You likely already know this, but this journey you’re on will take some time. Years, most likely. To get where you’re going, you’ll need patience. There’s no way around it; you have no other option but to be patient. Every single person you look up to got to where they are through hard work and patience, because that’s just how great things happen. Your journey of redefining your life, moving toward intentional living, and perpetual self improvement requires patience.
All of these paths take significant time, as they are not easy and require small steps taken often. They cannot, by their nature, be completed in one big leap. Really, they cannot ever be truly completed. These are all life-long paths, and while you will see changes in your life as you embark down these paths, and those changes will shift your perspectives on life and often make you happier, there is no end goal. But even seeing these changes in perspective will take time, and thus, patience.
Progress takes time, but don’t let that get you down. Remember that (I know you’ve heard me say this before) the time will pass whether you’re taking advantage of it or not. Five years from now, you can be seeing all the progress you’ve made, or still wishing that you had started five years ago. Whether it’s planting a tree, going back to school, starting weightlifting, or writing your book, the best time to start was 10 years ago. The second best time is now. If you commit to a goal and make tiny changes every day, taking small but consistent steps, you are guaranteed to make progress because time continues to pass. Try to find comfort in this.
Along with the patience to endure the wait before you can enjoy the fruits of your labors, a journey of self improvement will require quite a bit of patience with yourself. You will slip up. Often. Daily. Several times a day, if we’re being realistic. I slip up often. Daily. On some days I do nothing but mess up. Continuing on this path requires endless patience for your mistakes because they will happen often, and beating yourself up over them will prevent more progress in that moment, and potentially undo previously made progress. You are learning a new skill. It is a difficult one that many people never learn, but it is an endlessly rewarding skill to have. Along this journey, treat yourself the way a mother treats a child learning to walk. Treating yourself with endless kindness can be difficult, especially when you’re just starting out, but without it, changing your life will be miserable, and likely, impossible.
When it comes to being patient while creating change in your life, there are two main areas that require patience: yourself, and everything else. You will make tons of mistakes on this journey. You’ll have days where not only do you not make any progress, but you actively undo previously made progress. It’s inevitable. Be patient with yourself. You’ll also need to be patient with the world. The slow passage of time will be a constant source of annoyance, and waiting to see the results you’re working toward requires patience.
How to be Patient with Yourself
1. Realize that you are just like everyone else, and everyone else makes mistakes as well. We are human. Humans make mistakes. It is inevitable. Barack Obama, the notorious RBG, that woman you follow on Instagram who looks flawless in every photo and takes the most beautiful flat lays, your parents, your professors, me, you, we all make mistakes. We all have bad days. There is no way around it. Embrace it. Instead of focusing on your mistake, think about all the other people who have made the same mistake, likely hundreds of times, and come out the other side even stronger for it.
2. Know that there is nothing to be gained from being impatient with yourself. There is no point in wasting time or mental energy berating yourself. Remember that no one is allowed to waste your time, not even yourself. Time is your most precious resource. By beating yourself up, you are wasting time. And if you’re beating yourself up for beating yourself up, that is still wasting time. Instead, pick up the next thing that needs to be done and get to work. The new task will distract your brain from its current thought spiral and prevent you from wasting more of your precious time and energy.
3. Your slip ups are not failures, they’re learning opportunities. Whatever it is that you’ve just failed at, think of someone you consider an expert in that area. I guarantee that they’ve failed at just the same thing, and they’ve failed at it hundreds of times. Failure is where the greatest lessons come from. Success without failure is exceedingly rare. The expert is an expert because she has failed more times than the beginner has even tried. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, take a moment to look at what went wrong and how it can be avoided next time, and then keep moving forward.
4. Treat yourself the way you treat your best friend. If your best friend made whatever mistake you just made, would you yell at her? Would you tell her she’s worthless and will never be any good at whatever she’s trying to do? Fuck no. At least, not seriously. If you would, you need to reevaluate how you treat others. You would tell her that it’s okay, everyone makes mistakes. You’d be right there by her side as she tried again, and you’d be there to pick her up if the next try didn’t work out either. So why would you do anything less for yourself? You are just as worthy of love and support as she is. Be your own best friend.
5. Be mindful. I bring this up all. the. time. Few things have changed my life as much as mindfulness. A large part of the practice of mindfulness is patiently pulling your focus back to your breathing over and over, even as your thoughts constantly drift elsewhere. As you develop this practice through meditation, it can be applied elsewhere in life. If you find yourself becoming impatient, notice that thought, acknowledge it, but do not react to it, and send it on its way. Pull yourself over and over back to the breath. Meditation teaches us to have endless patience with ourselves and our thoughts, and that it is not a bad thing to have moments that don’t go as we’d like them to.
6. Don’t let one failure ruin your entire day. You can get back on track. This isn’t a race, and you aren't disqualified for messing something up. Rather than wallowing in your failure, accept it, get back up, and move on. To put things in perspective, flip the situation. If 5 minutes of your day go flawlessly, do those 5 minutes prevent you from having any bad moments the rest of the day? Not typically, no. So why should 5 bad minutes ruin the entire rest of the day? Take a breath, and begin again. The act of moving on and starting over will make you feel better. Nothing magically resets when you go to bed each night. Any moment can be used as a moment to pause and start over, so if you find one slip up trying to ruin the rest of your day, decide that the bad moment is in the past and doesn’t get to drive your mood anymore, and start the next moment with a new mindset.
How to be Patient With Everything Else
1. Distract yourself. Keep yourself busy with other things that need to be done. Not busy busy, the kind that leaves you frazzled and exhausted, but more the “occupied” type of busy. Remember those moments in school where you just stare at the clock, slowly waiting for each minute to pass? Sitting around just waiting for change to happen will give you the same feeling. Each minute will be an eternity. Get up and go do something. Put on Netflix and clean your bathroom. It could probably use it. Grab your best friend, get in the car, pick a direction, and drive until you find something neat. Get lunch at a weird little diner. Pick up a new hobby. If you keep yourself distracted, rather than focusing on how slowly time is passing, days and weeks will go by in the blink of an eye.
2. Set mini goals. Celebrate milestones. I want to be able to run a sub 30 minute 5k. I can’t do that yet, and it’s going to take some time before I can. To make the wait a bit easier, I have smaller goals along the way. Though they aren’t my big goal, I definitely plan to celebrate when I can run a sub 31 minute 5k (my current fastest time). I’ll celebrate when I can run 2 miles in 18 minutes. I treat myself like a queen every time I run more than 4 miles, no matter how long it takes. And realistically, as soon as I do run a sub 30 minute 5k, I’m going to immediately set a new goal to go faster, farther, or both. Part of setting goals is reaching them and realizing that now that you’re here, you can do even better, so you set an even higher goal. This isn’t a bad thing. So since you’re probably going to set new goals once you get to your current goal anyway, why not set some milestone goals along the way? Then instead of celebrating when you get to your big goal in a year, you can celebrate every 2 months along the way.
3. Admire the progress you’ve already made. Rather than wishing for time to pass more quickly so you can see more progress, take time to reflect on how far you’ve already come. If your goal is something that can be documented visually, like losing weight, gaining weight, or cleaning your home, take pictures along the way. Sometimes it can be hard to see progress when it comes a little at a time, but looking back at a picture from a few months ago can make it very clear that you’ve made massive improvements already. You don’t need to wait 6 more months to see progress, when progress can be made in a couple days or weeks. Reflect on where you started, and celebrate the changes that have already been made.
4. Have fun. You know how people say that time flies when you’re having fun. You probably know this already, but they’re not wrong. This ties right back in to point 1. Any time you spend doing something you genuinely enjoy will go by much more quickly than time spent doing something you hate. Go have fun. It’s good for you.
5. Practice letting go of the things you can’t control. If you’re doing everything you can right now (at a sustainable pace that won’t lead to burnout), then the only option you have is to be patient and enjoy the ride. Find comfort in letting the things that are out of your control (e.g. the passage of time) remain out of your control. If letting go of everything you can’t control and enjoying the journey isn’t comforting, reflect on your values. It is empowering to value self improvement, and taking action to move your life in the direction you want it to go, but it is also empowering to let go of the things you are unable to control. Trying to control things that are out of your grasp will lead to nothing but frustration. I’m not religious, but the serenity prayer runs through my mind often, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”.
6. The journey is the important part, so enjoy it. Find a grind that you love. Valuing immediate change won’t teach you the lessons that come with the journey. Look back at your life; the journey has turned out to be the important thing, hasn’t it? Those end moments aren’t what ended up really mattering, were they? Often it’s those everyday moments, that daily grind, that really taught you the most about yourself and moved you in the right direction. What you are doing now is the important part, not the end goal. Enjoy the journey. Enjoy the process. Enjoy that life forces us to slow down and see things through every step of the way without just jumping to the end. If you could just jump to the completed goal, everything would be easy and everyone would do it. There isn’t any value in that. Being able to have patience and stay on this journey is what makes you special and what makes what you’re doing important. The goals may be what keeps us moving forward, but the journey is what matters. Pay attention to the journey and learn everything that you can from it.