Why life is a marathon and not a sprint


Kevin Mangelschots

To become successful in life, we need to adopt multiple skills that require a lot of time and hard work to develop those abilities properly. Slow and steady wins the race indeed.

That’s also one of the many reasons why life is a marathon, not a sprint. It’s a process. And what we do in between we’re born, and dead, is what defines us as a person.

Let me explain why the good things in life take a lot of time and effort to develop.

Image of people running a marathon with the man in the front putting his hands to the side.

  • Meaningful changes typically take a long time

    Slow and steady wins the race because meaningful changes take a long time to develop. Because it involves creating routines and habits that aren’t necessarily easy, or fun to implement.

    Think about eating healthy to get into shape by losing weight, and to be/feel healthier. That means we would have to exercise, eat less food, and eat healthier instead of sitting on the couch, and eating (admittedly delicious) junk food all day.

    That isn’t easy, nor is it entertaining having to forego all that pleasing, yet unhealthy food. That’s precisely why meaningful changes often take a long time.

  • Long-term goals are typically more meaningful than short-term goals

    Our long-term goals are usually more meaningful than our short-term goals. Achieving our short-term goals can feel satisfying for a little while, but we try to achieve them to accomplish our long-term goals and dreams.

    For example, achieving financial freedom is possible. But it’s normally hard and takes a lot of perseverance, discipline, and countless sleepless nights. Yet, achieving it can be extremely substantive to some.

  • We (hopefully) live a long time, not just a few years

    Life is, depending on how you look at it, quite long. It’s true that in the grand scheme of things, we’re only a speck in time and universe.

    But we live for multiple years, not just for a few. That’s why we should view life as a marathon instead of a sprint. We should invest in our future, not simply our immediate present.

  • Plan for the long run instead of for the immediate present

    Planning for the future instead of just for the present is smart to thrive in the future.

    Sometimes, foregoing enjoyable, immediate gratification of the senses can lead to a much better life for a long time in the future. That’s why I recommend planning for the long run and learning to practice delayed gratification for a much larger, yet delayed reward in the future.

    That doesn’t mean that you can’t indulge in some fun and leisure. Like with everything in life, balance is key, and abundance is rarely good. This means an equilibrium must be struck to maximize the effects and efficiency.

  • Good things usually take a long time to develop

    Good things rarely come easily, nor are they quick to develop.

    Success in either aspect of life frequently takes a long time of dedication, discipline, and persistence to achieve. Regardless if you measure success as being financially successful, building meaningful relationships with your family, or becoming proficient at a particular sport.

    That’s why we need to view things long-term rather than short-term. Not to mention that essential skills such as discipline, perseverance, courage, and many other abilities are extremely hard, and take a long time to evolve.

  • Developing and perfecting skills takes a long time

    Developing skills takes a long time. Particularly if you’re trying to perfect them.

    You can speed up the process by working smart, and hard, but you can’t cheat the system.

    Hard labor will allow you to become competent quicker, but you can’t discredit nor deny that you will have to put in a significant amount of time and effort to become capable at whatever you’re trying to become proficient at.

  • You can’t rush success

    You can’t rush success. And those who acquire their skills and wealth quickly will be the first ones to perish.

    Success means you’re doing something extraordinary, or else you would just be average. This means that you will have to possess an exceptional skill set to acquire it.

    By the way, that’s also precisely why success is so valuable. Because it is exceedingly rare. But this exceptional skill set means that you can’t rush success because those abilities take a long time to build and develop to the point where they allow you to reach your dreams and become successful.

  • Fast money typically doesn’t last
     Image of multiple piles of coins with a clock in the background.

    Fast money typically doesn’t last since you’ve most likely not put in the time and effort that are required to become proficient enough to hold on to that wealth.

    Skills such as discipline, working hard, working smart, perseverance, and overcoming hardships allow one to maintain success. And simply being handed a successful company, or a lot of money for that matter, in all likelihood won’t allow folks to keep their wealth.

  • Invest in your long-term health

    Since most of us (hopefully) live quite a long time in modern times with modern-day technology and health care, it’s only logical and intelligent to invest in your long-term health rather than simply the present.

    While smoking and drinking a lot of alcohol probably won’t impact you a lot when you’re young, at least not noticeably (!), it will assuredly wreak havoc on your health that will become evident in the near, or perhaps distant future.

    That’s why I recommend people to start investing in their health, preferably when they’re still young. Whatever goal you’re trying to achieve, you can’t do it without a healthy mind and body.

    This means that you’ll have to invest in your long-term health by creating purposeful habits such as eating healthy, getting enough sleep, working out, and becoming smarter by becoming more knowledgeable.

  • Real friends over followers and acquaintances

    You should focus on building meaningful relationships with good, real friends and family instead of acquiring a lot of acquaintances that drop you at the slightest hint of inconvenience.

    Building purposeful, and strong long-term relationships takes a long time to develop. They also take a lot of effort to evolve and maintain to boot.

  • A marathon is hard and taxing, just like life

    Image of a man who's tired when running a marathon.

    A marathon is hard and taxing, just as life is. It also takes quite a long time to decently prepare to be capable of running a marathon, which means it parallels life in multiple ways.

    We must be able to endure hardships for significant amounts of time and maintain the capacity to push through, regardless of how tough times might be.

  • You’re never done developing

    Humanity is flawed, which inherently means we can never attain true perfection. That’s not a bad thing, but this means that we can walk the path of self-improvement endlessly.

    Even getting close to perfection, or just becoming proficient, takes a lot of time and hard labor. This means that it’s similar to running a marathon.

    Hard, physically, and mentally taxing, and a lot of preparation goes into it to even dream about finishing the run.

  • The law of process is a procedure that takes time

    The law of process means all the habits that you make time for every day will allow you to reach success in the future.

    Building useful routines takes a long time. Especially those that are complex, and not particularly exciting. Since they take such a long time to evolve in good order, they’re not considered a sprint, but rather a marathon.

  • Life is a process, not just a finish line

    Image of multiple train railways.

    Life is a journey. A continuous process if you will, that ends (or perhaps begins if you believe in the afterlife?) when you’re dead, which in this case would resemble the finish line.

    This means that we have to continue evolving, most certainly because life is ever-changing, and is not static, nor constant.

    Just like life keeps changing, which means we have to keep adapting too, so do we keep evolving as well if we live with purpose. We have to continually shape ourselves to be better mentally, and physically.

  • Life is about continually moving forward instead of quitting

    Life is full of hardships and hurdles. But it’s not about waiting for the rain to pass, but rather about learning how to dance in the rain.

    We must learn to keep pushing through, no matter how rough life gets. If we wait until the issues are resolved all the time, then chances are large that we remain in place constantly, or even regress.

    This is an ongoing process that remains true until the very moment we cease to exist.

  • It takes patience instead of being impulsive and hasty

    Life takes patience to experience fully.

    Our abilities take a long time to develop. Our mindset and smartness take countless hours to put in order, and this means we have to be patient, instead of acting impulsive and hastily.

    Acting impulsively and hastily is not only detrimental to our capacity to change, but it can even be dangerous. Taking the time to think things through, and to figure out how they’re going to impact you in the future is the right thing to do to live a long, healthy life.

  • Forego immediate gratification for delayed gratification

    Learning to delay gratification is essential to flourish in life.

    A lot of people fall victim to the dopamine-fueled immediate gratification of the senses. They crave, and almost demand to be satisfied.

    Yet, I’m telling you to practice constraint, since constantly trying to satisfy the senses is a never-ending cycle. Not to mention that it will also not be beneficial as a long-term strategy to improve your life.

    That’s why we need to teach ourselves to apply delayed gratification. To practice self-constraint, so that we can get a much larger, yet delayed reward in the future. This is indispensable in order for us to reach our goals and dreams.

  • Discipline is needed over motivation for long-term success

    Likewise, success is a marathon, not a sprint.

    Discipline is required for long-term success, much more so than just motivation. Motivation indeed gets us started, but it’s the discipline that allows us to reach success and our dreams, even when motivation starts to dwindle.

    Becoming disciplined isn’t an easy task. It involves doing things that we must do, but don’t necessarily like. It also means that we must do those things when we don’t feel like it, such as when we’re tired, feeling down, or don’t even believe in ourselves.

    But discipline means practicing good, purposeful habits and routines that allow us to persevere and reach our goals, even when motivation starts to falter.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

The red word, “FAQ” made with puzzle pieces.

What does, “life is a marathon, not a sprint” mean

Life is a marathon, not a sprint, which means that viewing things long-term can help us to make better decisions in life for the long haul. It also aids us in maneuvering the unavoidable ebb and flow that’s continually going on in life.

Thus, it conveys that looking into the distant future, rather than simply the present or immediate future, allows us to navigate life better.

It also assumes that the task at hand requires consistent, enduring effort over time, instead of a short, intense burst of energy that we can’t sustain to reach our goals.

Furthermore, it also intends that life consists of long-term goals, that are harder, but typically more meaningful to achieve rather than our short-term goals. That’s why we need to practice long-term thinking.

Who said life is a marathon, not a sprint?

An image of Phillip C. McGraw, better known as Dr. Phil.

The famous quote, “Life is a marathon, not a sprint”, was presumably first said by Phillip C. McGraw, better known as Dr. Phil. Although others may have expressed the same, or a similar quote before without it being recorded.

He is an American television personality, who became popular with hosting the fan-favorite talk show, “Dr. Phil”. He possesses a doctorate in clinical psychology.

It’s a marathon, not a sprint synonym

Slow and steady wins the race can be considered a synonym of it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

Other synonyms include:


Image of the word, “conclusions” written on a black backboard with white chalk.

Depending on semantics and how you view the world, life can indeed be classified as a marathon instead of a sprint. Slow but steady wins the race more often than not.

Many of the good, meaningful things in life require copious amounts of time and effort. That’s why we need to be patient and put in the essential hard work to become proficient and thrive in the future.

Vital life skills such as perseverance, discipline, courage, hard work, and pushing forward even when times are tough take a lot of time to become proficient at. That’s also precisely why those skills are so valuable. Because they’re so rare, and that’s why the majority of people can’t, or won’t, develop those skills.

Call to action

Goal, plan, action text on light box on desk table in home office. Business motivation or inspiration, performance of human concepts ideas.

Since success is a marathon, not a sprint, you should take the time to develop essential life skills such as perseverance, discipline, and hard work that allow you to become successful at whatever you want to accomplish in life.

It’s never too late to start building this indispensable skill set. But ideally, I would urge you to start young in life. Why? Because it takes time to develop those traits. And the younger you start, the more, and longer you can take advantage of this evolved set of skills.