Why and How to Play the Long Game


I’ve heard it said that the universe will continue to teach you the same lesson until you’ve learned it. For me, the lesson is patience. Or, put another way, to play the long game. I’m finally learning: Life is increasingly magical as I get better at accepting: what I do and do not have control over; letting go; and striving more for long-term goals than short-term rewards.

This mindset shift is epically challenging for so many of us because we are nurtured in a society that feeds off instant gratification, or at least the hope of instant gratification. We want pleasure, success, accomplishment, validation the very minute we begin. We want to skip the journey of struggle and sacrifice, and teleport to the destination.

Focusing on instantaneous results heightens self-imposed pressure. We can’t mess up because we need to exude flawless strength so we can lead and win, now. Caught in the short game, we become more easily frustrated with our losses, mistakes, relationships (or lack thereof), our jobs, our pay, our…whatever it is we don’t have that we think we want.

Focusing on the short-game, may seem more pleasurable. But what it’s really doing is setting us up for long-term pain. It’s like an addiction. We need and more and more instant gratification to sustain our sense of enough-ness and purpose. Or rather fill a void that only these two things can fill. The long game is your purpose which brings you your sense of enough-ness. The long-game is the meaning and magic in life. The long-game is living.

Here’s how you can play it:

1) Let go of outcomes:

Often we set goals to “crush”. Goals can be great. They can also be problematic if we attach our sense of purpose to achieving their outcomes.

We want this promotion or this pay or this person/relationship, or this body appearance. These are outcome goals. We have no control over whether we achieve them. Even if we go through the work of identifying and following daily actions to achieve them, we may not. We can’t control whether our boss will agree to the promotion or raise. We can’t make someone love us who doesn’t. We can’t command our body to develop 6-pack abs or thrive on the diet we’ve put ourselves on.

If we attach our self-worth to outcomes we cannot control, and we do not achieve them, we risk filling with disappointment and a sense of failure. But if we strive daily to complete actions that steer us toward an end purpose in life, the type of person we want to be, then we will be filled with a sense of accomplishment no matter where we ultimately end up.


2) Embrace short-term pain for long-term pleasure:

No one wants to experience pain. We want to experience pleasure. We want to stay up late watching TV or sleep in because it’s cozy (and we stayed up late watching TV). We don’t want to use that hour to exercise or work on our side hustle or study… That’s fine on occasion; we all need down time.

It becomes problematic when short-term pleasure is the norm. It, as I said before, sets us up for long-term or delayed pain. Regularly choosing to not exercise means, over time, you will become de-conditioned and face health problems. Regularly choosing to not work on your Plan B means you will be stuck in that job you say you can’t wait to leave. Regularly choosing to not study means you won’t make the grades, get the degree, to get the job, to get the paycheck, and so on.

This is why you need a why, a big-picture, long-term purpose. Your “why” needs to be so big it gets you out of bed every morning and drives you throughout the day. It should push you to choose short-term pain in return for long-term pleasure.

3) Trust the timing of your life:

I saw those words on an Instagram post and had to Repost it. Whatever you call it (faith, higher power, cosmic energy, optimism,…), trust it. Be brave enough to let go and trust that you will achieve what you are working for when you are meant to achieve it.

The long game is: focusing on your actions; focusing on your big-picture purpose; staying present; and trusting that “it”, whatever “it” is, will come to you when you’re ready to receive it.

The long game is learning from your mistakes and trying again and again. Fail forward. Embrace the steps in the journey. When you do, and you near the finish, you will see that every step was for a reason and every moment will suddenly make sense.

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