In a world of life hacks and hyper-growth startups it’s easy to feel like you’re falling behind. There’s a constant pressure to do more…and do it faster!
But despite their presence in the media, these “overnight success” narratives are the exceptions to the rule. Optimizing every second of your day and starting a company that grows 10x per year are not the only paths to success.
The other side of the story doesn’t get the level of attention it deserves. The truth might not be sexy, but it’s important: creating big positive change takes time.
Progress Takes Patience
The math is simple. Marginal improvements, repeated over time, create a massive impact.
(This chart shows the difference between repeated 1% and .5% gains.)
So if this math is so simple, why don’t more people follow this advice?
The answer is that patience is not easy. Our brains are even wired to prioritize short-term gains. Focusing on the long-game takes extreme discipline.
Upon learning that progress takes patience, many people shut down.
“Well, I’m just not patient! I never have been!”
This conclusion is a serious misjudgment. It represents a fixed mindset instead of a growth mindset. Just because you’ve struggled with patience in the past doesn’t mean you can’t be more patient in the future.
Patience is not a fixed quality, it’s a skill you can develop!
And since patience is a key element of creating positive change in the long-run, it’s worth understanding how to build that skill.
Deconstructing the Role of Patience
Any project, task, or activity breaks down into three phases.
- Expectations: “I’m going to get to X and it’ll take Y time.”
- Action: “I’ll work on A, B, and C to get to X.”
- Evaluation: “After Y time, did I get where I thought I would? Do I need to adjust?”
When you feel impatient, it’s often an issue of expectations. You expect something to happen quicker than it is happening in reality.
The patient person is patient because they manage their expectations well. And they take the time to cultivate awareness of what phase they are in with a given activity.
Each phase is separate, because each serves its own purpose. (i.e. Setting expectations is a fundamentally different activity from both taking action and evaluating progress.)
But if you never take the time to deliberately think through these steps, impatience will start pushing the phases together. And when one phase cuts into another, it diminishes the unique value of both.
In real-life, this looks like:
- Taking action before setting clear expectations…
- Constantly self-evaluating instead of focusing on the task at hand…
- Feeling rushed and not taking time to intentionally evaluate progress…
Awareness of the elements at play is half the battle. The other half comes in taking a more deliberate approach.
3 Ways to Build Patience Over Time
1. Commit to the practice of patience
Understand that patience is a skill you can develop. And make a conscious decision to work on building this skill over time. When you commit to the practice, you increase your chances of recognizing impatience as it appears. It then becomes easier to focus on the task at hand, instead of trying to do too many things at once.
2. Keep the “big picture” top-of-mind to stay present
When starting new things, or feeling anxious, take a few minutes to orient with the big picture. This helps you stay present to the plan moving forward.
- Establish expectations: What am I hoping to do?
Understand that goals and expectations are a guess. Hold yourself accountable to putting in the work, but stay flexible with expected results to avoid stressing yourself out.
- Plan your work: What am I going to do to make progress?
Planning your approach helps you stay focused when it’s time to work.
- Set time for evaluation: When am I going to assess progress?
Put specific evaluation time on your calendar. Reserve any self-questioning until that point. Side note: The evaluation phase shouldn’t be about you or your self-worth (“Am I smart/good at my job?”) Evaluation is about learning, improvement, and flexibility. (“What happened when I did the work I said I would do?” / “Do I need to adjust my course?” / “Do I need to adjust my expectations?”)
3. When all else fails, hit pause
Even the best laid plans hit rough spots. The only certain thing in life is that life is full of uncertainty.
If you get caught up in a moment of change, try these tactics to re-ground yourself:
- Take 5 deep breaths: Your breath is always with you, and it’s always in your control. Focusing on your breath is settling and calming.
- Count to 10 (in your head) before taking action: Avoid impatient reactions by giving your gears a few seconds to turn. A few extra seconds now can yield big benefits later on when you make better decisions.
- Recall a time where patience paid off: Most great breakthroughs (learning a new skill, solving a problem, winning a game) come after extended periods of focus and effort. Thinking back to a positive memory can make it easier to stay disciplined when you might otherwise falter.
- Change your physical state: Mind and body are one and the same. As peak performance strategist Tony Robbins says, “To change your psychology, change your physiology.” If you’re feeling antsy, get outside and go for a walk around the block. Look at the sky. Do a few jumping jacks or pushups. Then, come back to the situation with a fresh set of eyes.
Patience is a Skill
I won’t object that “patience is a virtue.” But far more importantly, patience is a skill that you can (and should!) practice.
While others focus on shortcuts, hacks, and unreasonable work hours, let patience be your secret weapon. We know it’s a reliable path to success. And it’s healthier for your long-term wellbeing.
Commit to developing patience in your life by staying aware of your expectations. Keep action and planning separate, and prioritize time for evaluation.
And when impatience flairs up (which it will), take a quick break. Even if it’s just 10 seconds, addressing impatience in the moment makes it easier to combat down the road.
Keep pressing on! With patience at your side, there’s nothing you can’t do.