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Is Patience Still a Virtue?

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Patience is defined as having the capacity to bear misfortune, suffering and pain without becoming agitated or upset. Patience is important in enabling us to regulate our emotions, to stop and think before acting, and to stay in control instead of becoming angry or distressed.

Our capacity for being patient, a virtue deeply ingrained in our nature, seems to be eroded by the speed at which life now moves. It seems that we’re not used to waiting anymore. From same-day delivery to instant information and entertainment at the click of a button, waiting seems to be an inconvenience we can opt out of. The speed of technological change, and the desire of companies to sell us each new upgrade means that we’re often told that the standard we’re used to is unacceptable. In the UK, Kevin Bacon’s “bufferface” advert for EE implied that having to wait more than a few seconds for a page to load was some sort of problem keeping us all up at night. Impatience is almost a status symbol. If we can afford to pay for premium access or priority boarding, there’s little need to be patient.

Expectations about speed do seem to make us more impatient. A 2012 study showed that after only a couple of seconds people began switching off slow loading online videos, and in just 11 seconds roughly half of all participants switched off. Recently the BBC noted that the average length of a pop song intro has reduced from 20 seconds to 5 seconds. The reason is that we don’t need to be as patient any more. Instead of needing to get up and change the disc, we can skip to the next song at the press of a button. If you’re streaming the music you can continue doing this almost indefinitely. For anyone above the age of 35, this will seem a far cry from a childhood spent waiting 10 minutes for a computer game to load…

So if things are getting faster, what’s the problem? Why does it matter if we’re all more impatient? While it’s true that technology is getting quicker, the rest of life just isn’t keeping up. The amount of time a barista takes to make your spiced latte is pretty similar to what it was 10 years ago, trains are still (regularly) late, cars break down, people don’t call/text/email/WhatsApp/Snapchat when they say they will. Technology doesn’t stop all delays. If we expect everything else to keep up, and are impatient with the non-technological world it has a negative impact upon us. Studies have shown that impatience is linked to obesity, premature ageing and an impatient ‘time is money’ approach to thinking has been shown to reduce happiness.

If you find patience difficult, here are some ideas that might help you.

  • Take control. Feeling that you’re not in control of the situation can make waiting more stressful, so take control. Decide what you will do with your waiting time. You have the choice whether to spend the time grinding your teeth in frustration, or enjoying a few moments away from your other commitments.
  • Practise acceptance. Cultivate an attitude that includes the inevitability of delays. It is normal for delays to happen. It’s not unfair, it’s just part of life. Having an accepting attitude will help you to maintain realistic expectations and stay calmer.
  • Give yourself space for what’s happening now. If you find yourself struggling to stay focused on your current task, take a few moments to be mindful of what you’re doing right now. Try to accept that the next task can wait until this one is finished. If you struggle with leaving incomplete tasks, write them down so that they’re safe and won’t be forgotten, and remember that you can return to them when this moment is over. There are a wide range of free meditation and mindfulness apps available to help you make space in a busy day.
  • Breathe. Try breathing deeply into your diaphragm instead of your chest, and then exhaling slowly. Slowly repeating this cycle signals to your body that it’s time to calm down and relax.
  • Have an outlet. This could be a sport or other physical activity, computer games, visiting a counsellor, or even a good friend who you can share your irritations with. Being able to express your frustrations in a safe manner means you’ll be less likely to carry them round for use in the next difficult situation.

Patience enables us to accept that things will not always go our way, to bear the stresses and strains of living, and to savour life’s pleasures while they are available to us. Although we may not get as much chance to practice being patient these days, it’s still as vital a skill as it ever was.

Through New Aspect Counselling, Chris Mounsher aims to offer a safe, supportive, and non-judgemental space to discuss issues that affect people.

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