That process has been all the more difficult in recent seasons by the number of clubs -- Newcastle, West Brom and tonight's opponents Swansea among them -- who have won promotion and then made the transition to the big time with aplomb.
However, as the Magpies have perhaps discovered this time around, there is no room for complacency and O'Neill is not about to be lulled into a false sense of security despite seeing the Black Cats ease themselves nine points clear of the drop zone with a run of five wins in eight outings.
He said: "I have got a difference of opinion about establishing oneself -- you could be in this league for five years and you could struggle in any given year and then find yourself not as established as you thought you were.
"Every single year presents the same challenges. You have to get to the points.
"Manchester City, Manchester United and a few sides like that -- Chelsea, Arsenal, those sides who have been contesting top four -- wouldn't think about worrying about 40 points, but there are quite a number of teams who do."
Of Sunderland's on-going efforts to sign Swansea's Gateshead-born striker Danny Graham, O'Neill said: "I would like to try to improve it if we can. It's not always that easy, but we will try to do it. If we are left with this (squad), then we would have to try to manage it as best we can, but I am still hoping we can do something."
3SUNDERLAND v SWANSEA, SKY SPORTS 2, KO 7.45