How to overcome impatience and focus on long-term goals and successes
Have you heard of compound interest? If not, you should definitely learn about it, since this is a key to long-term financial success.
Essentially the idea is that if you invest $100 now, you will make interest not only on your hundred dollars, but on all of the interest that you make on that money, so over time you will make way more money.
Essentially, the more you put in early on, the more you will reap the benefits long-term. And those benefits are exponential, so while you might only make four dollars interest this year down the line if you could be making hundreds of dollars in interest on the $100 you put in today.
I’ve always known about compound interest, and definitely use that to think about how I’m saving money, but I’ve never really applied at anything else in my life.
Recently I was feeling a little down about my really slow progress on a new project. I am not a very patient person. In fact, I like to joke that patience is my least practiced virtue. I have lots of strengths and patience is so far down that list that it’s almost funny (but not really that funny since it can make life challenging).
So when I shared my struggles with a girlfriend (who has also struggled with patience) and she suggested I listen to this podcast episode on the compound effect. She told me it literally changed her entire mindset about work. She’s an entrepreneur too, experiencing similar struggles, particularly related to growing her client list. Once I listened to it, I knew this would be helpful for so many working mothers.
How instant gratification is ruining our goals and life
Before we jump into the compound effect, we should start with some of the societal changes that are setting us up for failure. I’m not talking about the kind of mini fails that lead us to great success. I’m talking about the ways in which we have changed our daily habits and what we expect from the world.
We live in a world of instant gratification. You want to watch an episode of something, turn on Netflix and there it is. Want to watch the next episode? You don’t even need to wait the 10 second countdown, you can just press “play”. I remember the days when we used to wait for the next episode of a TV show, and I would scour the TV Guide when it showed up, eager to find out whether it was going to be a new episode that week or not. Sometimes you had to wait several weeks before you got a new episode.
Think about it. That was only a decade ago. Now we can watch whatever we want, whenever we want it.
And the instant gratification goes way beyond TV. Our phones are at our fingertips. We can look up almost anything immediately. So when we need to wait, the waiting seems all that much longer.
But being able to wait for outcomes is actually really good for us. Have you ever heard of the marshmallow test? It’s a really interesting study done with kids. They told kids that you could either have 1 marshmallow now, or wait and get 2 marshmallows later. The catch is that they left the marshmallow in the room with the child. Only the kids to could resist the temptation of that marshmallow got to eat a second marshmallow.
Not only did the researchers do this test with kids, but they followed these kids for years and years. Guess what happened to those kids who were able to wait later at lunch? They were much more successful at work and in life. Being able to resist temptation, and wait for the bigger pay off down the line was a predictor of later success.
I wonder sometimes if we redid that same test now, would we have a lot less people wait for that second marshmallow?
Patience and delayed gratification lead to success
So how does the marshmallow test relate to the compound effect? Well the compound effect says that the small little things you do every day slowly accumulate to create great success down the line.
For example, my son is not going learn to read because he sat down and had a crash course in reading. It’s about consistently reading books to him, over and over and over. First he has to learn basic things, like the idea that you turn the pages (I remember so clearly when he started turning pages on board books by himself and thinking this was huge progress). Later he needed to learn that the letter on the page represents words that we are reading. He needed to learn those letters each make a different sound. Then he needed to learn how to combine the sounds together so he can actually say the words on the page. Then he needs to learn to read them more fluently, so that he can say the words. And it goes on and on.
Learning to read is a slow process. You can’t be impatient. You can’t expect instant gratification. And once you know how to read, the best way to get better and faster at it is through more and more hours of reading.
How can you build on your past successes, to set you up for future success?
When you were feeling stuck moving forward, a great way to reassess the situation, is to think about your past, and come up with examples where you have had similar situations and have come out with a positive outcome. For example what other situation have you patiently and slowly worked on something that took a long, long time, only to reap the benefits months or years later?
If you have ever lost weight, it’s a great example. You probably started a combination of better eating and more exercise (regularly running or practicing yoga); you didn’t see overnight success, but it was the compound effect of all of those small choices and decisions day after day after day for a long period of time that got you to get strong and lose weight.
The flip side is also true, if you are in a place that you are less healthy than you would like to be, it wasn’t one day or one decision that got you there, but choices that you made over a long period of time.
The other obvious place we all experience delayed gratification is our education. For years through high school, college, and any postgraduate education, we put in a huge amount of time and effort and energy into something in which we cannot directly see the results. I got a PhD, so I can really feel this, since I spent many years working toward something without really knowing the job I would have, and how I would use this knowledge and skills long-term. One of the things that made that easier I think, was that everyone was doing it. But right now, with social media, it can feel like everyone else is succeeding while it’s taking you a long time.
Remember, it’s so important to not compare yourself to what you see on social media. The success stories on social media (particularly overnight success stories), rarely describe the true stories, and almost never describe all of the time, work, and effort that went into getting that person to that place.
When have you been patient and hard-working to reach your goals?
Can you think of one or two or even three things that you worked really hard for, and were really patient about?
Think about areas where you didn’t get the benefits or the success for a long time afterwards?
Where the compound effect was at play, and your small regular contributions ultimately resulted in something so much greater?
Where the final result was so much greater than the sum of the parts?
The compound effect says that if you are patient and wait, you aren’t just going to get two marshmallows, but dozens. You just need to continue to work hard and be patient.