Wait for It!

Aug 28, 2019
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We live in a hurry-up, get-it-done-yesterday world. We eat instant oatmeal for breakfast, drop our clothes at the one-hour dry cleaner, travel to and from work in the express lane, pace in front of the microwave as we wait for dinner, and then check our Instagram feed before going to bed.

There are drive-thru lanes for restaurants, pharmacies, and banks. Several funeral homes have even experimented with drive-thru viewings for people who don’t have time to park and come inside to pay their respects.

Patience, it seems, is out of fashion. And that’s too bad because there’s much to be said for it.

You may have heard about the so-called “marshmallow experiment” conducted at Stanford University in the 1960s. One at a time, hundreds of four-year-olds were brought into a room where they were given their choice of treats, including marshmallows. They were told that they could have one treat right away. Or, if they could wait some unspecified amount of time while the researcher stepped away and then returned, they could have two.

Some of the children couldn’t wait at all. Before the researcher was out of the room, they had eaten the treat. Most held out for an average of three minutes. But, to get the better reward, about 30%of the kids found a way to wait for what turned out to be 15 minutes.

A dozen years later, when these same kids were in high school, lead researcher Walter Mischel tracked them down. He asked their parents, teachers, and academic advisors how well these students were thinking ahead, coping with problems, and getting along with peers. He also requested their SAT scores.

What he found was amazing. The kids who could wait had fewer behavioral problems, handled stressful situations more successfully, were better able to pay attention, and found it easier to maintain friendships. As for their SAT scores, the patient ones scored an average 210 points higher than the others.

Clearly, good things really do come to those who wait.

More recently, a study of 80,000 adults in 76 countries identified patience as a key determinant of a country’s prosperity. The study found that “patient individuals are more likely to save and have higher educational attainment.” Armin Falk, a professor of economics at the University of Bonn and lead author of the study, said, “The more patient people are and the more they save, the more they can invest in equipment and education — and they become that much more productive and rich.”

There are many financial benefits to patience. Those who save for what they want instead of impatiently buying today on credit save thousands of dollars in interest. Those who patiently invest over long periods of time stand the best chance of having enough money for their retirement.

Researchers involved in the marshmallow experiment noted that the kids who could wait used various coping strategies, such as trying not to look at the treat in front of them. Understanding that a greater reward awaited them provided motivation to be patient.

The Apostle Paul said something similar about heaven — that everyone who has placed their faith in Christ has “the firstfruits of the Spirit,” meaning that the Holy Spirit enables us to glimpse our ultimate greater reward. And he said this taste of heaven naturally results in a patient waiting (Romans 8:22-25).

At first glance, patience may seem like a character trait that you’re either born with or not. But patience is a skill that can be nurtured. As investors, some helpful steps include:

  • Gaining some knowledge of stock market history. As this month’s cover article describes, the market moves through cycles. Bear markets follow bull markets as surely as night follows day. Therefore, we can expect the investing journey to be marked by gains and losses, all the while remembering that bull markets tend to last longer and add more value than bear markets take away.

  • Choosing a strategy you understand and that is appropriate for your time frame and risk tolerance.

  • Developing a written investment plan that includes a statement of what you will do — and not do — at times of market stress.

  • Taking a lesson from the marshmallow experiment kids by choosing not to look at your portfolio so often.

  • Reflecting on God’s patience through verses such as 2 Peter 3:9, Romans 15:5, and 1 Timothy 1:16. Memorizing these verses will write them on your heart, becoming guiding influences in your life.

There’s certainly a lot to know about investing, but how we go about it is just as important, and the most profitable path is marked by patience.

Written by

Matt Bell

Matt Bell

Matt Bell is Sound Mind Investing's Managing Editor. He is the author of five biblical money management books and the teacher or co-teacher on three video-based small group resources. His latest book, Trusted: Preparing Your Kids for a Lifetime of God-Honoring Money Management, has just been published by Focus on the Family and its publishing partner, Tyndale House (April 2023). Matt has spoken at churches, universities, and conferences throughout the country and has been quoted in USA TODAY, U.S. News & World Report, and many other media outlets.

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