Joe Hyams, a Hollywood biographer, and martial arts legend, was on the verge of quitting his training after one tough session.
Master Bong Soo Han pulled him aside, “You will never learn to do any endeavor properly unless you are willing to give yourself time. I think you are accustomed to having everything come easy to you, but this is not the way of life or of the martial arts.”
As many of us might do when being lectured, Joe defended himself, “I am patient”. Yet the Master expected this reaction — “We are not talking about patience. To be patient is to have the capacity of calm endurance. To give yourself time is to actively work toward a goal without setting a limit on how long you will work”.
We’re always told patience is a virtue but this made me question my years of conditioning. A lowlight reel flashed through my mind, recalling the times I've been patient rather than giving myself time. It’s a subtle mindset change but can have a massive impact. These are the steps I’m taking to live by this principle.
Stop setting yourself arbitrary internal deadlines
I’m a classic type-A personality and have a nasty habit of setting ambitious timelines for any dream that takes my fancy. This is on top of all the commitments imposed on me by work, friends, family, and whatever else life throws at me. I often feel under pressure to make sure I don’t let others down yet still create my own artificial stress.
There’s no logical reason for us to need to have many things done by a certain time. We pluck a date out of thin air then carry it as a burden. Why? Because society told us we need to set deadlines? 80% of people fail to meet their New Year’s resolution by February so I refuse to believe the act of setting a limit makes it more likely it will happen.
There are 4 different paths we can take when we realize we won’t meet our self-inflicted target. Let’s take my past goal of running 5km in 20 minutes:
- Losing hope and giving up — Stopping running completely because there’s no point anymore.
- Being “patient”, ok it didn’t work this period but next period it will — Revising your schedule and aiming for a week later.
- Giving yourself time and keeping the intention but dropping any target dates — Continuing to run at your own pace and you’ll hit the 20-minute barrier when you’re ready.
- Succumbing to pressure and using unsustainable energy — Trying desperately to post a massive personal best and tearing a knee (guilty).
The first and fourth options are clearly undesirable. Yet the second option of patience sets you up for a similar predicament at the next due date and this time you might pick a toxic option. You are just enduring and even the greatest eventually get frustrated as your mind is focused on the outcome.
The third option is best because the pressure of your made-up deadline is gone. Instead, you are free to focus on the process and the “how” rather than the “when”.
Use if-then plans
A million goals with no timelines might sound intimidating to you. The way I control this is through using the if-then method. It stops my poor brain from flitting between ideas and being incapable of getting anything done.
To do this method yourself, all you need to do is create an order for different streams of goals. You only need to look at the first part of each stream as everything else is for future you and irrelevant for now. If you get the first part done then you move onto the next and you can add more as your dreams evolve.
Using this method means you can live in the present instead of an imaginary future. I found in the past, I’d be so busy daydreaming everything would take twice as long. It’s been proven we aren’t good at multitasking and that includes things only happening in your mind. Being patient still sucks up resources from this moment.
I want to have the strength to do handstand pushups but I can barely hold a handstand. I’m giving myself time by focusing on a smaller goal. If I can feel comfortable in 2 yoga sessions a week, then I’ll move up to 3. If I can keep this up, I’ll introduce a session focused on handstands. I’m confident I’ll reach my ambition and that I’ll enjoy the journey.
I’d also love to write a book someday though, I know I’m still adjusting to writing a couple of stories a week. I’ve got a long way to go but this doesn’t scare me. If I can write 100 articles, then I’ll start planning a book. When I get there I’ll be more prepared to bring the dream into reality.
Remember the best goals have no end
With all the corporate babble we see these days, it’s easy to think goals always need to be S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely). Yet I don’t feel the need to productivity hack and repackage everything. For me, some aims are lifelong pursuits and I’m not aiming for an external benchmark.
These fit into 3 broad areas:
- Relationship-based — There’s no level you reach where you can stop trying to improve at being a partner, friend, or family member. Saying I've done the dishes 100 times so I'm a good enough husband doesn't fly. We can’t be perfect but we can learn about the people we love for eternity.
- Character-based — I’m trying to be a good person but the criteria keep changing as I get older and wiser. I’m never going to reach a point where I can’t grow. I like to consider myself calm and considerate now but I’d be lying if I suggested I don’t get irrationally annoyed sometimes.
- Skills-based — Many artistic pursuits have no end, it’s part of what pulls us in. Some people say they want to learn to dance by the end of the year. Yet this implies dancing ability is binary. I’ve been dancing for a team for 10 years and could tell you hundreds of subskills I could improve.
Patience often doesn’t help us here as the more we know, the more we realize we don’t know. If you’re simply tolerating your imperfections then be ready for a life sentence.
Or you could choose to celebrate your small wins along the way. Accept you’ll never be perfect and view it as a gift. How can life ever get boring if you’re free to always learn new things and take on new challenges? In my training, I remember 87-year-old Master Yasuda walking into the dojo and still trying to perfect the techniques he had been working since before WW2.
What to take with you
Life isn’t to be endured, it is to be enjoyed. Reframe your thinking away from needing to be patient to accepting you need time. Trust in yourself you’ll get to where you want to be.
- Stop setting yourself arbitrary internal deadlines — It’s more important you reach your goal than when you reach it.
- Use if-then plans — Take things step-by-step and don’t get lost in the future.
- Remember the best goals have no end — Pursue something for the love of the process rather than where you might end up.
Thank you for reading and have a wonderful day!