The psychology of patience

Patience is a virtue that is being crushed in the Twitter age.

Anyone who has growled in frustration while a website loads or while on hold with a doctor’s office knows tolerance for delay is in short demand. And this demand for instant results is seeping into every corner of our lives, not just virtually.

Retailers are jumping into same day delivery services; Smart phone apps eliminate the wait for a cab, a date or a table at a restaurant.  Movies and TV shows begin streaming in seconds. Experts caution that instant gratification comes with a price: it is making people less patient.

Patience is a virtue that is being crushed in the Twitter age.

Generally, patience equates to health and success. Patience is referred to as an open-mindedness and self-regulation that results in the capacity to tolerate delay, slowness or difficulty without being angry.

To be patient, people should know the causes of their impatience. For instance, if tired or hungry, no whinging is needed, just rest or eat. If productivity is hampered, find alternative solutions.

Similarly if the person ahead in the grocery line is making small talk with the cashier, chat with other customers or grab a magazine to cope with the wait.

However, people don’t do these things because it has become not quite that easy.

According to Marc Wittman, a psychologist at the Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology and Mental Health in Frieburg, Germany, impatience is a heritage of evolution.

Once upon a time, impatience made sure people didn’t die from spending too long on a single unrewarding activity. It gave people the impulse to act.

Experiencing the need to be patient and having impatience creates an internal yin and yang balance.  This is a finely turned internal timer with a buzzer that goes off when it is time to stop foraging an unproductive patch or abandon a failing hunt.

Apparently that timer is now gone.  The fast pace of society has thrown the internal timer out of balance. The fast pace creates expectations that can’t be rewarded fast enough or be rewarded at all. When things move more slowly than expected, the internal timer plays tricks by stretching out the wait-time in the brain and summoning an out of proportion anger to the delay.

In short, things that our great- great-grandparents would have found miraculously efficient now drive us around the bend.

Seemingly slow is painful to tolerate because the fast pace of society has warped our internal sense of timing. The actual time we are to wait has little to do with how long the wait feels.

So what do we need to know? Better yet, what could we do?

(1) Occupied time feels shorter. Carry a book or technology to keep you busy. Find a short term thing to do as distraction, helping to minimize boredom and restlessness and speed up the feelings of time waited.

(2) Uncertain, unanticipated, unexplained, unfair waits are the worst kind of waits. Ask questions and keep asking questions until you have a clear picture of what your wait will look like.  From there you can figure out how best to handle the factors of the wait.

(3) Being overly anxious, frustrated, angry and/or alone does not shorten waits. In fact, they lengthen the wait and will likely raise blood pressure, increase the risk of ulcers and ultimately heart disease.

Humour is often a way for people to blow off steam while waiting as is doing deep breathing,  muscle relaxation exercises, meditation and mindfulness.    Conversation with and support from others also relieves stress and helps to keep self-control in check.

Sometimes no matter what you do to relieve your stress and the accompanying overwhelming feelings, there is no change. Speaking with your doctor (GP), medical health professional or a therapist/counsellor may be helpful.

 

Pamela Ana MA & CCC, owns Wellness Matters Counselling and Psychotherapy.  Call 778-419-3300.

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