The Dos and Don’ts of Learning to Be More Patient

Learn to be more patient and you can be healthier, wealthier, less stressed, and more fulfilled than ever…


But if Google searches are any indication most people can’t wait that long.

They don’t have the patience to build careers:

  • “How to make money fast” gets over 33,000 searches a month.
  • “How to build a successful career” gets only 20 searches.1Search data from Ahrefs keyword generator.

They don’t have the patience to develop healthier habits:

  • “How to lose weight fast” gets 63,000 searches.
  • “How to eat healthy” gets 10,000.

And they don’t have the patience to work on their relationships.

  • “How to break up with someone” gets 13,000 searches.
  • “How to repair a relationship” gets 300.

But maybe, since you’re reading this, there’s hope for you. It’s not even that difficult. It just takes time.

Here are some dos and don’ts to get started.

Don’t wait for the wrong things.

Patience is only a virtue if you wait for the right things. Otherwise, it’s a waste of time.

For instance, you could argue that buying a lottery ticket every day is being patient. Or maybe if I had stayed patient with my corporate career, I could have eventually crept up the ladder.

But both are examples of misplaced patience. They’re missing the key ingredient:


Patience only pays off when your actions compound upon previous ones:

  • Every lottery ticket you don’t win doesn’t increase your chances of winning next time. But investing that money practically guarantees you a small fortune in the long run.
  • Every month I didn’t get a promotion didn’t increase my chances of it happening the next month.2Well before the time I “pretired,” my learning and skill development had flatlined.But focusing on building career capital instead of climbing ladders would have eventually made me so good they can’t ignore me.3I recommend Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You for more on this.

Some people get lucky and get what they want without compounding. But if you need to get lucky for your patience to pay off, you’re playing the wrong game. And you’re more likely to lose your patience than win at life.

How to measure personal productivity cover of Chris happily closing his laptop
Maybe reconsider how you measure your personal productivity if you find busy-ness is getting in the way of patience.

Don’t allow urgency to overpower patience.

Consider every productivity pornographer’s favorite model, the Eisenhower Matrix. On the horizontal axis is the level of urgency: Urgent and Not Urgent. On the vertical axis is the level of importance: Important and Not Important.

Here’s how it looks:

7 habits decision-making matrix
The Eisenhower Matrix from The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People. (Source: Wikipedia.)

Well-intended un-procrastinators busily prioritize important and urgent tasks in Quadrant 1. Then they wonder where their time went. Not for too long, though, because they have too many more urgent things to deal with.

It’s like swatting mosquitos. Better to let a few bite you while spending that energy destroying their breeding grounds.

That’s patience. Such important, not urgent tasks are in Quadrant II of the matrix. Other examples include giving your partner a daily grateful, working out, long-term planning,4I suggest these 10 “GPS” Questions to Ask Yourself and Double-Check Where You’re Heading and, most importantly, reading fantastic blog posts like this one.

Quadrant II tasks compound. Quadrant I tasks don’t. So how do you do more of the former and less of the latter?


Author Steven Covey tells us how:5Consider reading his classic book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People for a full breakdown of the Matrix.

“The key is not to prioritize what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities.”6Check out my time log example for an idea of how I try to do so.

Me holding my letter to my future self that I wrote
Do things your future selves will thank you for, like writing them letters.

Don’t be short-term selfish.

If you suffer from any symptoms of impatience—poor fitness or finances, for example—it’s because you’re selfish. You’re selfishly prioritizing the well-being of yourself today at the expense of your future self.7Brain scans show we see our future selves as strangers, which is why we treat them as such. See my post, How to Be Less Lazy and Selfish and Win Your Future Self’s Friendship, for more on this.

For example:

  • Spending $150 on a massage means you can’t put that money into savings and enjoy three massages 20 years from now.
  • Eating that slice of cake in your fridge means you won’t be able to enjoy it later. Your fatter future self will have to buy another cake to eat tomorrow.
  • Nagging your spouse right now for not taking their shoes off in the house won’t change their ways. It only pisses them off and forces your future self to make up for it later.8If you are a nagger or naggee, see my post on The WART Technique to Stop Nagging But Still Get Your Way.

But what about “enjoying the moment”?

You could argue that sometimes you have to spoil yourself at your future self’s expense.

I’d argue otherwise.

Because unless you’re truly a jerk and an idiot to boot, your future self won’t be a jerky idiot either. Your future self will understand that you need to enjoy your trip through life. They will feel miserable, too, if you don’t.

So it’s a balance.

True patience means letting your future selves have a say in the choices you make today. Optimize for everyone’s overall well-being. If you think about it, this is the most selfish thing you can do.

Don’t delay gratification.

“Live a little, would ya?”

My friends tell me this from time to time. They say it when I go home after dining out together rather than joining them for drinks at the bar. Or when I hold off on buying a new iPhone because my 4-year-old 6S works just fine. Or when I take the bus instead of Uber.

In one respect, my friends are right. I would get more enjoyment from hanging out longer, having fancier gadgets, and getting around town faster.

But they’re wrong in thinking those indulgences would make my life any better.

At some point, enough has to be enough. Saving my money, energy, or liver is not about delaying gratification. It’s about being grateful. I’m grateful for what my past self has provided me—friends to go to dinner with, a phone that works, and the decision to live in a city with efficient public transit. And I’m passing on the favor.

But what if I die tomorrow?

That’d suck. And that’s all the more reason to be grateful today. Appreciate what you have and do things your future self will be extra grateful for. Win-win.

Looking at my phone with a photo of my future self on it
Before I know it, I’ll become the old guy future self I look at on my phone (made using FaceApp).

Don’t lose track of time.

It doesn’t feel long ago that I was 17, starting university, and dreaming of all the things I’d have done by now.

Now I’m 35. So many things I thought would take forever now seem to have happened in a flash. And even more things could have happened just as fast if I’d had the patience.

If you’re younger than me, you might not think you’ll feel the same when you’re 35. I didn’t think so either.

And if you’re older than me, I imagine you’re chuckling to yourself and thinking, “Just wait until you’re 50/60/100.”

What does this have to do with being more patient?

Patience is relative. Anything you think requires patience today won’t require as much of it as you think. It’ll happen fast if you get started. But you’ll miss your opportunity just as quickly if you don’t.

To retweet Silicon Valley’s favorite guru, Naval Ravikant:

Impatience with actions, patience with results.

A Final Question For You

Bringing it all together:

If you want to be more patient, hurry up and prioritize not-urgent but important actions that compound for your future selves’ best interests, while remembering to be grateful for what you have now.

To figure out where to start, ask yourself this:

What one thing could you do (that you aren’t doing now) that, if you did on a regular basis, would make a tremendous positive difference in your life?9This is one of my 10 favorite “GPS” questions to ask yourself.

Spend less and save more?

Read more books?


Start lifelogging?

There are dozens more things I could suggest that compound and pay off if you be more patient about them. And I’m sure you can come up with dozens of ideas of your own.

Knowing what you should do is the easy part. The real question is, do you have the patience to keep at it?

Keep Patiently Making the Most of Life

Read This Next:

Disclosure: Whenever possible, we use links that earn us a cut if you pay for stuff we recommend. It costs you nothing, so we’d be crazy not to. Read our affiliate policy here.

Chris and Kim profile

Chris and Kim are responsible for what you've just read and everything on this site. The Unconventional Route exists to help you have a wonderful time figuring out for yourself how to perform a bit better at your game of life. If you're still reading this, you'd probably enjoy getting a fun, free, and fresh idea every 10 days by subscribing to our newslettter, Consider This.

What do you think? (Leave a Comment.)