The Two Year Rule
Jeff Bezos is a visionary. The founder and CEO of Amazon, he is also a kajillionaire who is using his fortune to create a future where space travel isn’t limited to astronauts and The Jetsons. There are also unsubstantiated rumors that he is a ninja. Beyond all of that, Jeff Bezos has turned Amazon into a killing machine that has managed to disrupt almost every industry it has ever entered.
A few weeks ago, after binge watching Dragon Ball Z Abridged for the third time (best thing ever), I stumbled upon an interview of Jeff Bezos on YouTube(2nd best thing ever). He said a number of profound things, any number of which would’ve been worthy of an article, but there was one point in particular that stuck with me.
Jeff happened to make a comment about how during his quarterly conference calls, analysts almost always ask him about how much money he expects Amazon to make in the next three to six months. Invariably, these same analysts tend to imply that relatively recent initiatives are the key factors driving the growth of revenue and Amazon as a whole. However, Jeff pointed out that he takes a very long-term view that can be measured in years rather than months and that recent initiatives and products don’t have as much effect on Amazon’s current results as one may think.
He then made the point that is the focus of this article: the results that Amazon sees in any given quarter is not because of what was done during that quarter. It was a result of what was done two or even three years earlier.
A few years ago, I had to make a somewhat difficult decision. I’d entered that awkward phase where even though I’d just finished grad school, I was broke as if I were still in grad school. I had just enough to rent an apartment, but instead I made the tough choice to move back in with my parents (thanks mom and dad. lol). I knew that my goal wasn’t to have my own apartment, my goal was to have my own home, and the fastest way for me to save up a down payment for a house while also building up my credit was to swallow my pride and move back in with my parents.
For two years I had to deal with people making fun of me behind my back and to my face. I felt the pangs of guilt when I read articles written in a derisive tone talking about college educated millennials that were still living at home. There were plenty of times I almost quit on my plan, but my dad pushed me to stick with it, and a few years later, I’m glad that I listened. Now, I’m writing this with my feet on my own couch (hi mom), dropping crumbs from the cookies I had for breakfast (HI MOM), in my own house. The principle that Jeff Bezos used when talking about the wonderful results of Amazon as a company also applies to our individual lives.
Where you currently are in your life isn’t a result of what you are doing now. It’s probably not even a result of what you did last week or last month. Where you are at this moment is likely a result of what you did — or didn’t do — two or three years ago.
For better or for worse, it often takes two or more years for the full weight of our decisions to come to bear. No one gains fifty pounds overnight, and unfortunately, no one loses it overnight either. In my case, by the time I realized I needed to get active, I was already pushing 300 pounds. I’d played sports all my life and lifted weights for years, but I allowed a lot of bad habits to set in during grad school. I kept those habits even when I got out and started working, and before I knew it, my weight had spiraled out of control. It took about two years of consistent work in the gym before I was able to see a big change in my body and my overall health. That was two years of work without much of a tangible payoff, but in the end, I was rewarded with the results I wanted.
The two year rule applies to virtually everything in life and can be useful in helping you identify the bad habits that are holding you back. If there’s an area of your life that you’re not happy with, stop and ask yourself what you were doing in that area two years ago. If your finances aren’t where you want them to be at the moment, maybe it’s because of the credit card debt you racked up a couple years back and not because of the promotion you missed out on last week.
People have a tendency to overemphasize the effect of recent events on our present situation and completely overlook the cumulative effect of our pattern of behavior.
There are many reasons why this is the case (one of those reasons being that it’s easier to blame our failures on events outside of our control than to take responsibility for our own bad habits), but the effect of this mistake is that it keeps us focused on the symptoms of the problem rather than addressing the root cause of it.
The two year rule is an excellent way to solve problems, but the best use of the two year rule is to prevent problems from happening in the first place. All of our debt will come due, and the longer we take to address it, the harder it gets to deal with. We know it, but we do nothing about it because the benefits of our bad decisions are immediate while the rewards of good decisions are somewhere off in the distant future.
When we realize that many of the chronic problems we have in our lives are the result of our actions — or inaction — from two or three years ago, it demonstrates to us that our “harmless” bad decisions aren’t so harmless after all. It helps us make better decisions in the present because we know that future suffering or enjoyment isn’t as far away as it seems.
There’s an old saying that every overnight success is ten years in the making. To imagine having to wait ten years for something we want to come to fruition would only serve to discourage most of us. But to think about our lives in two year increments is far easier to swallow and is also a far more effective period to gauge the quality of our decisions. When we begin to take more of a birds-eye view of our lives, it becomes much easier to identify areas for improvement as well as the overall direction of our lives. Learning to make decisions with the next two years in mind rather than the next two hours will only help us live each day with a purpose rather than living each day as if it were an accident.