Presence, Patience And Frustration


Very briefly put, presence, patience and frustration are the most important ingredients of my learning processes. And by learning processes I understand a very large category of activities, like learning a new language, learning to play the guitar, learning to adjust and adapt in a new country (location independence), learning to manage your money (financial resilience) or learning to build and maintain meaningful relationships.

Let’s take them one at a time.

Being There

Presence is the ability to stay focused on the task at hand while you are engaging in an unknown yet process. You may also call it the ability to focus. Many people are learning stuff by scheduling blocks of time in advance, practicing during those time blocks, and then assessing the progress as if every block has the same characteristics, like the learning process was linear. The truth is that we’re not always at our best. Our capacity to focus is influenced by many factors. We may be physically or mentally tired, we may be hungry, thirsty, in a bad emotional state, or in a confusing (noisy, hectic) surrounding.

So, presence is the action of staying there, no matter how pleasant or unpleasant the process is. Many modern, posh cultural places call this “awareness”, and it is indeed that, but I prefer the term presence.

For instance, when I practicing on my guitar, after 15 or 20 minutes of repeating the same piece I get a bit tired and my mind tends to slip away. Luckily, while playing the guitar it’s very easy to observe this process: the song will suck instantly. So I get back, I restart the phrase and force my mind to stay there.

In a way, learning to play the guitar is a better awareness training than “traditional” meditation, because the feedback loop is instantaneous.

Staying There

Patience is the ability to continue the process, even in the absence of a positive feedback loop. We, humans, have a very coarse sensor for making progress. Getting back to practicing guitar, every touch of the instrument creates some progress, even the smallest one. But we lack the ability to see this infinitesimal advancement, and we tend to mark “progress” only when a certain song is played correctly, or when we master a certain chord shape, or lick.

A good parallel with be with measuring your progress in accumulating Bitcoin, in Bitcoin only. Like this should be the main unit of measurement, and you acknowledge progress only when you’re going from 0 Bitcoin to 1 Bitcoin. Progress measured this way will be really slow, especially at the prices Bitcoin is trading lately. For many people, this is one year worth of revenue. It’s very easy to be discouraged if you do something for a year, day in and day out, without seeing any movement from zero to one. Should you consider measuring this in satoshis, the sensor will suddenly be upgraded, becoming finer and more detailed, and you would see progress literally every day.

My point is that we don’t have a “satoshi” scale for every processes that we’re engaging in, but that doesn’t mean we’re not making progress. Every single second spent doing something has some impact in our ability to perform that something better. That’s why having patience is fundamental.

Allowing The Process To Unfold

Frustration is the direct result of poor presence and patience. Every time one or both are in low supply, frustration creeps in. For instance, every time I realize my mind has slipped and the sounds coming from my guitar are awful simply because I’m not paying enough attention, I get frustrated. Every few days, while evaluating how am I doing with learning a certain song, and realizing it doesn’t even sound like a song yet, I get frustrated.

Managing frustration is fundamental, because we can’t do without it. It’s part of the process.

Learning something means creating a new way to understand the environment and to perform in different, never before tried ways in this environment. Every learning process creates a different reality and that comes with a lot of friction. And this friction translates in frustration.

In a way, if we’re not frustrated about our progress, it may mean we’re not actually learning. There must be at least some level of discomfort to trigger the necessary adaptation processes.

Financial Resilience As An Example

I already gave a few examples from an allegedly enjoyable learning process of mine, learning to play the guitar. But the same applies in other processes, some of them spanning many years, possibly decades.

Financial resilience is one of them.

Presence in creating financial resilience means being mindful of your current situation. It’s especially important during the debt period. If you are in debt and you have poor presence skills, then you will keep deepening the debt. It’s very easy to get caught in small, unmanaged spendings, like maintaining a specific lifestyle (going out, anyone?), indulging in less than optimal eating habits (did someone say pizza?) or simply spending more than you can make because you just can’t keep your mind at it, and stop the overspending impulses.

Patience in financial resilience means coping with the current situation, while knowing that you are making progress. Luckily, things here are easier to measure than in learning to play the guitar. If you keep a tight budget, you will see every day how close are you from getting out of debt, or how close you are from being financially independent. Patience is especially important once you are out of debt and you can safely maintain yourself there, staying afloat.

Because that’s not enough. You still need to accumulate in a way that will generate income without your active involvement.

Frustration in financial resilience manifests in many areas, but the most important one is probably social behavior. Even if you don’t care too much about peer pressure, not being able to fully engage in all the social activities you like, because you can’t afford to, is very frustrating (at least for me).

Also, because you can’t control the outside factors, like going through a worldwide economic crisis that will slow whatever process you are engaged in at that moment (getting out of debt, or accumulating capital), that will also contribute to your frustration a lot.

Like I said, making friends wit it, and learning (pun intended) to manage it in a non-destructive way will prove to be extremely beneficial in the medium and long run.

Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash

Initially published on my blog.

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