How to Improve Your Patience: 7 Thoughts from the Last 500 Years

by Henrik Edberg


Image by jimharmer (license).



“God bestows upon one man genius without patience and upon another man patience without genius. The relative achievements of the two are often surprising.”
Walter C. Klein

“Patience is the companion of wisdom.”
St. Augustine

“If I have made any valuable discoveries, it has been owing more to patient attention than to any other talent.”
Sir Isaac Newton

One of the most helpful qualities a person can have if s/he wants to grow is to be patient. With patience and persistence you can overcome pretty much anything.

But why is it hard to be patient? How can you improve your patience? And how can patience help you out practically in life?
Here are seven timeless thoughts that may give you some answers to such questions.

1. Social programming can stand in the way.

“How can a society that exists on instant mashed potatoes, packaged cake mixes, frozen dinners, and instant cameras teach patience to its young?”
Paul Sweeney

Everything is moving fast in today’s society. Instant gratification is default setting in many minds.

I’m not saying this to rail against today’s society. I’m just saying it to give at least a partial explanation why patience is hard to understand and use to your advantage.

Social programming doesn’t pay much attention to patience. It wants you to do more right now instead. And after a few years here you may want to have more things right now. And the thought of delaying gratification may seem a bit… weird.

2. With patience you’ll get it.

“He that can have patience, can have what he will.”
Benjamin Franklin

This may not be such a popular thought. People may not want to hear about it.

Still it’s what every successful person has had. And so they chipped away. Practised day in and day out.

It often looks like they have some massive talent or big stroke of luck when they become successful. That might be the case. But people may not see all the years of hard work that came before that big break. Or they don’t want to see it and instead rationalize it as “huge talent” or “luck”. That way they don’t have to think about the fact that they also have the option of putting in all that work. And that they by doing things that way could perhaps someday even outdo the dreams they have right now.

It’s easier to just put it down as big talent or luck. And keep dreaming about quick fixes and magic pills.

3. Don’t give up yet.

“Patience is necessary, and one cannot reap immediately where one has sown.”
Soren Kierkegaard

“It’s not that I’m so smart,
it’s just that I stay with problems longer.“

Albert Einstein

Since society tells us to look for quick fixes it’s easy to make the mistake of giving up to soon. After you have failed perhaps 1-5 times. That’s the “normal” thing to do. But what could have happened if someone just kept going after that? And for each failure learned more and more about what works?

I think people often make a mistake of giving up too early. Your mind probably has a reasonable timeframe for success. This might not correspond to a realistic timeframe though.

It’s useful to take a break from advertised perspectives and let more realistic perspectives seep into your mind. Learn from people who have gone where you want to go. Talk to them. Read what they have to say in books or online. This will not give you complete plan but a clearer perspective of what is needed to achieve what you want.

Now, that’s not to say that you should never quit. But it can be helpful to keep going on your current path for a while longer.

And that’s not to say that you should do the same thing over and over in exactly the same manner. It’s better to do and get an experience. Take the lessons you can learn from that real life experience. And then adjust how you do things as you try again.

4. It gives you an advantage.

“Nothing gives one person so much advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances.”
Thomas Jefferson

While other people fly off the handle you can remain cool and patient. While other people give up after trying a few times you keep moving. While others run in circles chasing the next quick solution to their problems you stay steadily on your path.

5. It’s a form of protection.

“Patience serves as a protection against wrongs as clothes do against cold. For if you put on more clothes as the cold increases, it will have no power to hurt you. So in like manner you must grow in patience when you meet with great wrongs, and they will be powerless to vex your mind.”
Leonardo Da Vinci

This is a wonderful point. With patience wrongs or failure will not feel like the end of the world. They no longer hold such a large emotional power over you that you just give up. You know that if you just keep going and perhaps adjust how you do things then your life will improve.

6. Build it.

“Patience can’t be acquired overnight. It is just like building up a muscle. Every day you need to work on it.”
Eknath Easwaran

“We could never learn to be brave and patient if there were only joy in the world.”
Helen Keller

The more you can remain patient the easier it gets. It’s a muscle you build over months and years of time.

As Keller says, life can teach you to become more patient. During the rough parts of life you often have no choice but to be patient. These are the times that will especially strengthen your patience muscle.

When we are young we get much of what we want instantly from our parents and other grownups. As we become adults we learn that people won’t give us everything we want anymore. If we want to have the things we really want we often have to learn to be patient.

Otherwise we may time after time wind up in a loop where we get things we kinda want right now to cover up the real and deeper wants. This can bring dissatisfaction after the initial buzz of newness dissipates. A vague knowing at the back of our minds. As we consume more right now to make that uneasiness go away.

7. Be patient with yourself.

“Have patience with all things, but chiefly have patience with yourself. Do not lose courage in considering you own imperfections but instantly set about remedying them – every day begin the task anew.”
St. Francis de Sales

This is a very important thing to keep in mind when it comes to personal development and life. Because things will not always go as planned. You will fail. You will bail out because of fear. You will become confused. You will do things you know you shouldn’t have done. You will probably do these things more than once.

Don’t beat yourself up about it for two weeks or three months. Or give up.

Instead, be smart and patient with yourself. And get back up on that horse and back in the saddle again tomorrow.

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{ 26 comments }

Travis September 16, 2010 at 6:41 pm

“It’s not that I’m so smart,
it’s just that I stay with problems longer.“
Albert Einstein

This is very reminiscent of a study presented in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, in which students that simply worked on problems for longer (IE, had more patience) were the same students that performed best on math problems. It’s fascinating how powerful patience can be, both in that short-term example, as well as in the long-run over years and years.

One warning about patience, however, is that it should be coupled with persistence. Too much of one without the other either leaves you complacent (no persistence), or so rushed that your work has no chance to breathe (no patience).

Derek September 16, 2010 at 8:19 pm

An excellent post. It’s also important to remember that patience, like a lot of things in life, is a skill. You can get better at it with practice!

Conor Hughes September 16, 2010 at 8:48 pm

Henrik, great article…I loved it. Some personal points:

For me, patience start with gratitude. Being aware of what I already have creates a mental framework where I can allow myself the freedom to wait for the harvest. If I am happy with who I am today, then everything else is a bonus.

The point on instant gratification is very pertinent – I like to think of change in terms of consistency verses intensity. People who levitate towards instant gratification try brief and sporadic periods of intense effort to get results – like going to the gym and killing yourself for a few weeks…but it is the person who shows up every day, the person who is consistently taking steps to improve, that gets lasting results.

This is why patience is such an important virtue. Any change is a product of your brains plasticity, and that process takes time. Indeed, many of the best performers in the world were not recognized as such until at least 10 years of solid practice. They were consistent, patient, and as you point out, willing to fail.

Thanks again for the post.

Paul Garrigan September 17, 2010 at 12:50 am

I now live in Thailand and here people focus more on the process rather than reaching the goal. Considering that I spend most of my life on the way to goals it makes sense that I learn patience. Of course this is easier said then done; I originally come from a goal orientated culture. When I do try to just enjoy the ride it makes life so much better.

Adam Sicinski September 17, 2010 at 2:13 am

Of late, I haven’t been too patient. Things that I’ve wanted to achieve are taking a little longer than expected. However, reflecting on past experience, patience has actually paid off in the long-run. I think it allows us time to think and reflect on things, to see situations from a different perspective. Moreover, it allows us to gain new insights, which leads to better decisions and hopefully results in the future.

I think that is where I need to be at the moment :)
Thanks for the reminder Henrik :)

Sven Schoene September 17, 2010 at 4:19 am

Hey Henrik,

just discovered your blog and this first post is phenomenal! Really enjoyed it, especially since I’ve started to think about patience a few days ago (synchronicity?).

The more I look for it the more I see impatience in myself and in others on a daily basis – and it’s annoying.

Your post clearly illustrated why it is so important to develop patience, so there’s no need for me to talk about that. However, consider one more perspective as to why instant gratification is so powerful:

From an evolutionary perspective thinking long-term doesn’t make sense. Time and energy are finite and every species that wanted to survive the “survival of the fittest” HAD to become considerate with what it spends its time and energy on.

Our brain just doesn’t get why we shouldn’t eat that pizza or chocolate bar RIGHT NOW, and instead go exercising. We are not wired to understand it. Jogging has so many drawbacks if you are wired for the short-term, it’s not even funny. Our brain thinks we’re joking when we say that “That pizza is bad for me. I better go running now.” Do you know how many calories that pizza has? Today, we can buy more calories for $1 than we could for $100 a hundred years ago.

Short-term thinking was good back then. We didn’t have refrigerators and we needed to live “in the moment”. Nowadays it seems like everything short-term is getting more and more counterproductive. Society values long-term thinking and that’s a good thing. We are just not wired for it.

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try to transcend our wiring, though. ;-)

Anyway, just my thoughts. Keep up the good work, Henrik, I saved your blog.

Sven

Henrik Edberg September 18, 2010 at 11:56 am

Hi and welcome! Thank you for adding your perspective, that’s a really interesting point that I hadn’t considered.

Sandra Lee September 17, 2010 at 7:37 am

Hi,

I love the quote from Albert Einstein – he just stuck with things longer! I also agree with #5, patience is a wonderful antidote to anger. This is a great overview on patience. Thanks so much.

samar September 17, 2010 at 9:52 am

thanks a lot for the nice article
i liked point 7 , because patience is the key for successful personal development
and again thanks a lot Henrik you helped me a lot recently.

kitchensink September 17, 2010 at 3:49 pm

Your post couldn’t have come at a better time for me.

I’ve been waiting impatiently for this wisdom. It really brings a feeling of peace that I hope to share.

John Sherry September 17, 2010 at 4:39 pm

What really interests me is despite the number of great modern quotes the real, true deeper wisdom is found from hundreds and over a thousand years ago like ones you include. It’s as if they were ahead of their time and their words were meant for now. They speak to me whether it be patience or motivation. Keep them coming Henrik because it’s special stuff.

Guru Talks September 17, 2010 at 9:19 pm

Hmmm …. patience! I’d better call it “maturity” . Alone patience never gives great results (as I feel) — it only stops some harm to be happen which we find in short-cut routes.

Camille September 18, 2010 at 3:23 am

Henrik, you wrote: Be patient with yourself.
This is a very important thing to keep in mind when it comes to personal development and life. Because things will not always go as planned. You will fail. You will bail out because of fear. You will become confused. You will do things you know you shouldn’t have done. You will probably do these things more than once.

And I have to agree with you 100%! This is the hardest lesson I’ve had to learn in my life – being patient with me! In trying to change my life, I’ve learned that success doesn’t come over night, and I’ve had to step back in patience, instead of reacting with impatience and just giving up.

Henrik Edberg September 18, 2010 at 11:57 am

Thank you all for the kind words and for adding your insights about patience! :)

Wes September 20, 2010 at 2:41 pm

Excellent post!

I just came across your site. With this being the first article I read, I have to say I am impressed. I will be reading more, and have bookmarked your site for future visits!

Thank you!

Guru Eduardo September 20, 2010 at 6:07 pm

good article and good comments.

Let me add something I’ve been thinking…patience with action produces results; sometimes favourable and sometimes not, patience without action produces boredom.

Z. Deacon Blue September 21, 2010 at 3:55 am

Really liked this post and your blog in general, I have recently started a similar project at: http://ministryofhappiness.wordpress.com/2010/09/19/the-wisdom-of-children/

Ryan Biddulph September 21, 2010 at 7:27 am

Hi Henrik,

Super insight here.

Waiting patiently builds immense power. As Da Vinci noted it’s like putting on layer after layer of clothes to insulate yourself from the cold.

As you noted the “normal” thing to do is to give up after a few tries. Those with patient power keep trying until they reach their goals.

Thanks for sharing the wonderful post :)

Ryan Biddulph

Kim September 21, 2010 at 9:05 am

Patience is a virtue and many few are blessed with that virtue . Out of impatience we tend to do all wrong things. What you said about being patience with oneself is a great teaching for personal development. Having patience during trying times is what makes a person more strong and wise.
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Cindy September 22, 2010 at 6:54 am

Alyssa Milano just posted your page on Twitter and I just happened to click on the link and I’m so glad I did! Your page is great and your writing is quite good. Thank you for spreading goodness and positive thought. I’ve needed a little of this lately and I guess I didn’t land here by coincidence!

Graeme September 22, 2010 at 4:09 pm

Wow, this really stood out to me: “Otherwise we may time after time wind up in a loop where we get things we kinda want right now to cover up the real and deeper wants.” – I think that’s a really great point, got to write it down, haha. Do I want this quick fix, or do I want something much deeper than that? I could ask myself that all the time about everything.

Also loved the Kierkegaard and Da Vinci quotes.

Keep well,
Graeme

organic made easy September 22, 2010 at 8:21 pm

Patience becomes easier, for me at least, when I find other ways to note progress. Carrying the view that “the ride towards the goal” has many opportunities for joy is what sustains my patience. Whether it be setting small goals that can be achieved quickly and reassure me that the big one is coming….or, whether I feel meaning and joy while doing the steps it takes to achieve the end goal…the process of “finding joy in the path” is the only thing that has allowed me to sustain faith and thereby sustain my patience.

Thanks for the post :)

Alex Yong September 23, 2010 at 3:17 pm

Over the years, I have encountered many failures, due to my impatience. I’ve learned my lesson well that patience is one of the important elements for success.

A well defined post about patience. I love those quotes you’ve here.

Thanks for sharing.

Gabriel September 24, 2010 at 8:39 am

Human nature is hardwired and as you said with social conditioning to want to see instant result. For a lot of us, being patient means we have to wait. It’s that waiting for the unknown and wanting to have that certainty now, makes us impatient in wanting to have that instant result.

Could it possibly be a fear-based thing? Perhaps. If we could see the good end-result, we would persist patiently, but if we see a bad end-result, we would most likely stop. So perhaps it could be a fear of not knowing if it is going to end up badly that impatience kicks end to stop us from wasting any more effort or keep doing the same wrong thing.

Latoya September 27, 2010 at 3:59 am

Patience is a virtue because it makes us as people better.

Quote- “All good things comes to those who wait”.

mel September 28, 2010 at 5:21 am

thankyou for this one,i get so impatient ,and want things to happen fast,but thinking back over how ive achieved anything,it was always a bit by bit learning practising and doing,dull but true lol,the trick is not to give up if you stuff up,just learn more and try again

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