I have been thinking about how a year of the COVID pandemic has forced people to make changes or maybe not! A year of mask wearing, no major trips, seeing less of friends and work colleagues, and no concerts and theatre outings with friends. Waiting for vaccines to bring some vestige of normality, and the cultivation of a slower and solitary life, in all common sense, should elicit more patience. But does it?
The person who refuses to wear a mask or defies restrictions and throws a party. Someone in the TELUS tower penthouse decided to create a club with all the trimmings of a party. There are enough people willing to attend. Does this speak of a lack of patience? I don’t know but it might be one of the elements. Impatience has a lot to teach us.
Yes, I do want life back to ”normal”, whatever that is, in a post COVID world. I do think though, that without cultivating a decent level of patience the going will be difficult until then. No amount of wishing and wanting it to be over will move things faster than the situation allows. Why is it so hard to cultivate patience? The person who has difficulty waiting in lineups, or for a driver to turn left, or for the server to bring their meal will be triggered by the uncertainty and what seems like a snail’s pace of change during the pandemic.
One reason I think, is that some of us are hardwired for impatience. Another is that we have been trained in the past 20 to 30 years to expect instant gratification, information at the click of a mouse, and to buy anything we want and have it delivered the next day. We can have a gourmet meal delivered in an hour instead of grocery shopping and spending three hours in our kitchen preparing it. Instead of mailing a letter to someone which takes days we can email or text them instantly.
Those of us that are hardwired for reactivity, either as a result of genetics or traumatic experiences, are failures when it comes to patience. We have to learn and cultivate it and that is hard especially in the age of COVID.
Thomas Friedman in his book Thank You For Being Late: an Optimist’s Guide to Thriving in the Age of Acceleration recounts a colleague being late and thanking him for it when he realized he was able to quietly reflect on things while he was waiting. Waiting allows us to relax and connect with ourselves and maybe reflect on things similarly to when we unexpectedly have time that we have not planned for. We can get all frustrated if the expected something did not happen the way it was supposed to or revel in the unprepared-for-time. We can adapt or “go with the flow” of things. This is unheard of for many in Western culture in which we know that striving and succeeding is most important. COVID has changed all that. The motto is that we “are all in this together” but going with the flow and cultivating patience is key in getting through these times without yelling or snapping at someone or something!
I have been a driver when a passenger in my vehicle or a driver in a car behind me have become impatient because I did not turn quick enough for them. Their impatience has compromised their own and my safety by rattling me, the driver. When I perceive it is safe then I will make my turn. This is an example when impatience is dangerous.
Impatience results in reacting without thinking or feeling about the needs of self or others. Impatience fuels my need to vent or act and it becomes more important than the consequences.
What can we do to cultivate patience? When someone is late we can seize the time to reflect, to foster creativity by opening our mind and rejecting judgement. We can take the time to focus by attending to our breathing. Lateness is judged as a slight, a sign of a disorganized mind and poor business etiquette but we can suspend judgement and do something different. We can see it as an opportunity.
Impatience when examined can be an opportunity for a revaluation of the situation. It is a chance to say: “what is your hurry?” How important is it that I get my needs met immediately? What options do I have? Not allowing time to reflect, to slow down is not helpful for creativity and innovative problem solving. We really need these interludes while waiting for things to happen, to chill, to breathe, to relax our busy schedules. COVID has allowed this to happen but then impatience sets in.
This interlude in our lives during the last year can be viewed as a huge inconvenience or we can see it as a chance to reset, to revisit or to reflect on how we really want to live our lives. If we do this, we are cultivating patience. If we do not examine our impatience, or desire to get on with things, we are doomed to repeat our past lessons and not live our best life. One final thought, if we find ourselves being impatient, I think asking ourselves “what is this about?” might be helpful but also acknowledging our humanness and self-compassion will go a long way to improving our ability to be more patient.