Our hyper-connected lives have one major drawback: patience.
“We live in a world where we can get anything we want right away,” says Mary Jane Ryan, author of Power of Patience. “We’ve lost the capacity to wait without becoming agitated.” Sound familiar?
No surprise then that a recent Pew Research Center study found that hyper-connectivity leads to a loss of patience and a need for instant gratification.
Impatience is an emotion on the anger spectrum; Ryan says it starts with irritation and frustration and can quickly move into annoyance and even rage.
“Impatience turns on the fight-or-flight response because we are interpreting the cause of our impatience to be a threat,” she says. “That causes us to release cortisone, and the stress hormone is toxic for all of our tissues, especially our brain.”
The amount of patience a person has is inborn: “When we say someone is Type A, they generally have a faster stress response, which means less patience,” Ryan says. But patience can be learned.
The first step is recognizing your impatience triggers. Different events will cause different people to react, and not everyone’s triggers are the same. The ability to turn it down starts with self-awareness, says Ryan.
“I am patient with people but I have no patience for machines,” she says. “As soon as something doesn’t work right, I think, ‘I don’t have time for this.’ Now when I hear that sentence forming in my mind, I catch myself.”
When you understand your triggers, you can start to reroute your reaction. If the situation is truly fight-or-flight, then the reaction is justified. Most of the time, however, the situation isn’t urgent; it’s annoying. Once you’re aware of what your brain is doing, you can choose differently, says Ryan.
“Impatience makes us hyper-focused,” she says. “You can still have focus without the panic by choosing to put your brain somewhere else.”
She offers seven things to do when you start to feel impatient:
1. Go for a walk or jog
Exercise burns off stress hormones that accumulate in your system, and you’ll be more able to re-engage your patience, says Ryan.
2. Count to 10
The old advice really works, says Ryan; it gives you a chance to reset your brain and remember what really matters.
This works well when waiting in line causes you to be impatient. Visualize the most peaceful place you can think of, says Ryan; see, feel, and hear yourself there.
4. Issue a warning
When someone else’s actions cause you to feel impatient, issue a storm warning before you blow. Telling your kids, “I’m about to lose my temper,” gives them a chance to change and you a chance to realize that you or they need a time out, says Ryan.
5. Ask for help
Often we’re impatient because we’re overloaded. “There’s no prize at the end of your life for doing too much, particularly in a frazzled state,” says Ryan. Look for tasks you can delegate and ask for assistance.
6. Practice short meditations
Use a red light, ringing phone or other frustration as a signal to stop and notice your breath. Simply noticing your inhalation/exhalation pattern can immediately calm you down.
7. Interrupt the momentum
Put a small pebble in your pocket, and when you start to feel irritated, move it from one pocket to the other. This will interrupt the impatience cycle and give you a chance to regroup, says Ryan.