The Paradox of Impatience

By definition, impatience is an urgent desire for relief or change, and includes restlessness and intolerance for whatever thwarts or hinders the goal. We’re triggered when we realize achieving our goal will cost us more than we bargained for.

Paradoxically, impatience sometimes pays, and sometimes costs. (Self disclosure: Writing this blog has helped me curb my chronic problem of impatience so I hope you, dear reader will read on.)

We can benefit from impatience by trying to save a few minutes to have more time (or other commodities). Conversely, we could lose a lot of the thoughtful consideration that leads to us making sound decisions and the understanding that some enjoyable things in life require time.

According to Tara S. Sonenshine, under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, society’s rapid functioning feeds impatience in the following ways:

1. Cash machines allow us to avoid long lines at the bank.

2.Movie tickets on-line or videos downloaded on demand give us instant access to entertainment.

3. Paying extra secures early boarding and deplaning from a jet.

4. The struggle to find work and feed families after the economic crash of 2008 has increased some peoples’ frustration and impatience.

5. Because of the downhill slide of political leadership and the persistence of war, our patience with politics and leadership has declined.

Speed: a Behavioral Addiction

Greater speed with which events occur leads us to expect and tolerate more speed. We may even develop a psychological and physical tolerance to a fast pace and hunger for more and more as if it’s a drug, a kind of behavioral addiction.

From standing on a particular line at the supermarket to a major monetary investment, the outcome can drive up our blood pressure and damage our health to the extreme, even leading to a heart attack or a stroke. On the other hand, it’s true that impatience can occasionally save lives. Often, we can’t fathom the outcome until the particular situation concludes.

For instance, those who were able to exit the towers on 9/11 survived. Some patiently heeded the loud speaker advising them to remain in the building. In Jonathan Safran Foer’s novel, later adapted to a film with the same title, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, Thomas waited at his desk, leaving phone messages for his son Oskar before the line went dead and he perished in the towers.

Along with the rapidity of our electronic world comes the expectation that we humans should be as fast as the materials powering our robotic tools. Obviously, flesh and blood moves at very different rhythms from silicon crystals and Xeon processors.

The hasty tweeting of our president raises the question of the difference between impatience and impulsiveness, or the tendency to react to internal or external stimuli without regard to negative consequences.

Neither impulsiveness nor impatience is a plus in a president.

But it’s helpful to recognize that impatience doesn’t necessarily imply impulsiveness. Impatience can work for us when we ponder a matter from several angles.

That our impatience could work against our survival if we dismiss the danger of global warming is a horrifying possibility. The Arctic will be melted in 50 years, a reality that impatient people may not accept or act to change. In this case, impatience could lead to our extinction. If we don’t embrace patience in caring for our environment, our planet won’t be able to sustain human life.

What are some tactics to help us tone down impatience:

1.Tuning into music or an audio book can help some to slow down. Attaching to musical notes or words can ground the impatient.

2. We can step back and ask: What is the hurry? Where am I going? Will I really save time and if so, what will I do with the extra seconds, minutes, etc.?

3. Meditation lengthens the breath, slows the brain waves slow down, and puts matters in perspective for some people.

4. Recognizing tension in the muscles and trying to relax them by stretching and massage can slow our minds.

5. Becoming curious of the possibilities of a predicament can help. For example, thinking about what the Trump presidency tells us about the state of the world can lead us to address the underlying issues that led to Trump’s rise.

6. Some may be curious about the psychodynamic causes of their impatience. (I was the eldest of five children and my highly responsible, overwhelmed, working Mom barely had time to attend to all of our needs. Perhaps the impatient ones reaped more attention. )

7. Like a physician treating a patient, we can assess the risk/benefit analysis of the tendency to change this particular circumstance.

Conclusion: Impatience is a normal phenomenon, and accepting that we can’t always make the best decision helps us cope and learn from the outcome.