Most people don’t know that I was once the world’s most impatient person. If people were fined for impatient behavior, I’d have more debt than the federal government.
When I was eight years old and my parents were driving my sister and me from New York City to Miami, I laid down in the back seat when we got in the car to start out. We’d just gone over the George Washington Bridge to New Jersey (about a fifteen-minute ride from our apartment) when I sat up and expectantly asked my parents, “Are we there yet?” I remember my mother turning to my father and saying, “Ralph, this is going to be a long trip.”
Okay, true…a lot of kids are impatient. But I was still that way a decade later.
Remember the teenager at the elevator in the lobby who pushed the button over and over though the light was on showing the button had clearly been pushed already, signaling the elevator to come? Me.
Have you ever exploded a perfectly good relationship because you weren’t sure where it was going, and couldn’t stand the uncertainty? I have.
New Yorkers may have a proclivity to impatient behavior because we’re used to a faced-pace life…but I was impatient even for a New Yorker! When my internal pressure became excessive—boom.
As a little girl, did you bargain with your parents to open holiday presents early—if we could just open one, we might stave off the unbearable over-excitement. What other deeds and bargains and manipulations do we use to stave off intolerable feelings of impatience when waiting seems to loom way too long before us?
An article by Dr. Jim Stone in Psychology Today explained, “Impatience, it turns out, is a very particular mental and physical process that gets triggered under specific circumstances, and which motivates specific kinds of decisive action. When we realize it’s going to cost us more than we thought to get to our goal, our mental gears start spinning. We start looking for ways to avoid the additional costs in time, pain, distraction, credibility or opportunity.”
Anyone can wait, but the ability to wait without restlessness or anxiety is not a feature of everyone’s personality. When something or someone appears to be holding up what you are awaiting, they become a target of your irritation—so anger and impatience can go hand in hand. To avert triggering either, tolerance is key.
Anyone with children knows that impatience is not a good platform for parenting. Being patient is obviously important to our relationships. It’s even significant to our health and well-being. According to a November 2018 NY Times article about patience, “The virtue is associated with a variety of positive health outcomes, such as reducing depression and other negative emotions. Researchers have also concluded that patient people exhibit more prosocial behaviors, like empathy, and were more likely to display generosity and compassion.”
When we realize some goal will take longer to achieve than we want—is more inefficient or painful or costlier in some way—we get impatient. We may eventually realize that feeling restless or anxious during waiting time distracts us from enjoying other things in our life. Can we outgrow the trait of impatience? By the time we matured to adulthood, the neural pathways were fairly-well established in our brain. Nevertheless, the brain is plastic, malleable, and reconfigurable—so there is hope.
Calm down, it’s going to be okay: help is on the way
When I was 19, a friend encouraged me to learn the Transcendental Meditation technique. That was the beginning of my victory over impatience. I found quickly that trying to change the environment to suit my temperament—and even trying to change my temperament—were frustrating and fruitless compared to changing within myself naturally and effortlessly.
The TM technique happens, unlike other meditation procedures, to be simple and effortless; it’s easy to learn, done sitting comfortably, and involves no concentration, philosophy, change of lifestyle, diet or belief.
During the TM technique, the mind and body settle into a state of deep, restorative rest—much deeper than ordinary relaxation, as indicated by reduced cortisol and plasma lactate (major indicators of stress). The healing rest gained in each sitting of the TM technique allows emotional, mental and physical stress to wash away—improving overall health, well-being and behavior.
A 1991 meta-analysis of 42 independent outcomes on the effects of various meditation and relaxation techniques found that TM has a strong effect on increasing self-actualization. Over an average three-month intervention period, TM subjects became more open to their own feelings and more capable of warm interpersonal relations, with emotional expression guided more by their internal gyroscope than by fleeing circumstances, indicating emotional maturity. Their awareness became more stabilized in the “here and now” and they responded more adaptively to both internal and external challenges, indicating a more resilient sense of self.
The ability to adapt and be flexible is helpful if we’ve been an impatient person. As well as taking the TM course, there are several suggestions I’ve found in articles on the topic that will start you in the right direction and will all be more easily accomplished once you’ve learned the TM technique:
- Plan well—intelligence, coherence and creativity are fundamental for planning.
- Be efficient—organized thinking, good health, focus (what else is competing for your attention?) and flexibility are needed.
- A rested body and settled mind almost guarantee patience.
- Job satisfaction and enjoyment of the moment are important, otherwise opportunities elsewhere will pull at you.
- Consider the person or situation that is holding you up—can you change course to help them?
A 2007 study reported on APA PsycNET of the American Psychological Association showed that patience was significantly related to spiritual transcendence. This is another powerful and profound example of how TM reduces impatience. The TM practice allows your mind to transcend thought by settling inward to experience pure awareness—the most silent and peaceful level of the mind. Through regular daily TM practice, as we become more established in peacefulness, we find that we can move through our days with grace while the old habit of impatience silently melts away. Even that teenage girl repeatedly pushing the elevator button only evokes our understanding smile.
Janet Hoffman is the executive director of TM for Women Professionals in the USA.