I can recall hearing for the first time that life is about continual improvement. Naively, I thought, “yea until you succeed you have to continue to improve, but once you reach a high enough level of success you can stop working so hard and enjoy the rewards.”
This was reflected in several ways when I was younger. The first thing I did was to always outwork those around me. In eighth grade I would make sure I was working harder than everyone else on the football field. Despite my lack of size and natural talent, I won the MVP award. We ended up going undefeated and several players from that team went on to play division I football. But it was the fact that I outworked the other players that I received the award.
While this was a great accomplishment it really set me up for a hard lesson to learn. Over the next few years I assumed that the early effort I put forth was enough to carry me through the next few seasons without as much effort. I thought that I worked hard and now should be reaping the rewards.
This was a huge mistake. Unfortunately, I had to learn the hard way several times in my life that we don’t work hard to reach a goal and then stop. We have to make hard work ingrained in our daily routines and habits.
Rory Vaden, author of Take the Stairs says “success is never owned, it is only rented and the rent is due every day.”
This means that we don’t exercise until we lose 5 lbs and then stop exercising. We don’t budget our money until we save a little and then stop. We don’t go to school to learn and then stop learning when we graduate.
Understanding this principle of success will help in several ways.
- It will help you to limit your sense of entitlement. Entitlement is the feeling that you are owed something. I hate entitlement and have to work every single day to keep from feeling this way. I have built some great habits but as soon as I stop following the positive routines that I developed, the rewards stop as well.
- It will shift your thinking from large, difficult steps to small, easy steps. If you exercise for the rest of your life, you will structure your workout differently than if you are trying to lose a few pounds before summer. Instead you will work on small steps that gradually take you towards success.
- It will also shift your thinking about what is difficult and what is easy. Budgeting for one week is easy. Budgeting for the rest of your life seems difficult. But if you, instead, focus on small habits and grow those, it will actually be easier to accomplish larger goals over a longer term. Paying off $10,000 in credit card debt in the next 30 days is incredibly difficult but paying it off in 24 months is very reasonable if you adjust your spending habits and follow a budget.
At first I thought that working hard meant putting forth effort to reach a goal. Now I realize that the best way to reach a goal isn’t to focus solely on that specific accomplishment but to change my approach to be more focused on habits, routines, processes and systems. It changes from being short-term and powered by willpower to being a way of life. This was the only way that I have been able to sustain areas where I have seen success and I am certain that the focus on effort can only take us so far. We need to focus on continual improvement and enjoying the journey instead of the rewards in order to truly succeed in life.