How To Recognize Impatience (And What to Do About It)
Is patience still a virtue? If so, what can it help us achieve?
“Patience … is a very action-directed virtue: it is the slow, sound, lengthy preparation for the most dynamic, powerful activity. It is the winding of the spring. It is the drawing back of the bow. It is the charge along the runway before take-off.” — Margaret Hebblethwaite
There’s a great New Balance commercial you may have seen once or twice by now (especially if you watch Sports Center as avidly as my husband.) Jaden Smith extols the virtue of impatience as we watch Sadio Mane, Coco Gauff and others shoot their shot. “When you know what you want, waiting isn’t an option,” Smith coos at the end, inexplicably drawing the shade of a semi truck and walking off the screen.
In a way, these sports stars (and Jaden Smith)aren’t wrong. Impatience as an action — going after what you want, not taking no for an answer, not delaying your passion projects — is surely not a bad thing. Action-oriented life is widely recognized as an answer to the woes of a largely passive society.
But if this is impatience, then what is patience? Does it even matter anymore?
Patience, according to the Thrive Center for Human Development, is “… a full on reckoning with reality and facing the world as it is, not how you wish or want it to be. At best, patience is the open-hearted acceptance of delay, difficulty, and frustration. It is actively waiting in the face of adversity, within personal relationships, and when confronting daily challenges.”
Patience, then, is not passivity nor the resistance to action, but the ability to accept the outcomes of your actions and wait for your work to bear fruit.
I’ve learned to recognize detrimental impatience in my own life — not impassivity, but the difficulty with waiting for desired results. I’ve found that impatience manifests itself in the following ways:
- Frustration with daily routines and tasks: We’ve all felt this way, to a certain extent. Why do I have to do the dishes over and over and OVER again? Does it really matter if I skip the gym today, or tomorrow, for that matter? What difference does it make if I don’t hit my writing goal for today, or skip a week of tracking finances? Ironically, impatience for outcomes often leads people to abandon the very details that will lead them to those results.
- Hopelessness about future and dreams: When I’m feeling impatient, it leads me to feel hopeless. If I’m not a professional writer or marathon runner now, then I never will be (as the thinking pattern goes.)
- Lack of contentment; always looking forward to the next step: Impatience makes it impossible to feel happy with where I am at. It’s difficult to be content when it seems that happiness is always just around the corner, if I could just get there at last.
- Difficulty organizing my work or thoughts: Impatience makes details difficult, which makes organization even harder. When a person is too focused on abstract, big picture goals and their difficult in reaching them, the work they do to get there becomes entirely too mundane.
- Tendency towards distraction when things aren’t going smoothly: Often, if I get stuck on a problem at work or encounter a difficult situation, it’s easier to distract myself with something else rather than approach the situation head on. This habit of distraction is a classic symptom of impatience, and makes it difficult to solve problems. How many times have I not known how to answer an email and spend 10 minute scrolling through Instagram instead?
- Inability to finish projects: When the article isn’t writing itself or the audio software is hard to learn, projects have a tendency to go unfinished. I currently have what was supposed to be a crocheted hat balled up and sitting under my bed, what was supposed to be a podcast collecting dust in Adobe Audition, what was supposed to be a book, halfway finished and left that way in my Google Docs. Impatience with the process leaves the process unfinished.
So, what does this mean? Pinpointing impatience is the first step; developing patience is the key. The following are six ways to develop patience in your own life:
- Mindfulness: Experts suggest that a daily practice of mindfulness can help build up patience. Even five minutes of meditation a day can help center, ground and calm you as you work to pursue your goals for the day.
- Practice waiting: A famous 1972 Stanford study suggested that a child’s ability to wait was positively correlated with future markers of success. The marshmallow experiment had a simple premise- a child was given a marshmallow, and told that if they could wait to eat it for 15 minutes, they would receive two marshmallows instead. The children who were able to wait went on to have better SAT scores, lower BMIs, and higher educational attainments. This ability to wait patiently for the outcome we desire is something we can practice, even if we wouldn’t have been able to wait for our own marshmallow as a kid. Consciously practice waiting throughout the day, and your ability to endure discomfort and annoyances in the pursuit of your ultimate goals will increase.
- “This is merely uncomfortable, not intolerable”: This mantra, when understood and repeated, can help you weather any frustrating situation. It’s uncomfortable to pay attention to details, to learn new skills, or to tolerate delays and setbacks, especially within ourselves. But discomfort is not death, nor is it unmanageable.
“I can be tolerant of my own flaws and inadequacies” — Jane Bolton
4. Do the work: Oftentimes, a goal can seem so unattainable, so out of our reach, that the work required to get there is disregarded as futile. What’s the point of saving $1,000 a month for a house, for example, if it seems impossible to ever get there? Most goals, however, can be broken up into manageable, daily tasks. By doing the work every day, you can build up your patience and perseverance, and in this way, reaching those far off goals becomes not just possible, but inevitable.
5. Understand that patience does not equal passivity: Patience is endurance. It’s the ability to wait for results while doing the work. Patience is not passivity, nor is it waiting to do the work while obsessing over the results you desire. If you are doing all you can and managing the details, patience will enable you to keep doing so while you wait for the desired outcomes to reveal themselves. Patience is not waiting to start, rather, patience is working tirelessly till the deed is done.
6. Start with why and keep that why in mind: Simon Sinek’s popular TED Talk and book, “Start with Why”, are both based on the premise that if a person understands why they are doing what they are doing, they are setting themselves up for success. Why are you going to the gym every day? Why are you writing 1,000 words a day or saving all that money? If you begin with the end in mind and understand that each day you’re becoming the person you’d like to be, then patience will carry you towards the finish line.
Turns out patience still is a virtue, even if it’s often misunderstood. Jaden Smith isn’t wrong to think that the desire to start and do is better than sitting back and waiting, but the doing requires the patience that we tend to lack. Luckily for me, patience something a person can develop, one day at a time. By enduring setbacks, frustration and banality, we can reach the goals we’re hoping to attain. Patience teaches that there is no way but through, and why not start today? When could possibly be better?