Have you ever been caught in a traffic-jam?
Photo: Victor Hanacek. Source: Picjumbo
It can be excruciating. I was recently on my way to the airport and suddenly there was a swarm of vehicles in front of me, whether because of an accident or construction or some other reason – I really couldn’t tell. All I knew was there was a huge mob, all going where I wanted to go. And nothing – not alternate routes, not smartphone apps, not my frustration – was going to speed things up. I simply needed to be a little more patient and trust that I had put enough margin in our schedule.
Investing is often like this. We plan and forecast and analyze and model, and things start out well. But then something goes wrong – an economic setback, a management issue in a company we own, a stray comment from the Fed – and things don’t’ go according to plan. In cases like these, often what’s needed most is a little patience, patience for the setback to resolve itself.
But how do we learn to be patient? After all, we’re certainly not born patient. Anyone who’s spent time with infants or toddlers or teens or college students or, well, people in general knows this. Patience is a skill that is learned. We don’t put our fingers on the keys of a piano and immediately launch into a Mozart piano sonata. We need to learn and practice patience in the same way: with diligence and consistency and focus. Psychologists tell there are four steps to growing in patience.
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First, recognize that impatience is addictive. The more we indulge, the more we want to indulge. Those internal rants we all have seem to want to get out. And that release is an indulgence, one that just wants more. Second, recognize that most issues are passing. They aren’t intolerable, just uncomfortable. When we get that twinge in the stomach, we should understand the reason we’re uncomfortable isn’t because of the problem, it’s our reaction to the problem. That’s the third thing to learn: the discomfort that’s making us impatient is inside us, usually related to a story we’re telling ourselves. I my case, I was remembering other times I’d been late for a flight because of traffic. When we have to deal with investment setbacks, we may extrapolate or forecast ruin or remember the Financial Crisis or dot-com crash or some other circumstance. Those stories aren’t this story we’re in. We need to remind ourselves that today’s situation is not a replay of a previous show. It has a context all its own.
Above all, we need to remember that patience is a habit that grows as we work on it, like a muscle. And the more it grows, the stronger that behavior becomes. The next time you find that yourself growing impatient, remind yourself that you’re growing, learning to practice patience and serenity. Sure, it’s uncomfortable. No one actually likes being caught in traffic or in a market downturn or waiting for someone to show up when they’re late. But imagine how it would feel if we never felt rushed or irritated or annoyed.
Public Domain. Source: National Park Service
If we learn to be patient with minor annoyances, we’ll be ready when the bigger trials come. “All thigs come to those who wait,” the old saying goes. When we train ourselves to wait, we’re most of the way there.
Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA
Charter Trust Company
“The Best Trust Company in New England”