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Of all the desired areas for growth that come up during my executive coaching sessions, impatience is mentioned pretty often. This may be a concern that to the specific subset of ambitious and goal-oriented individuals with whom I work, but it also says something about human nature.
Now more than ever, our culture is struggling with an epidemic of impatience. There’s a video that’s been making the rounds on Facebook lately that speaks to this phenomenon: a girl of about four or five describes an experience of being caught behind a woman at the grocery store who was walking slowly. The tyke expresses her irritation, wishing that the lady would just hurry up. The video showed up on my timeline several times, and each of my friends who shared it wrote something like, “Story of my life.”
Of course, our world today is one where there are apps for everything—where a three course dinner can show up on your table at the click of a mouse or tap of a finger, and where communication occurs at lightning speed. And this attitude has affected all facets of our lives—from work to grocery shopping to social activities.
I get it: we’re used to immediate results. I’ve left many a restaurant when it looked like I wouldn’t be seated immediately, or driven circuitous routes (that ended up taking longer) just so I could avoid moving slowly through rush-hour traffic on the highway. But while a little impatience might be OK when you’re streaming a movie or heating up your leftovers, it can definitely work against you other times.
In a classic study on Type-A behavior, impatience-irritability was correlated with increased frequency of physical complaints. Another recent study suggested that impatient people age faster, as evidenced by shorter telomeres (caps on DNA that prevent them from fraying). One study of teenagers even found that those who were labeled as impatient or restless by interviewers ended up earning significantly less than their peers by the time they reached middle age. And I think most of us can recognize that impatience doesn’t feel good: it makes us feel exhausted, out of control and on edge. Of course, then, its physiological effects can’t be good for us.
When I’m working with clients who struggle with impatience, I’ll engage them by asking what they’ve done to address it. The response is usually something along the lines of, “I multi-task by checking my email or thinking about other stuff while others are talking about unimportant things in meetings.”
As you can imagine, the people around them pick up on this. As a result, common complaints I hear about impatient people are that they are poor listeners, and that they can be overbearing, rude, and impulsive.
So what’s an impatient person to do? Well, here are some scientifically-proven tricks to cope more effectively with your impatience. And remember: it’s a natural feeling, but we can practice reining it in.
1. Shine light on what’s good in the moment.
While being grateful might not seem to have a lot to do with patience, one study suggests otherwise. Participants were given a writing task designed to make them feel either happy, grateful, or neutral. Then, they were able to choose between getting $54 immediately or $80 in 30 days. The researchers found that those who felt grateful were more likely to wait in order to receive the $80, compared to those in the happy or neutral groups.
In moments when you are feeling impatient, try a quick gratitude exercise in which you focus on things that you are grateful for in the moment. As a longer term strategy to increase your overall level of patience you might want to develop a regular gratitude practice (e.g. write down three things for which you are grateful at the end of each day).
2. Tune into the micro-moments themselves.
I’ve found that many people get impatient because they want to get to the end result as quickly as possible. But by doing this, they overlook their experiences in the present, and lose sight of their value.
Earlier this week, I was coaching someone who is consistently frustrated in meetings. He tends to make up his mind pretty quickly, and perceives discussion to be a waste of time. But by having this attitude, he was overlooking two very important aspects of collaborative process. First, research suggests that the more ideas that people generate, the more innovative their solutions are likely to be.
Second, if he actually wants people to be bought into a decision, it’s valuable for them to have an opportunity to talk things through. Think about it, in which instance are you likely to get more behind a decision? (a) When you have a chance to talk about it and felt like your opinions were being considered; or, (b) when you’re simply told what to do? For most people it’s the former. By recognizing the value of conversation, you will likely feel a greater sense of ease and freedom in the moment (not to mention, you’ll gather additional information that could sway your opinion).
3. Inhale. Exhale. Repeat.
“Take a deep breath”—it’s a simple (but not necessarily easy) piece of advice. Even if it feels like work in the moment, a deep breath will calm down your body and help you to quell some of the frustration or antsiness you might be feeling in the moment. (I’ve written a more comprehensive post about how to handle negative emotions through breathing and other practices.) Plus, by relaxing on a physiological level, you will likely be less prone to exhibiting nonverbal signs of impatience like fidgeting or nodding too quickly in an effort to get your audience to speak faster.
4. Make a deliberate decision to surrender.
When there’s absolutely nothing you can do in a situation, you might just want to do nothing. To empower yourself, think of this as a deliberate, conscious decision.
Your flight is delayed. You’re stuck on hold with customer service for 30 minutes (and counting). Traffic isn’t moving. In these cases and more, there’s literally nothing you can do. Will getting irritated and frustrated about it change the situation? Not at all. So, take your deep breaths and take a moment to decide you’re going to accept the situation.
5. Expand your aperture.
There’s a reason that “put it in perspective” is a common piece of advice for all sorts of issues. But when it comes to impatience, I like to think about this advice visually: imagine your point of view is a camera lens, and you can adjust the aperture to let in a bigger picture. Think about it: in the grand scheme of your life, does a few extra minutes behind an elderly person using a check at the grocery store really matter? A year from now, will you care that your colleague wasn’t perfectly concise when presenting her argument in a meeting? Probably not. So, focus on the big picture, and relax.
St. Augustine wrote “Patience is the companion of wisdom.” Cultivate yours, and appreciate the benefits.
If you need more help dealing with your impatience, I encourage you to check out my Executive Mindfulness Online Course. To learn more, click here.