The Long Game

Delay Gains Now To Get More Later

Stop optimizing for today and start playing the long game


The Long Game. Graphic of a black winding road pointing into the distance set on a blue background.

The Long Game - Overview

The long game describes an approach to any area of life that sacrifices short term gains for long-term wins.

It is about having a long term goal and taking the necessary steps now to set yourself up for long term success.

  • If you play the long game you delay gratification now to get more later, you stop focusing on the short term and you think ahead.
  • To do this requires you to ask hard questions and to consider the second-order consequences of your decisions and the key question you will be asking is: "...and then what?"
  • The immediate effect of this is that you will be less efficient in the short term in order to be much more effective in the long term.

This can be hard and it means being prepared to make a lot of mistakes and errors  and even on occasions being prepared to look stupid.

As Shane Parrish puts it:



    "You have to be willing to look like an idiot in the short term to look like a genius in the long term."






Setting Yourself Up For The Long Game


Here are 7 proven strategies, with resources, for playing the long game:






[1] Adopting the Craftsman Mindset

In "So Good They Can’t Ignore You" Cal Newport cites the comedian Steve Martin, who once said his advice for aspiring entertainers was to “...be so good they can’t ignore you...”

The focus of his book involves picking a skill that is "rare and valuable" and then mastering it until you become "so good they can't ignore you".

Decrying the popular "follow your passion" approach Newport recommends adopting the craftsman mindset where you are continuously learning and honing your craft through "deliberate practice".








[2] Attract Luck - Be The Best At What You Do

Naval Ravikant commenting on what he calls "The Four Kinds Of Luck"
says that:

“...the last kind of luck is the weirdest, hardest kind, where you build a unique character, a unique brand, a unique mindset, which causes luck to find you.” 

While you can’t control this fourth, potentially most lucrative kind of luck, you can influence it by committing to being the best at what you do.






[3] Focus On The One Thing

In "The One Thing" Gary Keller maps out a process for focusing your attention and your actions on the achievement of  the one big thing you want to achieve by narrowing your present focus down to the one next step you must take to progress you towards that one big thing.

Success is about doing the one right thing, not about doing everything right.






[4] Benefit From The Power Of Habits

James Clear’s book Atomic Habits explores the long term power of compounding habits, which is a key feature of the long game.

Small habits make a big difference over the long-term.

Habits are the compound interest of self-improvement.

Small barely noticeable changes can make a major difference when you factor in the passage of time. Clear says:

"...if you can get 1 percent better each day for one year, you’ll end up thirty-seven times better by the time you’re done. Conversely, if you get 1 percent worse each day for one year, you’ll decline nearly down to zero...

Good habits can give you a significant, sustainable competitive advantage in life.








[5] Compound Your Way To Exponential Growth

Compounding is the process whereby a gain made on an invested resource is reinvested alongside the original resource, and further gains are made on that gain thus the growth rate is exponential.

Small improvements accumulate into massive changes.

Money is not the only thing that compounds; knowledge, ideas and skill do as well. As Albert Einstein is alleged to have said:

"Compound interest is the eight wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it; he who doesn't pays it."






[6] Be Smarter Rather Than Faster

In The Red Queen Effect we looked at strategies for negating the red queen effect by operating smarter rather than running faster and faster just to stand still. Here are 2 powerful strategies.


(A) Focus On The Few To Find The Many

It's now the 80/20 curve/Pareto Principle that defines our lives.

So focus on the 20% of your contacts, clients  or income sources opportunities that give you 80% of your income, develop these relationships.


(B) Benefit From The Fat Tail Fractal Factor

When you are focusing on the  “fat tail” - the 20% who deliver 80% of the results - understand that the fat tail, the 80/20 is fractal, meaning it can be applied to itself.

So for example, if 20% of people own 80% of the land, we can then take the 80/20 of that new 20%. In that case, 4% of people would own 64% of the land. If we then took the 80/20 of that, then 0.8% of people own 51.2% of the land.

The Top 1% Of Fat Tails Account For 50% Of The Results.

So when focusing on the top 20%, remember that somewhere in amongst that group is a subset - which may be just one or two individuals - who will deliver over 50% of your results.







[7] Live an Antifragile Life

Antifragility is the quality of something that gets better, or thrives, in the presence of disorder.

At time of writing in Spring 2021 as the world lurches towards eventual recovery from the coronavirus pandemic life is messy and seemingly getting messier.

There are ways in which you can position yourself to make gains from this disorder and get stronger.

Key Tips For Living Living Antifragile



    Stop optimizing for today or tomorrow and start playing the long game. That means being less efficient in the short term but more effective in the long term. [Shane Parrish]







Food For Thought:

Finite and Infinite Games: Two Ways to Play the Game of Life

Further Reading:

Delayed Gratification

The Challenges Of The Road Less Traveled

How To Win Without Succeeding






Next Article: If You Don't Take Care Of You, Who Will?


Return from "The Long Game" to: Walking The Talk

Or to: Mental Models



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