Why Patience Pays Off: Slow and Steady Effort Now, Results Later

By: Brian Harris

I can still hear her saying it. She had been asked why so many people engage in ultimately destructive behaviours, while healthy habits are quietly ignored.

Her answer was simple, but it has stuck with me. “Because success is a lagging indicator.” Naturally she elaborated, but she didn’t need to. Those six words were enough to bring the “ah ha” of recognition to me. “Because success is a lagging indicator…”

We often think in terms of cause and effect. Put your hand on a dish straight out the oven, and there is an immediate yelp of pain and and a vow never to make that mistake again. The instant feedback ensures there is no temptation to repeat the error.

It’s Harder to Commit When Feedback is Delayed

It’s much more difficult when there is a longish gap between cause and effect – and even more so if the initial response to a negative choice is something positive. It’s easy enough to think in the sphere of eating. That ever so tempting donut not only looks beautiful, but gives you an instant sugar hit which initially feels great. True, it will let you down, but in the moment, it tastes great. However, keep doing it and you’ll soon be wondering what has caused your clothes to shrink. Both success and failure are lagging indicators.

What are some of the key things we should be doing now – even though the payoff might be a while off. My list could be really long, but instead of being theoretical, I asked myself the question: “What am I doing now that will have a longer term benefit?” Here are five that came quickly to mind…

1 – Start With Prayer and Reflection

I start each day with prayer and reflection. I try to keep these times fresh. At present I am experimenting with some practices from the Orthodox tradition – more specifically, the slow repetition of the Jesus prayer. I also read a passage of scripture and my key question is “what haven’t I noticed in this passage before, and what should I do with this insight?” On Mondays I take a little longer and have a Monday review of the week that was – journalling my insights so that they are more likely to stay with me through the new week.

2 – Stay Curious and Interested

My wife Rosemary and I are keeping curious and interested about what this new stage of life (second half of sixties) means for our 40 plus year relationship. We are leaning into the changes and some of the losses that come with aging, while noting the benefits. We’ve always been really great for each other (I am so grateful to God for Rosemary), but I think we are getting even better. Though we both have pretty good health, a few niggles have reminded us that it is appropriate to live in the light of our death, and we want to live in a “no regrets” kind of way. I’m trying to remember to say the loving things I feel now, rather than keep them for some day in the future that may not dawn. David Brooks speaks of building a highway between our heart and our mouth, making it easy to say the things we most deeply feel, and I am trying to heed his counsel. We are also investing in our relationships with our children, their spouses, and our grandchildren.

3 – Take Regular Steps for Physical Health

I go to the gym at least 3 times a week. As a 66 year old my goal isn’t to win any weightlifting championships, but I am trying hard not to go backwards. That might seem a modest goal, but I’ve noticed if I push myself too hard it backfires, and I land up limping away with a dodgy knee or a flareup of arthritis in my elbow. However, consistency works well for me.

4 – Be Open to New Challenges

I say yes to new challenges and try to learn from them. The latest has been launching a podcast with the wonderful Center for Faith and Life team, and it has far exceeded my expectations.

5 – Develop a Growth Mindset

I’m working at developing a growth mindset – rejecting the idea that you are either good at something or not, and giving myself time to learn and improve. As is sometimes said: “If you are not freakishly good by nature, become freakishly good by nurture!” I’m letting myself learn. A little over three years ago I helped launch AVENIR Leadership – a consultancy which now has clients around Australia and a few further afield. We’ve grown to four staff members and several associates. It’s been a sharp learning curve of new skills but interesting work is keeping me interesting and interested.

Ask Yourself Some Questions

I guess this post sound like it’s all about me, but that’s not my intention. I’m hoping it will spur you to ask yourself some key questions. If success is a lagging indicator, what 5 things are you doing now that are likely to ensure you look back in a few years and say: “Life is a glorious gift – and I am so grateful for the life I get to lead”? If you can’t name them – why not change that?

Article supplied with thanks to Brian Harris.

About the Author: Brian is a speaker, teacher, leader, writer, author and respected theologian who is founding director of the AVENIR Leadership Institute, fostering leaders who will make a positive impact on the world.

Feature image: Photo by Peter Schulz on Unsplash

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