Putting a label or a name on your success is like reading a weather forecast and then saying it will always remain true. Our personal definitions of success change throughout life. The more we learn, the better informed we are to set goals and measurements for ourselves that make sense for who we really are.

There was a time when I thought the only way my life could have any meaning was if I scored a job at one of the big, top advertising agencies. Then I realized (1) I don't have the personality for agency life and (2) how limiting and dull life is if your options are limited.

Success should not be narrowed to such limited parameters.

I’m a distance runner, but I wasn’t always. It took me a few (many), desperate attempts to get ramped up where the thought of running

Each time I laced up my shoes and set out to “run,” leaving the goal open-ended. After a mile, I’d feel a pain in my side and that annoying sensation where the blood pumps in your ears. So, I would stop. And then I would stop for a few months, maybe a year, and then reluctantly start again.

After college, I signed up for a half marathon in an attempt to achieve some significant (to me) milestone, and also give myself something to train towards. “Just going for a run” didn’t cut it. What I learned after that first painful race was that running can be tormenting but also adrenaline filled. And it ignited something: it helped me understand on another level what people mean when they say “push through the pain.”

Resist the desire for instant gratification; it never helps the long run

“Success usually comes down to choosing the pain of discipline over the ease of distraction, says author James Clear. "And that’s exactly what delayed gratification is all about.”

Okay, maybe we don’t have to be in physical pain, but there is mental discomfort derived from mental labor, long nights, tight deadlines, and any other unpleasant thing that life throws at us. The aversion to being uncomfortable combined with the deliverance of just about anything on-demand has fostered our hunger for instant gratification.

The aversion to being uncomfortable combined with the deliverance of just about anything on-demand has fostered our hunger for instant gratification.

A Boston Globe article referenced a study looking at the “viewing habits of 6.7 million internet users” and asked how long subjects could be patient. The answer? Two seconds. When waiting for a video to load, the abandonment rate after five seconds was 25 percent. This type of behavior is especially true of the Millennial generation, those that grew up with an immersive technology experience.

It's this type of behavior that makes us grind our teeth in frustration when we don't reach our goals or get the promotion or race time we wanted NOW. Running is largely physical, but when the body tires out, the mind is what must keep us going. Not only that, but the body takes more time than the mind to grow and develop strength.

Distance running requires patience: patience to run the distance and patience to stick with a training plan week-after-week and month-after-month to see (and feel) results. I would even argue success in many circumstances is about sticking to a plan as much as it's about completing the race.

Neuroscience studies have found, "In more patient people, the researchers observed increased activity in the region of the brain that helps you think about the future (the anterior prefrontal cortex). The patient individuals, it seems, devoted more energy to imagining receiving their reward later."

Future success, however it may be defined, depends on visualizing what you want.

Learn to crave consistency and knowledge

Consistency and reliability are not sexy ideas. These are words often used to describe a car or a student loan payment plan,

“Once you find your sweet spot, you can train consistently week after week, month after month and year after year. This ‘stacking’ of successful training week on top of successful training week will lead you to your full potential,” says Greg McMillan, an exercise physiologist, and USATF-certified coach.

Finding that sweet spot in anything you do is critical. Whether it's not working over 50-hours a week, which science has proven results in declined productivity, or knowing that having two hard workouts in a row makes your hamstrings hate you—find it. Own it. Learn from it and let it be your success barometer.

One way to do this is to pick something that you want to do, something with an end-goal, and record everything you do in a week to work towards it. What worked? What didn't? How did you feel after that workout or starting your hard tasks at eight a.m. versus nine a.m.? Pay attention to what you learn and adjust your behavior as needed.

Seeking out advice from experts in your favored field is always a good move. When I decided I actually wanted to achieve a half-marathon PR—that's nerdy runner speak for a personal record—I read articles, talked to people at running stores, and joined running groups to check out what more seasoned runners did. Silence the negative and craft your own success story

I once had a boyfriend who constantly told me I needed to change the story I told about myself. The relationship didn't last but the advice did.

I once had a boyfriend who constantly told me I needed to change the story I told about myself. The relationship didn't last but the advice did.

At the time I was early(er) in my career and suffered from a chronic case of self-doubt about my ability to do anything well. I refused to believe that any job had a learning curve and instead assumed my colleagues walked into their roles knowing exactly how to do everything from writing a report to speaking up at a meeting and sounding confident.

With the help of some encouraging and honest bosses—I was very lucky—and observing the fact that everyone I deemed "successful' never once uttered a negative thing about themselves in the workspace, I started to understand that how we are perceived by ourselves and others is much more in our control than we think. A recent Runner's World article talked about the benefits of silencing your inner critic through self-talk. Endurance athletes, especially ultrarunners, see performance benefits from self-talk during training and performance. It's the sports version of crafting your own story.

Frontiers in Psychology confirm: "People using self-talk, for example telling yourself 'I can do better next time’—performed better than the control group in every portion of the task."

When I ran a half marathon in Wisconsin, in November, with a severe cold, (I would not recommend), the only thing that got me through it, other than my loop of reggaeton music on Spotify, was my mantra of, "you're a stone cold beast." It was a short story.

The only thing that got me through it [half marathon], other than my loop of reggaeton music on Spotify, was my mantra of, "you're a stone cold beast." It was a short story.

It may have been the cold medicine talking, but it worked. I finished and I managed to sprint through the finish line. On that day, my success was finishing the race. But in another day and another time, I will go for that PR of one hour and forty-five minutes.

Onward and upward

The measurement of success and achievement may fluctuate; we are never the person we were yesterday. But running has taught me to be okay with the tides of change. It demands patience and requires showing up every day whether we are thrilled about it or not. Yet those that do, will no doubt find their success—and perhaps a faster pace—ahead.

Rachel Henry is a freelance writer and editor based in Chicago. She's a firm believer in having chocolate every day and is an avid reader of just about anything. Find her on LinkedIn.