Is Patience Still A Virtue?
As we hit the one year anniversary of the global pandemic it got me thinking about patience and impatience. We’ve been doing a lot of waiting - waiting for things to “get back to normal”, waiting to go back to work, waiting to see family and friends, and basically waiting for things to change. And even the most patient people have probably had several moments of impatience and frustration with how things have unfolded over the past year.
You’ve heard the sayings “patience is a virtue" and “good things come to those who wait” but we live in a culture that has made it much easier for us to become impatient. We have so many options for getting what we want in a moment’s notice and with minimal effort that it’s made waiting seem all the more intolerable.
And this impatience is not entirely a bad thing...
Impatience does have its benefits. It is motivating and action-oriented - it can help you find ways to speed things up or discover different options or opportunities to pursue.
Impatience can lead you to quickly react, change course, and possibly save you from further frustration, rather than simply sticking with the plan or waiting for things to unfold. It can signal you to accept that something is not working, move on, and try something else. This is particularly beneficial in fast-paced environments where waiting or patiently staying the course can lead to missed opportunities.
Here's a simple example of how impatience can be beneficial:
Say you are on your way to an appointment and you hit some traffic. You can be patient and ride it out but as the minutes pass your stress is rising. At some point you get impatient and decide to take the side streets. You manage to get around the traffic jam and you make it to your appointment on time. In this case, your impatience prompted you to make a decision that paid off.
But of course, impatience has it’s negative consequences as well. It can lead to impulsive and irrational decisions that might cause more headaches down the line, put you at risk, or that set you back in some way. It can lead you to abandon ship prematurely, frequently second-guess your decisions, and form a habit of constantly searching for other options that distracts you from ever reaching your goals.
So what’s the best route?
The key is to find a balance between practicing patience and using impatience to spring you into action when it's appropriate. This involves being thoughtful and intentional with your decisions - being able to slow down and discern when it’s best to practice patience and when it's best to follow your urge to walk away or take another path.
This starts with taking a closer look at impatience and developing a better understanding of when and why it shows up so you can recognize it as early as possible, before you act on it.
Impatience gets triggered when:
you realize it will take longer than expected to complete a task or reach a goal
you're not enjoying what you're doing or
another option or opportunity emerges
This creates an uncomfortable feeling (stress, longing, anxiety, frustration, irritation, etc.) that then pulls your attention away from the task at hand and toward finding ways to get out of that discomfort.
This is where you have a choice - either immediately act on your impulse or slow down and take time to think about how you want to proceed.
So rather than moving straight into action, as soon as you recognize yourself becoming impatient, take a moment to pause. Take a deep breath or two (or ten) and try to relax or calm yourself. The more calm you can be, the clearer your thinking will be so that you can make a sound decision about how to proceed.
Next, step back and acknowledge what’s happening. Acknowledge what you are feeling and what urges are coming up. Are you wanting to find a short-cut or some way to speed up the process? Are you feeling the urge to move on to something else? This simple practice can help you slow down and observe rather than getting caught up in the feeling and doing something impulsively.
Now you can look at your options and weigh the consequences. What ideas or solutions do you have? What are the potential consequences of changing course? What are the consequences of waiting or sticking with it? Look at the pros and cons and then determine if it’s worth it. If you’re unsure, get someone else’s opinion.
If you decide that it’s better to stick with it and be patient...
Stay grounded and stay present. Make efforts to relax and appreciate the little things that are around you or happening in the moment instead of getting lost in thinking about all of the other things you could and should be doing.
Listen to your needs. Ask yourself what you need to get through, or what will help, and do what you can to meet your need. Maybe you need to take a break or find some way to relax or pass the time. Or maybe you need to move away from any distractions or temptations that are making it hard to be patient. Or maybe you just need some reassurance...
Talk yourself through it by reminding yourself of the benefits of being patient and why it’s important for you to stick with it. Tell yourself you can get through it or give yourself any other encouragement you might need.
Patience requires acceptance and trust - accepting things as they are in the moment, trusting the process, and trusting that you’ll be able to handle whatever comes up along the way. And it’s important to note that patience doesn’t mean you need to be passive. You can still adapt and make adjustments to move you forward, whether that’s practical adjustments or adjustments to your expectations or your mindset.
And while sometimes it is appropriate to use your impatience to push you toward another option or get things moving at a faster rate, patience is still a virtue that’s worth practicing to help minimize stress and frustration when things don’t go as planned and to keep you on track toward achieving your goals.