- Our ability to practice patience increases in step with our desire for the reward.
- Unrealistic optimism, though motivating, can lead to irrational or unattainable expectations.
- Creating a habit to pause, reflect, and introspect with conscious effort can help increase patience during stressful situations.
Many people come to therapy complaining about how waiting is just too hard for them. They may say things like these:
- “I know I just have to wait for him to call like he says he will, but I still end up calling him first.”
- “If I could have just held out a little bit longer, that promotion would have been mine.”
- “I don’t understand why it would take so long; it’s just too frustrating.”
While intellectually we may be aware of how good things brew in time, in practice we often struggle to sit back and let things fall into place. Anger, irritation, and frustration are a trio of negative emotions that contribute to the vicious cycle of hopelessness and increased impatience.
Here are three things to practice if you struggle to stay on the right side of time.
1. Accept uncertainty.
A study published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology suggests that even though practicing patience can be an excruciating task, especially in the face of uncertain endpoints, we are all better at it than we think. Furthermore, our ability to practice patience increases in step with our desire for the reward. In other words, waiting for something we truly care about is easier than waiting for something we only halfway care about.
Of course, life is full of curveballs and surprises for which one cannot always be prepared. A few things that can help you manage your worry triggered by unexpected events are the following:
- Focusing on what you can control and influence instead of what you cannot: When taking control of a situation may not be an option, you can choose to step back and reflect upon your choice of responses.
- Keeping a positive outlook on what the situation may bring with it: Last-minute changes can bring discomfort. But, with a more long-term vision, one can learn to find the silver lining.
- Letting go of the difficult emotions that hold you back from moving forward: Holding on to anxiety, restlessness, and fear fuels a negative cycle. Instead, accept the difficulty of uncertainty and learn to flow with it to emerge stronger on the other side.
2. Set realistic expectations.
Impatience arises when things go against our "perfect" plans. This can be seen in three contexts of life:
- How we expect the environment to conform to our needs
- The way we expect people to treat us in personal or professional spaces
- Expectations we set for ourselves
Research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that people are more optimistic about their future than statistics might suggest. This unrealistic optimism, though motivating, can lead to irrational or unattainable expectations.
Managing expectations helps build patience. Here’s how you can do that for yourself:
- Be mindful as you set goals and timelines.
- Communicate your needs and boundaries to ensure being on the same page with others and to help them set realistic expectations for you.
- Be open to adapting if and when necessary. Having alternate plans can help you adapt to changing situations.
3. Work on your attachment style.
Part of the origin of the capacity to wait without restlessness or haste has its roots in the development of a secure attachment style, states an article published in The Psychoanalytic Review. An insecurely attached and anxious individual tends to seek constant reassurance from others.
Seeking external validation creates a dependency on outside sources, reducing one’s capacity to self-soothe and reassure. Some strategies to help transform insecurity into safety are the following:
- Be aware of your thoughts and bodily responses to discomfort. Ease yourself by focusing on something pleasurable or desirable.
- Practice self-compassion and abstain from judging your failure to be patient at times.
- Be curious about your own responses and ask yourself, “Am I making matters worse?” and “What can I do to make it better for myself and others?”
Creating a habit to pause, reflect, and introspect with conscious effort can help increase patience during stressful situations.
Healthy outcomes are a product of delaying gratification. Working with a mental health professional that specializes in self-reflective and relational work can help you ground yourself and find inner peace during times of severe impatience and/or uncertainty.