The Three Year Rule: How To Stay Motivated Working On A Long-Term Project

The-Three-Year-Rule

Do you know why social media sites are so addictive? Yes, sure, they’re flooded with funny memes and short-form videos that play themselves when you scroll, all of your friends are on social media, and besides, where else to nag about your recent Uber experience? But there is something else entirely that’s keeping you inside Facebook and Twitter like a crackhead inside a drugstore – immediate feedback. And that same thing is also the reason you abandon your long-term projects.

A lot of times writing, to me, feels like sitting alone and talking to myself. I write stuff, I publish them, and nothing really happens. The lack of feedback – good or bad – makes me doubt the work I do. It immediately instills negative thoughts that whisper, “Go do something else, you suck at writing. You see, no one is noticing.”

The same is with any other form of venture. You open an online shop, you carefully arrange your categories, you sit, and you wait. Unless you market the shit out of your brand new site, no one will notice what you did – except probably your mom. If you want to make sales, you need to basically purchase your own stuff in the beginning.

But this is not limited to business, this same principle applies if you want to lose weight, learn a new language, a new skill, adopt a new habit, and anything else that can potentially make you a better human being.

“Good things take time,” say folks. But being patient in the world of reactions without delay is hard. It takes true heroism to keep working on a project for years until you finally make it.

The lack of immediate feedback, or any form of feedback for that matter, can crush your enthusiasm and get you back to the drawing board. That’s why social media platforms feel so good and so many people sit inside. You publish something, and you immediately get some sort of response or reaction. Yes, it can be a few likes only but it surely feels a lot better than writing for years till someone notices, or finally having that shred body.

Fortunately, there is a way to overcome the devastating thoughts that consume your mind when there’s no response from users and keep working on your business idea. You just need to shift your perspective.

What’s The Three Year Rule?

Nowadays, we expect things to happen overnight. We have same-day deliveries, instant messaging, a quick way to buy things online, leave a review, get a refund, and above all we see people who worked as bank clerks, as if it were yesterday, but today, these same people run a multi-million dollar business.

Media outlets emphasis only on the last part of creating a project – the part where people are now successful. They don’t talk enough about the long hours, the doubt, all the hard work. They try to sell you the idea that you, too, can make it big. And I’m not saying that you can’t, but it will surely take a lot more time than what the online gurus tell you.

That’s where the three year rule comes in.

There’s nothing fancy about this command. It will simply give you a different perspective when you want to make a project successful or make some positive changes in your life.

Instead of hoping to succeed till the end of the month, and be disappointed when this doesn’t happen, give yourself the opportunity to make it. Give yourself three years.

Why The Three Year Rule is Important?

Ask any successful person. Ask any experienced person. They’ll all tell you the same thing – It takes time to create something valuable. Something worth doing.

Yet, we’re not able to accept this narrative. We want things to happen right now because everything around us is moving so fast.

When we begin working on a project, start learning something new, when we open our online store, we want to see results. We want to see some sort of progress because progress means that what we’re doing is working. That our efforts are not in vain.

Of course, things don’t work like that. Reality is different from our expectations. Progress is slow, sales are stagnant, people are not commenting on our new blog post. Naturally, we start to lose faith in what we’re doing and we abandoned things.

But the problem usually is not that our works suck, or because we’re not doing the right things, it’s simply because we’re entering the project with the wrong expectations. We expect things to happen fast, and when they don’t – which is normal – we blame the market, our customers, our spouse, and we close shop.

when-we-expect-overnight-success
This is how people usually approach projects. They expect quick results and when reality does not meet their expectations, they give up.

But things can be way different if we reframe our expectations. If we enter this project, any project, with reasonable expectations. Instead of hoping for overnight success, we need to accept reality. To tell our instant-feedback-craving minds that it takes time to create something lasting.

when-we-start-a-project-with-the-right-expectations
If you start working on a project with the right expectations, you won’t feel bad when there are no results initially.

Right from the start, set the right expectations. Don’t aim to succeed this month, neither this year, plan to succeed after 3 years.

How To Apply The Three Year Rule

Commit to doing something for 3 years. 5 years. Even 20 years.

The number of years is not that important – of course, it should be at least a couple of yours so you can make some real progress. The most important thing is to set the right expectations right from the start.

Here are some actionable steps:

  • What?: Start with what you want to do and why you want to do it. Opening an online shop surely feels exciting but if your main ambition is to make money, and nothing else, you won’t last long. You need a strong motive. Something that will inspire you to wake up every day at 5 in the morning. Something that will motivate you to keep you going despite the obstacles.
  • Commit: Allow yourself at least 3 years to do the above. Good things take time. There’s no such thing as an overnight success. The stories we read online are showing us only the tip of the iceberg. Beneath the water, there’s always years of hard work. If you’re not willing to commit at least 3 years in a project, save yourself some time and money and don’t start at all.
  • Say no: Once you know what you’re going to do, say no to things unrelated to your main goal. Say no to other opportunities. Say no to emerging business trends. And be firm when you say it. This step is crucial. If you stay open for opportunities you won’t make any progress. Close all windows of opportunity and stay committed to your long term goal.
  • Adjust: Don’t blindly follow the path you originally set. It’s normal for our mission to be flawed at first. After all, we didn’t have any experience in the field initially. When we start working on the project we’ll know better. So, after a couple of months, when we see the flaws in our original idea, once we know what’s not working, and what’s not going to work, make the correct adjustments and move forward.

These are the basics.

For reference, and inspiration, let me share how things look for me at durmonski.com:

  • What? I see more and more people obsessing about trivial stuff – cheap clothes, gadgets, video games, famous people with no real values, the latest trends, etc. And the more we consume this type of meaningless content, the more ambitionless we became. We settle for Netflix and chill and we don’t have any desire to make something lasting. I want to even things out. I want to be a source of quality content that can help more people realize that there’s so much more they could be doing. My drive since the beginning of this site is to create thought-provoking content that will inspire and help folks become more rational.
  • Commitment: I started in 2018 and my original commitment was to work on the site for 3 years. 2 years have already passed but the progress is slower than I thought. And while I often feel down about the lack of big results, my original commitment changed to 5 years. Why keep doing it since results are low? Because I can see myself doing this type of work for 10, 20 years. I love it and I ofter receive praise from readers. With this in mind, I’m fine with waiting for 2-3 more years to see results.1
  • Say no: Every now and then I have an idea for a new project. A concept for a new site that seems way better than what I’m currently doing. But instead of going forward with these new ideas, I write them down. In most cases, after just a few days, I realize that this new idea is not going to work and I feel even more inspired to work on my main goal.
  • Adjust: When I first started this site, I was publishing mainly articles about how to become a minimalist, how to travel with less, all the minimal stuff. I did it because it was trendy back then. My goal was still the same back then – help people get out of the consumerist mindset. However, after a couple of months, I realized that I want to write about slightly different things. Put simply, I was trying to be someone I’m not initially. So, I’ve made some adjustments. The main mission didn’t change much but my daily actions did. Still, I’m glad because what I’m writing for right now feels a lot like me.

Diversion: Regardless of our efforts and our desire to make things work, sometimes, our idea is simply not that good. Probably there isn’t a market for our Bionic Boot and pouring more and more hours and money into this project is not worth it. So, if you see that your idea is not working – like, at all – pull the plug prior to the 3 years you initially committed to. There’s no point in being stubborn about something that’s an obvious fail.2

Final Thoughts

The hardest part of any project is to keep working on it despite the lack of feedback. You produce a video, upload it online, and no one watches. The same thing will happen if you start a blog – you write, you publish, but no one is there to read.

Naturally, thoughts like, “Is it good?”, “Should I keep doing it?”, “Will this ever going to work?” emerge.

To handle them, I propose the following: regularly ask users for feedback. Don’t wait for them to give you such. You should be the proactive side. The one who’s putting himself on the front line. Once comments arrive, look for patterns and make small adjustments. If there are no comments, make big adjustments and repeat the feedback-seeking process. If there still no response, well, you probably should start doing something else.3


Footnotes:

  1. I say that the progress is slow because I don’t have a lot of visitors to my site. Hence, a lot of members. This usually happens when you have a lot of sites linking back to your site. And this process, unfortunately, takes time.
  2. Believe it or not, there’s such thing – a Bionic Boot. But you won’t see it listed on Amazon because this idea turned out to be one big massive fail. For 30 years Keahi Seymour pursued a dream. Unfortunately, he failed. Read more about this here.
  3. The original inspiration to write this post came from The Three Year Rule video by Matt D’aVella.
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