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Learn to Play the Long Game

How to make time a force multiplier in the formula for success

Force multiplier is a military concept. In military science, Force multiplication refers to a factor or a combination of factors that dramatically increases (hence "multiplies") the effectiveness of an item or group, giving a given number of troops (or other personnel) or weapons (or other hardware) the ability to accomplish greater things than without it. The expected size increase required to have the same effectiveness without that advantage is the multiplication factor.

I first heard the term used in a business meeting. We were talking about rolling out new models, that in combination with our current model, would force multiply our revenue growth and profit. It was an exciting idea, in theory.

There are many other examples of force multipliers in business. Information sharing through social networks, soliciting user-generated online reviews and feedback, and crowdsourcing for funding or ideas are all examples of force multipliers.

Tim Ferriss and Kevin Kelley often talk about the idea of 1000 True Fans. This is another example of a force multiplier. Having 10,000 people like your work is good. But having 1000 people that LOVE you work and tell all their friends about it, can have a force multiplying affect that goes viral and reaches millions.

Below are a few formulas for success, and you'll notice that there is a common multiplier in all of them. Learning the skills of the long game can have a force multiplier on your success.

(Stress + Rest + Replenish) x Consistency = Success

I've been pretty into endurance sports and ultramarathon running. I saw this formula on the Instagram of Tommy Riv's, a top endurance athlete.

Stressing the body, aka the actual training or running, is a crucial part of growth. We all know that when you push your muscles to the point of failure, they grow back stronger. The stress part of the formula is the obvious one, and easiest one to focus on.

The rest and replenish part however is less obvious, but just as important. The stress doesn't automatically mean growth and improvement. Only when stress is combined with recovery are there any gains. A big takeaway for me, as I trained for my own Ironman 70.3 and 50 mile ultramarathon this summer is that rest and replenish IS TRAINING TOO, and should be taken just as seriously.

So what does this mean? Days off are important. Not going balls to the wall everyday is important. Listening to your body, and pulling back when it tells you too, is important. Feeding the body the fuel it needs to push and recover is important. Getting good sleep is important.

So it's the stress, PLUS the rest and replenish which is the key.

But then their is the force multiplier, which is consistency. A couple hard workouts, with a few superfood smoothies, followed by a day of rest or light recovery, is good. But do that for months or years, and then what happens?

Magic is what happens. Two years ago, I never ran. Last week, I finished my first 50 mile ultramarathon with 9000 ft of ascending at elevation in the mountains. Two years ago, a marathon seemed near impossible. My secret ingredient over the past 20 months is consistency. I ran 600 miles in 2017. I've run almost 900 miles so far in 2018. I eat pretty clean, drink rarely, and take lots of days off of training. It's my lifestyle now. I don't even have to think about it.

Consistency is the multiplier.

(Failure + Learning + Action) x Patience = Success

I recently went through a tough career change which involved a lot of failure. There were 8 failures (and wrote about them here) that included losing $20k on a failed business, knocking on doors for weeks leading to no results, and getting to the final round interview of 2 awesome companies that both rejected me. It was a tough time.

One of the biggest concepts that helped me through the failure is this idea from Gary Vee of Macro Patience, Micro Speed. Here is the general idea:

On a micro level, attack the week and attack the day. Move fast. Don't waste the days worrying about the future. Squeeze every bit of potential out of every day and every hour. Hustle. Fail fast, learn and move on.

But on a macro level, have patience. Success takes time, there is no overnight success. I'm not entitled to success just because I'm working hard. I'm definitely not entitled to success because of my previous successes. Don't feel frustrated because things aren't happening fast enough. And don't compare myself to others who seem to have things moving much faster than me. Have patience.

I failed 8 big times in less than a year. I was super busy failing! I would fail fast, learn, and move on. The failures hurt, but I didn't dwell, and they didn't slow me down. I worked hard and was always thinking about the next step and trying new things. This is micro speed. Emotionally, at times I was overcome by doubts, and I caught myself more than a few times comparing my failures to other's success and got down on myself. So I had to remind myself that this isn't a race, and that no one said it would be easy, and to just keep working hard and give it more time. This is macro patience.

In reflection on all this, I came up with this formula. Failure will happen. Accept it. When it does, reflect and learn. With the new learning, and without dwelling, move on and keep at it. Keep working. Action is key. And the multiplier is the patience. For me it was 8 failures over almost a year. It could have been 20 failures over 3 years. Either way, patience will multiply the effects of the failure, learning, and continued action.

Tiny Habits x Every Day = Massive Change

I'm a habit coach on I help my clients make positive life changes, ranging from weight loss to overcoming fears. I follow a momentum based strategy, which is to start so small and easy that you can't not succeed. Build momentum by taking baby steps.

For example, if a client wants to lose weight, we don't start with a super hard or complicated diet. Instead something simple like no soda would be a great start. If a client that wants to get into meditation, we would start with 5 minutes a day.

Sometimes it's hard to see how baby steps will help in the grand scheme of things.

But when you do something every day, a multiplier effect occurs.

First, your identity changes. After a few weeks, it's not just about what the meditation or absence of soda does to you. You start to see yourself differently, seeing yourself as a meditator, or as a healthy person. And once you see yourself as a meditator, you can see yourself as being more calm, more present, more aware. Once you view yourself as a healthy person, you build confidence and start to implement other actions or habits that a healthy person would do, like limit other bad foods or exercise more, or other actions of self care. This has a massive multiplying effect.

Second, there is this idea of the keystone habit, or the first positive habit that leads to many more positive habits. My personal health story is a good example of how a keystone habit works. Back in 2014, a blood test showed that I had some pretty extensive liver damage, from extensive drinking in my early 20s. I decided that I needed to cut back on drinking, and also started juicing everyday. These were my 2 keystone habits. Juicing everyday lead to eventually giving up meat and becoming pescatarian. This lead to exercising more, and I started surfing and snowboarding a lot more. I call this phase "redefining play," transitioning the idea of fun and play from hitting the bars and clubs to hitting the beach and mountains. This eventually lead to yoga, and then to running casually, which lead to marathon running, which lead to triathlons and ultramarathon running. Now, 4 years later, and I feel the strongest and happiest I've ever felt in my life. But 4 years ago, it all started with just wanting to feel a little bit better, and what that looked like at the time was not being hungover, and drinking a nutrient dense energizing fresh juice. So simple.

Two tiny habits that changed my identity, Two tiny habits that grew to many big habits and changed my life. But the key, is everyday. Many people give up a habit before the power of habits grab hold. Identity only shifts as the result of everyday. Tiny habits only grow if they are cultivated everyday.

So who knows what giving up soda or 5 minutes of meditation a day can lead to. And don't worry too much about it. Just do it everyday, and let the multiplier take hold, let the identity slowly shift, and other positive habits build upon the keystone habit.

Using Time as a Force Multiplier

In the opening of Tools of Titans, Tim Ferriss delivers this quote from Herman Hesse's Siddhartha. In the book, the protagonist is asked by a merchant how he can offer anything to the world if he has discarded all of his possessions. Siddhartha tells the merchant that, "Everyone gives what he has," and the merchant replies, "Very well, and what can you give? What have you learned that you can give?"

"I can think, I can wait, I can fast," Siddhartha says.

Ferriss said that this deceptively simple response is the foundation for all high performers. He explains in Tools of Titans:

"I can think: Having good rules for decision-making, and having good questions you can ask yourself and others.

"I can wait: Being able to plan long-term, play the long game, and not mis-allocate your resources.

"I can fast: Being able to withstand difficulties and disaster. Training yourself to be uncommonly resilient and have a high pain tolerance."

This post is of course about the "I can wait" part.

"I can wait," or being able to play the long game, is foundational skill to learn and master.

Each of the formulas above show different skills to playing long game.

1. Learn consistency.

Can you do something over and over and over again, for the long term? Dave Matthews has a great quote on this from an interview he did, when asked how he deals with the struggle of playing the same songs over and over again every night. He said, and I'm paraphrasing, that sure it's hard, but he imagines the one person in the crowd who is seeing him for the first time, and he plays for them. No matter if you are a rockstar like Dave, or a sales person, or doctor, you have the challenge of doing the same things over and over again, and you have to learn to deal with the involuntary consistency that comes along with our lives and careers. Maybe even harder is learning voluntary consistency, how to be consistent when you don't have to, like with running or other personal habits or goals.

Either way, the consistency skill requires learning about motivation and discipline. Motivation comes and goes, and discipline is getting things done regardless of if you feel motivated or not. It also requires that you get good at dealing with burn out, because that will happen, especially if you aren't thinking with a mindset of long-term sustainability.

Steven Pressfield in the War of Art, talks about the Resistance. "There is a secret that real writers know that wanna-be writers don’t. And the secret is this: Its not the writing part thats hard, whats hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance." How to combat the Resistance? By "turning pro." Amateurs write when they feel inspired. Pros write. "I write only when inspiration strikes. Fortunately, it strikes every morning at 9 o’clock sharp.” - This is a pro.

Consistency is essentially learning how to deal with monotony and burnout, and being disciplined even when there is a lack of inspiration or motivation.

2. Learn patience.

Gary Vee says that the biggest problem with young people is a lack of patience. "There is a romance with the idea of “millionaire by x.” By 25. By 30. But the reality is, you can’t expect something big in 5, or even 10 years." He also says, "And you shouldn’t give up after 4 months or 4 years. Too many people give up too soon, because they want the results faster. You shouldn’t feel frustrated because things don’t seem like they are going fast enough. Have patience, and keep working. If you aren’t where you want to be, remember that it takes time to get there. If you are good enough, you will eventually win." I will emphasize that this isn't the "sit on my ass and wait" kind of patience, but quite the opposite.

Patience is a battle. We want justification that our hard work is paying off. We want a pat on the back from our bosses, and recognition from our peers. I understand why we feel discouraged when we don't get it. We want instant gratification, and in today's society, we are used to getting it. We can have an Uber show up in 2 minutes, food delivered in 20, and an Amazon package in 2 days. But success has a different schedule. 

Lack of patience comes from ego and entitlement. We must go to battle against the ego and entitlement or they will rip us apart from the inside out.

To develop patience we must reset our expectations, and shift to more long term thinking. Is our expectation to be great right away, or to be an overnight success? Are we looking for short cuts and to get rich quick, or are we playing the long game?

And we have to find the balance, the macro patience micro speed. Patience without action is laziness. And action without patience leads to giving up.

3. Learn how to implement daily habits that stick.

One of my favorite all-time quotes is from Derek Sivers, "If information was the answer, we would all be billionaires with perfect abs." We all know what we should do... eat better, exercise more, read books, practice gratitude, be kind. Knowing what to do isn't there hard part. Doing it is the hard part.

Why is doing it so hard? Mainly, because we make it too hard on ourselves. On January 1st we have these big goals, of going on this crazy diet or hitting the gym 5 times per week. By February 1st that diet is non-exsistant and by March 1st the gyms are empty again.

The best things that I have learned through all my habit experiments are these:

  • Start small! Tiny even. Set yourself up for success. Make it so easy that you can't fail. Build the habit, and expand it once the habit is built. Quantity over quality in the beginning. Build the streak.
  • Track it - this is crucial. I love the app. I also love Excel/Numbers/Google Sheets. Create a scoreboard for yourself and make it a game. 
  • The habit is the goal. One of the best articles I've ever read is Systems vs Goals by James Clear. Forget about the outcome of losing weight, just focus on the habit of sticking to the diet. Forget about the book you want to write, and focus on writing x amount of words per day. Forget about the revenue numbers, and focus on the cold calls and appointments done. Make it about the actions, not the outcomes.
  • It's not about falling off the wagon, it's about how fast you can get back on. Messing up a streak is inevitable. Get comfortable starting again from zero. More importantly, I think streaks are most beneficial when first trying to start a new habit, but eventually let go of the streak and allow yourself to fail. Huh? Yes, ALLOW YOURSELF TO FAIL. For example, I got rid of all diet labels, because I used to feel like crap when I ate meat. "I already failed, so I might as well keep failing." Now I allow myself to fail. Or maybe a better way to put it is that there is no success or failure. Eating well 300 days of the year, with 65 bad days, is still way better that whatever I was doing before, so it's an overall win. There is no target goal, only tracking and reflecting on the numbers that inform future actions.

4. Learn to appreciate the power of time

Time is powerful. "Time heals all wounds." We can't escape time.

Seneca said, "It is not that we have a short space of time, but that we waste much of it. Life is long enough, and it has been given in sufficiently generous measure to allow the accomplishment of the very greatest things if the whole of it is well invested."

Speaking of invested... The law of compounding interest shows how the power of time can be harnessed. Starting to invest when you are 20 years old, vs 30 years old, is a world of a difference by the time you're 65 years old.

Another one of my favorite quotes of all time is from Annie Dillard: 

"How we spend out days, is of course, how we spend our lives."

You can't see the forest for the trees. You can't see that this, today, is your life. Let me explain with some more math.

Let's say you watch 2 hours a day of TV, which doesn't seem like much, right? But it's 14 hours a week, which almost 10% of your week. Thats 728 hours a year and 7280 hours in a decade. In the next 10 years, how do you feel about spending over 7000 hours, or 10% of your life, watching TV?

And you can apply the big math to anything, your commute to work, time on Facebook, or anything else you feel is time not well spent.

On the flip side, I've spent the past few years counting up my positive daily habits, the things that make me happy and I'd consider time very well spent. I can tell you that I went surfing 117 times in 2017, and 98 times in 2016. I had 11 snowboarding days in '17 and 16 days in 2016. I exercised 245 times in 2017 and 183 times in 2016. I can tell you how many travel days, yoga sessions, miles ran, and books read.

The idea here isn't to be obsessive about counting, but rather to be diligent about how you spend your days. Do things that make you happy every day, or as often as you can. It's easy to get sucked into the whirlwind of responsibilities. It's easy to make excuses. But don't wake up one day and think, where did my life go?

Today matters. So did yesterday, and so does tomorrow. Try to spend each day like it matters. Because time is a scary multiplier. A lot of days doing things you don't want to be doing, is a life of the same.

Time is on your side if you learn how to be consistent, have patience, and stick to daily habits. Time is on your side if it's the long game that you are playing.

So lets end on one more formula...

Today x Years = Life.

A great day today, force multiplied by time, is a great life.

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