remember when considering the long haul. You have to keep practicing a skill for a number of years before you get public acclaim. Tony Robbins says people get praised in public for what they practice for years in private. We should remember the Nike Slogan “Just Do It” and get on with our lives. Life doesn’t stop and as Napoleon Hill famously quoted “Every adversity carries with it the seed of an equivalent benefit.” You can use setbacks as a spring board to further your aspirations and life is indeed what we make of it. Long term thinking and an exciting bold vision masks short term failures keeping you motivated for a larger cause. Keep the mental picture of your final victory in your mind as you go through the trials and tribulations of day to day life. As the opera singer Beverly Sills observed “There is no shortcut to any place worth going” so remember it is going to take time for success to show up but it will be worth the wait. Never give up on your long term vision and keep moving towards your goals on a daily basis.
There you have it the factors that help us understand that life is truly a marathon and not a sprint. So take the long view of life and remember this too shall pass. The views expressed here are my own and do not represent my organization.