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A three-step method: notice-change-respond
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Most of us get impatient every day. We want the next thing to hurry up and happen sooner. We become frustrated. It shows, usually inelegantly.
There are many reasons why modernity seems to have inculcated this state of agitation. But they’re pretty obvious and we’re all busy (and impatient), so let’s skip those.
Countless everyday situations lead us to impatience:
You join a slow-moving queue
You’re stuck in a traffic jam
Your phone or laptop won’t connect to the wifi
Some software takes a while to download
You’re presented with a long, dull, essential form to fill out
Your login attempt failed
A train is delayed
A friend is delayed
You’re talking to someone who’s not articulating their thought fast enough
The kids take longer to be ready than you intended
You can’t find your wallet, keys, phone
You start reading an article and notice the scroll bar — it’s considerably longer than you expected (this essay is just 500 words!)
You’re running late for an appointment
A colleague doesn’t give you the work they promised on time
You’re being put through an automated customer service call
You’re disconnected from a call for which you’d been on hold for some time
A task is taking you longer than you think it should
The lift doors won’t close quickly enough
The last few seconds of your microwave countdown last too long
You call your dog; he doesn’t come
I bet you’ve endured a few of these already today. We suffer in this way for an hour or two every single day, which adds up to over a thousand such episodes a year. This is far too much suffering if we can help it. And we can. In three steps. One at a time.
Three steps to patience:
First, we need to notice when we’re starting to feel this way. We won’t be able to take the steps below without developing an awareness. This isn’t easy; noticing is a lot easier said (or written) than done in these situations since the emotion (eg impatience) tends to be overwhelming. More on noticing in a subsequent nesletter.
Second, ask: can you change anything? The lift, the dog, the colleague, the friend, the train, the bus, the kids, the queue — is there actually anything you can do to hurry it up? If there is, do it.
Third, ask yourself if you’ll need to wait around, then respond constructively. Specifically:
If you will need to wait (eg the train’s 30 mins late), bypass frustration and skip straight to using the time positively with some other activity (find something out, read your book, think about your day ahead — don’t just default to messages and social media). Carry a list of these activities around with you (or in the cloud), a subset of your to-do list.
If there’s no wait (eg you simply do have to fill out that form, carry on with this dull conversation, etc), take a breath and settle into it, retain an active awareness of what’s going on, notice this newfound, elevated wisdom, focus your energy on kindness or observation, and recognise the occasion as an opportunity to practice patience.
Thousands of impatience-triggering events lie in wait. We can’t and won’t avoid them. But by taking a one-thing-at-a-time approach, we can make the space to modify and improve our responses, and reduce negative emotions, behaviour and consequences. Next time you meet with impatience (which will be soon), try greeting it with these three steps.