I always strive to have more of it. Those who remember me from my childhood may be shocked that I have developed any patience. As a child I was diagnosed with ADHD and was a complete disaster in elementary school. Not only couldn’t I sit still or focus, but I couldn’t help but annoy my classmates. Oh, and my teachers. God bless them and their patience. To make matters worse, I always got really good grades…..so I didn’t see much need to sit in class and listen to my teachers.
My parents tried many different techniques to help me. They realized early on that I wasn’t likely to conform. I was a stubborn and energetic little boy. I believe it helped that my dad struggled with similar issues as a child. My parents set up activities to help redirect my energy to more productive (read less annoying) purposes. I started playing on two soccer teams. After school I would go on long walks or bike rides with my mom. They also encouraged my inquisitive nature by finding me books that aligned with those interests. They even went so far as to find junk parts and machines I could take apart, although I think this was so I would stay out of my dad’s tools :o)
Anyway, over time I outgrew some of these struggles and learned techniques (which I share below) to help me overcome the rest. I still march to the beat of my own drummer, which fortunately doesn’t bother my wife. I still embrace wild ideas like early retirement, frequent travel, and a longing to live on a boat. Note: My wife says NOT until our children can all swim! We’re well on our way to achieving our life goals, and we’re doing it together. The difference is in how we pursue our goals. Years ago, I would just take off on a tangent and go after something. Now, as an adult, we lay out a plan…….talk about it together…….and put that plan in action. I couldn’t do these things without patience and focus.
You may be wondering what I do to moderate my high energy level and (typically) distracted nature. Well, I share the three main concepts below. Every person is different, but nearly everybody can use more patience. It has been said that patience is a virtue. Like when your “well researched” investment idea is going south. When someone cuts you off in traffic. When your children or spouse are especially needy. When you have 5 hours worth of tasks to do, but only 3 hours to complete them. My advice to you is to let it go, just let it go.
That sounds easier than it is, so here are the three things I do to work on my patience.
1. Have Diverse Interests- When you’re struggling with one task or assignment, don’t keep “beating your head against the wall”. Move on to something else, and return to the task when you don’t feel so frustrated. I used this a lot when I was working as a project engineer. Let’s say I was in charge of a team tasked with designing a stormwater or utility network. My job was to establish the parameters and general direction, before setting the team loose to design and model the system. Invariably, there would be a hiccup somewhere along the line…..and we would hit a block wall. Usually, I would jump in and solve the problem and away our team would go again. Sometimes however, a solution would be elusive or problematic. Rather than putting together a half baked solution, I would often reassign the guys……or send them home if it was late enough in the day. Why?! Well I needed to patiently think through the problem and develop a solution, and I couldn’t do that with four guys standing in my office staring at me. I know myself and I know what works for me.
I apply the same concept to my current exploits. If I hit a roadblock writing one of my magazine articles or consulting for a client, I do something else for an hour. Maybe I need to do something physical, like work in the yard or go for a run. Maybe I need to do something relaxing, like read a book or take a shower. Maybe I need to do something fulfilling, like volunteer at the community center or cook my wife dinner. The point is, rather than plowing ahead and getting a mediocre result…….I strive to do something else, until I can return to the original task with focus and dedication. There obviously are limits, but I’ve never been prone to procrastination so this approach works well for me.
2. Physical Exercise- As I alluded to above, my body requires physical exercise. I know this isn’t true of everyone, but I am a much happier and more centered person after a nice run or walk. Heck, last weekend I prepared our garden for planting, and that did it for me. When I’m frustrated or stressed, I’ve learned that usually I can go for a short run and return to the task as a new person. Besides, who doesn’t like a cocktail comprised of vitamin D and endorphins :o)
3. Update Your Watchlist- Come on now, you knew that I was going to work investing into this somehow. The fact of the matter is that investing can be very frustrating. It is that frustration and indecision that can cause us to lose (or not make) a lot of money. One of the techniques I use to stay patient when asset prices aren’t going my way, is to update my watchlist. In this particular example I am talking about stocks, but the same concept works for all investments. For most of the last year I have been letting my cash build. My core dividend portfolio remained largely unchanged. I didn’t add to any of the holdings and even sold a few shares of companies that had become overweight in my portfolio. (To find out which companies I am buying or selling, click the “Newsletter” tab above and sign up.) Many of the last 12-15 months were very frustrating for me. I wanted to put more of my investment capital to work, but couldn’t find many stocks that I considered screaming buys.
So what did I do to keep from going insane? Obviously investing is not my only passion, and I spent plenty of time focused on my other passions. Getting back to my “Watchlist” technique, I updated my watchlist. A watchlist (or wishlist) is a list of assets or items that you would like to buy, at a specified price. I could have paid up for those items (in this case stocks), but my valuation analysis said that those stocks probably wouldn’t make a good long term investment…..at those prices. So I waited. And waited. And to a large degree I’m still waiting. I did buy an emerging market index during the sell off last month and initiated a position in Unilever (UL), but largely I am waiting for lower prices. I feel confident we well get them eventually. In the mean time I will keep cashing my dividend checks and updating my wishlist.
Patience is very important in life and investing. If you aren’t patient with those you love, you’ll strain those relationships. If you aren’t patient with yourself, you’ll develop poor self esteem. If you aren’t patient with your “well researched” investments, you won’t give them time to make you money. Yes, patience is a virtue. Every time I take a surfing trip and paddle out into the ocean, I am reminded that we will all get what we need…..we just need to wait for the right wave to come along.