Use the ‘5-Year Rule’ to Create the Future You Want

Photo: Eddy Klaus/Unsplash

Several years ago, while sitting in my room, folding laundry, I started watching a YouTube video featuring Jim Rohn, the late personal development legend. I didn’t yet know, sitting there surrounded by piles of clothes, that my life was about to change — until Rohn said something that left me stunned.

The man believed that whatever it is you want to do to change your life — start a business, build a brand, master a skill, or create an amazing network — you could do it in the span of five years.

“Five years doesn’t seem like a ton of time,” I remember thinking to myself.

But I was willing to buy in, even if I was skeptical. At that point in my life, I had just started writing. For the first time, I felt like I was doing something I loved, something I was willing to work hard at. I imagined myself writing powerful stories that would help people get what they wanted out of life.

So, right there in my bedroom, I silently committed to the timeframe. I wrote nearly every day, studied work by favorite authors, read books about writing, watched videos, and took courses. I essentially became an evolving writing machine.

As I moved forward, there were times when I was making little to no money, feeling like I would never learn all the nuances of what it takes to be successful. But I kept seeing the same promise in different places: five years. Entrepreneur James Altucher said it takes five years to fully reinvent yourself. Blogger Jon Morrow said it takes four to six years to build a blog that can create wealth.

I stuck with it. Finally, by year three, I reached a point where success felt like an inevitability. In years four to five, everything skyrocketed. I recently celebrated my five-year anniversary as a writer and looked back at some of the things I’ve accomplished: I’ve published three books, given a TEDx talk, and grown my readership from zero to millions. I’ve been able to quit my day job to write full-time.

Now I can tell you without question that the five-year rule works. It still doesn’t sound like a lot of time to completely change your life — but if you use those five years wisely, you can come out the other side of them exactly where you want to be. Here’s how to commit to the process.

Start with a 90-day sprint

Spend your first 90 days working on your new skill or path with reckless abandon. You’ll get a sense of what success looks like as you make progress, but more important, you’ll figure out whether or not you actually enjoy the thing you’re doing. If it turns out not to be a great fit, you can quit after 90 days without having wasted much time.

An alternative is to use the Rule of 100: Do something 100 times to get good at it. Write 100 blog posts. Shoot 100 videos (something I recently accomplished with my new YouTube channel), record 100 podcasts, pitch 100 potential new clients. Don’t focus on making each one perfect; just focus on doing your thing, over and over. At the beginning, it’s a volume game.

Push through the suck

In the beginning, you won’t be very good at the new skill you’re trying to learn or the path you’re trying to forge. You might just be trying to survive. Most people quit in this phase. Don’t be one of them. Why? Because one day, you won’t just get a little better and become a little more successful—you’ll be much better and experience a lot more success.

Check in with your progress every 18 months

This is a piece of advice I learned from reading Peter Drucker, author of Managing Oneself: Use 18-month benchmarks to track your overall progress. This length of time is long enough to give you enough data, but not so long that you create unrealistic goals.

If you lose your way, remember The One Thing

The One Thing by entrepreneur Gary Keller teaches a simple rule to help you stay focused and productive: Ask yourself the question, “What’s the one thing you can do, such that by doing it, everything else will be easier or unnecessary?” You can use this system to reverse engineer long-term goals into actionable goals and key performance indicators to work on in the short to intermediate term. Choose your one thing for 18 months, then for the quarter, then for each month, then for each week, then for each day.

I use this five-year framework for every new goal or important decision. If I’m not willing to dedicate five years to it, I won’t do it. But when I do commit, I’m all the way in.

When you break things down to the present moment and focus on the immediate future, you’ll look up five years later to see that you’ve achieved a level of progress even you didn’t think possible. Your skills compound, like an investment account. But first you have to start.

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