The Secret to Success is … Wait for it …

Hi guys! Today we have a guest post from Chris at
Check out his most recent post Experience is Better Than Stuff Except When it’s Not

I want you to try something for me. I’m going to tell you the secret to success in this post, but I want you to resist the temptation to jump ahead. In fact, I’d like you to take a deep breath and count to 100 before you go on.

Cue Jeopardy music…buh bah buh bo buh bah buh…

How’d you do? Did you make it all the way to 100 before scrolling down here? Actually counting every number along the way?

If so, good for you – you’re one of the proud few; take a victory lap: Tweet your victory

If not, that’s ok, you’re in the majority. Since misery loves company, go ahead and invite some friends to join you: Tweet your failure

Still wondering what the secret is? Hold on, not yet.

Maybe you already scrolled down to find it. If so, shame on you.

Good Things Come to Those Who Wait

In 1960, Walter Mischel and Ebbe Ebbesen conducted an experiment at Stanford University to understand more about when children develop the ability to delay gratification.

The experiment was simple; the researchers put a child (aged 4-6) in a room with a treat, often a marshmallow, and gave them a simple choice.

The child could eat the marshmallow whenever they wanted and the experiment would be over. If, however, the child waited 15 minutes without eating the marshmallow, the researcher would return and provide an extra marshmallow.

The results? Only one-third of the children were able to restrain themselves long enough get the reward.

But that’s not the most interesting part.

The researchers kept track of the study participants and came to an interesting conclusion about 15 years or so later.

The children that successfully delayed gratification, getting the second marshmallow, tended to do better in life, with higher SAT scores, healthier BMIs (body-mass indexes), and an increased ability to cope with stress and frustration in adolescence.

That’s right. The ability to put off eating a treat 15 minutes as a young kid was a somewhat reliable predictor of adult success.

To hear more (including some hilarious video clips of kids trying to resist eating marshmallows), check out this 6-minute TED talk from Joachim de Posada: Don’t Eat the Marshmallow

So with all that, you’ve got the secret to success, right?


It’s just one simple word…patience

Don’t despair if you failed the patience test at the beginning of this post or if you know you would have shoved that marshmallow in your mouth before the researcher left the room.

Patience can be developed through practice but you’ve got to know where to start.

Patience with Goals

Everyone has goals. Some want to pay off their debt; others want to learn a new skill like playing guitar.

There are even some crazy ones like me that hope to build a community of readers that are passionate about discovering better ways to live their lives.

All of these take incredible patience to accomplish.

Debt doesn’t disappear overnight. If you lack the patience to make your regular payments, interest grows and compounds creating an even bigger monster.

Learning a new skill takes practice; Malcom Gladwell concluded that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become world-class in any field. Maybe you don’t expect to become world-class, but even being a respectable guitarist takes a fair amount of time.

If you’re not patient, you’ll play too much in too short of a time and tear up your fingers on the strings because you haven’t yet built up the callouses needed to play hours a day.

Building a community takes time; you have to develop your style, find people that resonate with your message, and continuously work on developing better content. If you lack patience, you’ll give up before ever really start to get traction.

Overnight successes are a myth. Any overnight success you hear of has a history of years of work developing the skills and resources leading up to that success. You’re just hearing the punchline.

Any real goal worth achieving is going to require some level of patience. Start building your patience by picking some shorter-term goals where you’ve got the skills but you just need the patience to stick it out.

If you’re really struggling to come up with one, go back to the start of this post and try the count to 100 challenge. Now that you’ve got a reason to wait, I’m certain you can do it this time around.

Once you’ve built up your patience with small goals, start picking longer-timeline goals or goals where you need to develop a skill along the way. You’re bound to hit roadblocks, so remember:

“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.”

Leo Tolstoy

The biggest thing that separates those who succeed from those that do not isn’t innate talent or luck, it’s the patience to continue working until the job is done.

Patience in Daily Life

In the long-term, patience is a necessity for achieving those big goals. That said, the benefits of patience in our daily lives can be great as well.

On the financial side, a little bit of patience can help pad your wallet. Instead of feeling the need to catch every book or movie the second it is released, a little bit of patience and a library card put you in a position to still enjoy these things but without paying a cent.

Outside of finances, patience is an opportunity to appreciate the amazing blessings you already have.

The next time you find yourself waiting in line at the grocery store behind someone paying by paper check, take a moment to close your eyes and breathe. Feel your feet on the ground and appreciate the fact that you’re alive and able to be here in this moment.

I’m sure you’ve got “better” things to do than wait in line, but you really only have two choices – allow something outside your control to take over your emotions or to recognize that even the most minor inconvenience can be a great reminder to appreciate what you do have.

“People sacrifice the present for the future. But life is available only in the present. That is why we should walk in such a way that every step can bring us to the here and the now.”

Thich Nhat Hahn

Patience is hard and it seems as if it’s becoming more rare.

Don’t be a part of the problem; choose to be patient with others and choose to be patient with yourself.

Do this and you’ll find that you’ll be able to accomplish things you never really believed were possible.

Chris Durheim is a dad and spreadsheet nerd who loves talking about personal finance, faith, and living with purpose at

Readers: tell us about a time patience paid off.


  1. I am SO all up in the study about the kids and the marshmallow. I think about it a lot for my children and I really use it to guide the messages I send to my kids. It goes along with the study that says you need to focus on praising the effort your kids make, and working hard, rather than the result. A small distinction that makes a huge difference and I have seen it first hand. Last summer my son got invited to a birthday party at the circus, a week after our family went and witnessed the garbage being sold there for criminal prices. I didn’t want my son to be the only kid there whose parents didn’t give home spending money. So I gave him $20 and told him that if he didn’t spend it on nonsense at the circus, he could come home and buy a toy that he really wanted. My boy proudly came home with his $20. I can’t express the happiness I feel when I see him make decisions like that, at 8. Helping your kid learn how to exercise self control and restraint is a great gift. I know he is going to be a lot better with money than I was!

  2. I love it. But on the flip side, I think being flexible and having the optionality to recognize when to be patient and not is important. Most of the time, yes, you do need to be patient, but there are other times where waiting around doesn’t make sense and you have to take the initiative to get the results you want.

    I also love the Malcolm Gladwell reference, he’s such a brilliant and convincing writer, it’s hard not to follow his ideas and arguments. 10,000 hours, time to put in my dues to set myself up for success!
    Finance Solver recently posted…Rule for Buying Depreciating and Expensive StuffMy Profile

    • Elsie says:

      I showed this post to someone I met on the train. He said “you write about saving money and building wealth yet you say people should relax, be patient, and love what they already have. You’re contradicting yourself.”

      It’s definitely true that the zen ideas can sound like you should just sit back and do nothing. But its quite the opposite, we believe you should jump head first into life and do everything you always wanted to, it’s just that you’re smarter about it. You avoid the behaviors that we see hindering people like not being able to wait and giving up before success happens for you.

  3. ZJ Thorne says:

    It’s so hard to be patient some times though. My W2 work is mindnumbingly boring and I know that I have to do it to pay bills for now, but I have so many much better ideas about how to use my time and brain. It’s rough.
    ZJ Thorne recently posted…New FHA Mortgage Guidance Will Impact Borrowers With High Student Loan DebtMy Profile

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