Note: Hat tip goes to Joanna Penn, who often talks about this concept and inspired this post.

Watching the Summer Games this week gave me pause to reflect on the awesome and inspiring competition between Olympic athletes. These men and women have trained all of their lives for what can amount to a single defining performance. It doesn’t get much better than that.

There are many lessons we authors can learn from these athletes but the perhaps the most important are discipline and perseverance.

The day-to-day life on an Olympian athletes involves a constant grind of training, training and more training. When you’re competing against the best of the best, all those hours, weeks and months add up to small but vital dividends: you’re a fraction of a second faster, you can jump a half inch farther or higher — tiny little improvements that make the difference between a gold medal and last place.

For Olympians (and authors) it can be extremely discouraging to be trapped in a daily grind, working for such small changes without any immediate results. To keep their sanity, Olympians plan, prepare and measure their progress in four-year intervals.

As authors, it’s easy to get discouraged when our week-to-week book sales aren’t improving, when we’re not producing more and when our newsletter subscribers crawl up by one person every other month. At times like this, it’s vital to look at the big picture, at the change that’s taking place over the long term, not in the short run.

Four years ago, during the 2012 London Games, I was entering my senior year of college. I had a book I’d tinkered with since I was a teenager, writing and re-writing whenever the mood struck me. In August 2012 I made a goal: come hell or high water, I would finish the rough draft of that book before I graduated.

Out of Exile - Store Cover finalOut of Exile was finished in November 2012 and published in 2013. Four years later I’ve published three books in the Teutevar Saga series, a couple of short stories and a multi-author anthology. I’ve also started a hybrid publishing group and launched a service to help authors get reviews for their books. By the end of the year, we’ll be release another anthology and I’ll have outlined and started another trilogy.

Big change in four years, huh?

I don’t share this to brag or one-up anybody. There are hundreds — maybe thousands — of authors who’ve done 10x more than me in the last four years. In the same span, these men and women have become New York Times bestsellers, gathered thousands of fans and made writing their full-time occupations.

Most months, I still sell less than a dozen copies of books a month (although that number is climbing) and feel like I’m closer to the moon than becoming an author full-time. Until I look back on where I’ve come from, that is.

We’re each on our own journey, working at our own pace according to our own individual time lines. Day-to-day, it can feel like we’re spinning our wheels in the mud: like no one is reading our work, like the words we type up flow worse than a bowl of alphabet soup.

During the next two weeks, as the world celebrates Olympian achievement, take a moment to reflect on your own journey. Appreciate where you’ve come from and what you’ve accomplished in the last four years. You’ve probably come further than you realize.

Then make a plan and get to work. 2020 will be here before you know it.