5 Practices You Urgently Need to Learn to Be More Patient

Thirty-three-thousand people a month go to Google to ask, “How to make money fast.” Only about twenty a month wonder “How to have a successful career.”1Search data from Ahrefs keyword generator.

“How to eat healthy” gets less than one-sixth the searches of “How to lose weight fast” (10,000 compared to 63,000).

And people are over forty times more likely to google “How to break up with someone” than “How to repair a relationship” (13,000 searches versus 300).

It seems a lot of people need to learn to be more patient.

But maybe you found this post by googling “how to learn to be more patient.” Hopefully not “how to quickly learn how to be more patient.” If so, you’re off on a better start than most.

And if you’re willing to continue putting in the time, consider keeping these five patience practices in mind.

1. Build instead of wait.

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.

And 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.

Patience only pays off when your actions build upon previous ones.

It’s true that some people get lucky and get what they want without building toward it. But if you need to get lucky for your patience to pay off, you’re playing the wrong game. You’re more likely to lose your patience than win at the game of 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.

2. Schedule your patience.

Consider every productivity pornographer’s favorite model, the Eisenhower Matrix:

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.

Live 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.

And how do we spend more time in Quadrant II and less in Quadrant I?

Reprioritize.

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.

3. Optimize for your overall well-being.

If you suffer from any symptoms of impatience—poor fitness, finances, or friendships, for example—it’s best to treat it at the source.

What’s causing those symptoms?

Probably not laziness, stupidity, or too many great shows on Netflix.

More likely, it’s selfishness.

You’re selfishly prioritizing the well-being of yourself today at the expense of your future self.

We’re wired that way. For instance, as I share in my guide to befriending your future self, brain scans find we see our future selves as strangers. So we treat them like strangers instead of like best friends.

So it might not feel selfish, but it is. 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.7If you are a nagger or naggee, see my post on The WART Technique to Stop Nagging But Still Get Your Way.

But wait. What about “enjoying the moment”?

Your future self wants you to do so, too. Because if you’re miserable, they will feel miserable, too. Your future self just doesn’t want you to enjoy the moment entirely at their expense.

So learning to be patient instead of selfish 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, that’s the most selfish thing you can do.

4. Be grateful and pass it on.

“Live a little, would ya?”

My friends tease me by saying so from time to time. They say it when, rather than joining them for drinks at the bar, I go home after dining out together. 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.

I’m grateful that my past self has provided me with friends to go to dinner with, a phone that works, and life in a city with efficient public transit. So saving my money, energy, and liver is not about delaying gratification. It’s about being grateful for what I have already and passing on the favor.

But what if you die tomorrow?

That’d suck. 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).

5. Hurry up and be patient.

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 believe me. I didn’t believe it either when I was your age.

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

Great. So what does this have to do with learning to be 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.

Final Question

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?8This is one of my 10 favorite “GPS” questions to ask yourself.

Spend less and save more?

Read more books?

Exercise?

Start lifelogging?

I could suggest dozens more things 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?

Have fun and be patient simultaneously.

Chris and Kim having fun
Chris and Kim having fun

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