How To Be More Patient.
Two things make you feel impatient. Here’s how to stop doing one of them.
The first step towards being more patient is recognising that impatience is perfectly understandable. I mean yes, impatience is an irrational response to our over-inflated expectations of instant gratification. But it’s also a perfectly reasonable reaction to the fact that you’re going to die at some point in the future, and you have no idea when. What you do know is that every second that you spend behind this person with 11 items in the 10 items or less queue is bringing that moment closer.
Yes, impatience is motivated by fear, but it’s the same fear that motivates us to run from mountain lions and put on our seatbelts when we drive a car. Impatience is a reflection of two important facts. One, the fact that we’re going to die. Two, the fact that we don’t want to die doing this — where “this” is whatever banal, tedious thing we’re getting impatient about.
There’s not much we can do about the first fact. Sure, we can exercise every day and make ourselves kale and chia seed salads for lunch, but in a cruel twist of fate, these things end up taking even more of our time. We try to optimise the process of getting these life-extending tasks done which feeds further into our expectation that everything should happen right now. Then the new guy at the organic cold-pressed smoothie place gives us a spinach and broccoli instead of celery and bok choy, and it takes thirty of our precious, fleeting seconds to sort out.
The real thief of time.
We tend to think about time in the same way as we think about money. Every day we spend most of our time doing work we’d never do otherwise, in exchange for money. Then we spend that money on things that are supposed make time pass more pleasurably. When that time doesn’t pass pleasurably, it feels like life hasn’t held up its end of the deal. It feels like this inconvenience is stealing time we could otherwise be spending more profitably. How are we supposed to avoid feeling impatient given those circumstances?
But time is different from money in one important way; time can’t be stolen. Sure we can give time, we can spend time, and we can certainly waste time, but short of committing murder, nobody can take time away from us.
What happens instead, is that our attitude to time changes. Because we mistakenly think of time as something that we own, like money. We equally mistakenly feel like we should be able to spend it in any way we want. It feels as if time, and the events that unfold in it, should be under our control.
Then we’re starkly reminded of that fact that that’s not the case we get mad. Instead of embracing what is, we’re busy struggling to manifest what should be. The internet should be loading faster. The traffic should be moving faster. This barista should be able to make a double-shot, extra-hot, skinny, wet latte without making you repeat your order.
The real thief of time is our shitty attitude in the face of things that we believe shouldn’t be happening. We get distracted from time because we’re busy focusing on what we want instead of what we have, and time slips out of our pocket without us noticing. Then we turn on the poor, innocent barista or the person driving slowly in front of us, and accuse them of stealing it because they were closest to us when we lost track of it.
The time of your life.
As I said earlier, it’s understandable that you’re impatient. You’re going to die and you don’t know when and you want every moment leading up to that one to be as enjoyable as possible. But that’s why being impatient makes no sense. Impatience takes a moment which is already sub-optimal and makes it worse. You’re getting angry at a situation that doesn’t care whether you’re angry at it. And now you’re angry as well!
As the Zen philosopher Alan Watts once observed, the only difference between waiting patiently and waiting impatiently is that when you’re waiting impatiently you feel bad. You tense your muscles and your throat gets tight. Maybe you start muttering to yourself or shouting at some hapless employee. Part of you knows that if you were feeling a little more reasonable you’d notice that shouting won’t have any effect at all. But you do it anyway.
All of this tension stays in your body even after the moment has passed and spills into other moments which you could have been enjoying. Impatience is the process of making the present and the future worse, because the current moment isn’t going as you’d like.
So the next time things don’t go according to plan, think about how you want to spend the moment. Not the moment that you think should be happening, the moment that is. Ask yourself whether you want to be angry at this moment. Ask yourself if you could be doing something more productive than making a mental list of all the ways that this situation sucks or what an idiot the person you’re dealing with is. Ask yourself if this moment is really so bad. Because if it is, it’s you that’s making it that way.