Sometimes the world just does not live up to our demands. You want your relationship to change. You want an employee to get competent faster. You want a fight resolved, an answer from your boss, the barista to pick up the pace, for the love of all that’s holy. And you want it to happen now.
Welcome to impatience, the stress response that loves to argue with reality. In my experience, people who struggle with impatience quite often have powerful imaginations that can give reality a real run for its money. They can analyze a given situation and quickly arrive at three different ways it could be improved — so why isn’t everyone else getting right on it, spit-spot? Well, why?
More than any specific change, though, impatience is a clue that what you most likely want is control. And inside the urge for control is an anxiety that you might not be okay if you can’t get your life, and all the people in it, to move the way you’re certain is best. (More from meQuilibrium editor Terri Trespicio on how to curb your inner control freak.)
Combine a bright mind with this kind of fear, put them next to a pokey colleague on the day of a big presentation, and what do you get? Impatience, followed by irritability, restlessness, and that much less focus and energy to change the situation. It’s a cruel, circular irony: the more impatient you feel, with others and yourself, the deeper you’re stuck in the reality that triggered your impatience in the first place.
At meQuilibrium, we help people get unstuck from overwhelming stress responses. One of the most effective tools is to build resilience, which involves being able to accept reality and then work within it to get what you want. Here are 3 ways to build your resiliency and turn impatience into action.
Stand up, breathe out. Impatience begins with a series of thoughts. For example, why can’t she just stop fiddling with the projector already? She’s going to make us late. She’ll mess up the lens. She’s going to make me look like an idiot. I AM an idiot, and so on.
As soon as you notice these thoughts, and the flood of feelings that follow, move your body. Stand up. If you’re in a place where you can do a simple stretch, do it. Take a quick walk up and down a flight of stairs. Above all, focus your attention on your breathing. (Read more about how breathing can calm and clear your mind.) Your goal is to use your body to interrupt the impatient mind before it spirals out of control. You’ll then have more emotional and mental resources for the work at hand.
Examine, reorient, plan. Impatience is closely related to frustration, which comes from fear around a lack of resources. When you have a moment to reflect, ask yourself, how am I feeling limited here? What am I missing when I get impatient?
As you do this, you’re shifting the intensity of impatience to energy for action. These strong emotions that pull at your psyche are far more than uncomfortable experiences. They are signals and clues pointing you toward you want and need. The near-rage you feel at that pokey colleague could be a sign that you are bored and underutilized at work. It doesn’t matter if she gets the PowerPoint going or not — what you really need is a meaty project to engage all your skills and talents. And now you can begin to plan for that, instead of stewing in your own impatience.
Forgive them. Forgive yourself. Letting up on the people around you is critical to turning impatience into change. This doesn’t mean lowering your standards. Instead, you’re accepting that people are as they are, and that change takes effort, creativity, and time.
The same goes for you: you’re a work in progress. You get impatient. You make mistakes. You get stuck. We all do. Self-forgiveness helps you cultivate compassion, kindness, and peace. Better still, as you let frustration and resentment go, you’ll find the patience and the drive you need to move ever closer to your goals.