‘We never live; we are always in the expectation of living.’~ Voltaire
Pick an emotion – any emotion that characterizes how you feel during your workday. When you become aware of what you feel while you work, which emotion do you experience most often?
That’s what most people I work with choose.
If you were able to select an emotion that you think would support you most in your work – what would it be?
That’s what most people I work with choose as their “ideal” work default feeling.
Calm. Focused. Relaxed.
That is where most people I work with say they want to be. When I ask them, “How often do you feel patient, calm, focused and relaxed while you work,” most laugh and admit, “rarely.”
Perhaps impatience and frustration are the default emotions of our times?
Is patience a “virtue,” as it’s often described– a character trait, or as with impatience – a flaw? It’s instructive to consider that the root of the word virtue comes from the Anglo-French meaning worth, maleness and virility.
For some, impatience is a character plus, a sign of a no-nonsense type of person who cuts to the chase and gets to the point. After all – two of the most high-profile people in the world – Bill and Melinda Gates, describe themselves as “impatient optimists.” Writing in SELF Magazine, author Valerie Frankel comments, “I’ve always imagined my impatient nature is a sign of success – something that all busy, hard-driving, intelligent people share.”
In other words, just as with every other emotion we experience – how we behave is driven by our beliefs about what we feel.
In the Jewish Talmud, patience is extolled as an important personal trait – portraying those who endure while suffering through challenging conditions as virtuous. Muslims believe that a person can grow closer to God through patience, especially through suffering. In Buddhist traditions, patience is known as one of the “perfections” where the practice of patience is a way to enlightenment. In both Buddhism and Hinduism the emphasis is placed on the conscious awareness or mindfulness, achieved thorough the practice of meditation to cultivate more patience and clarification of thought.
I’m dubious about concepts of trait, character, virtue and even personal nature. These age-old ideas keep too many of us locked into emotional ruts and behaviors that given the opportunity to change – we would. If I am impatient – by nature – I may not take the actionable steps I could to make meaningful changes in my life. It’s reminiscent of discussions about whether leaders are born or made. While we all work with certain “natural” tendencies, often evident since childhood, the discovery of neuroplasticity – the ability to re-train the brain, opens up whole new realm of possibility for personal change.
The World We Live In
How does the world work on you?
In a world characterized by technology and speed – is there room for patience?
In his article on the effects of technology, Arizona Republic columnist E.J. Montini writes, “Technology has made us impatient. We no longer enjoy pausing. Or remembering. We log on, tune in, dial-up and speed off like drag racers, leaving in our wake a swirling cloud of historical dust, memory, perspective and people.” In response, author Linton Weeks, writes, “But technology only does what we want it to do. And we want it to do everything faster. We: Speed date. Eat fast food. Use the self-checkout lines in grocery stores. Try the one-weekend diet. Pay extra for overnight shipping. Honk when the light turns green. Thrive or dive on quarterly earnings reports. Speak in half sentences. Start things but don’t fin……”
Or maybe we can blame our impatience on the rise of urban life? As a big fan of cities, I believe I thrive in the rich, dense environment of that stimulus. It charges my senses. I believe in the possibilities that urban life offers to enliven and enrich cultures. But as a former longtime NYC resident I can also attest to its energetic drain. On some days, just getting from my home in lower Manhattan to work in midtown or upper Manhattan felt like an act of will.
On good days, I used the experience to practice patience, curiosity and empathy – three emotions that feed my well-being – and shift my negative responses to external stimulus. On iffy days, I’d duck into a pocket park (there aren’t enough in any city) or a “quiet” café to replenish my energy, even for fifteen minutes.According to the U.N. urban life is on the rise, with more than half of the world’s 6.9 billion people living in cities. While city life may offer many benefits, research is beginning to show how cities can affect our brains, particularly memory and attention. A study conducted by the University of Michigan in 2008 found that simply spending a few minutes on a busy city street affected the ability to focus.
Sara Lazar Ph.D in psychology and director of the Massachusetts General Hospital Laboratory for Neuroscientific Investigation of Meditation, points out, “On a busy city street, it’s probably more adaptive to have a shorter attention span. If you are too fixed on something, you might miss a car coming around the corner and fail to jump out of the way.” While many factors influence attention and memory, the study glimpses the role of the voluntary attention system, that part of the brain that allows us to concentrate in spite of distractions. People suffering from directed attention fatigue can experience short-term feelings of heightened distraction, impatience and forgetfulness.
Turns out my intuitive urban rejuvenation strategy of seeking respite in green and quiet places, was just what the doctor orders. Studies show that even 20 minutes in a more natural setting helps the brain to recover from city stresses. Even rooms with verdant views have been found in studies involving hospital patients to speed recovery. Now I understand my ferocity in protecting the Norway maple tree which sat majestically in front of our apartment windows!
Impatience and Frustration – The Thieves of Time
We need more research to understand how impatience works on our neurophysiology. While we wait – let’s pay attention to our mind. It’s the narratives in our minds that drive impatience. Our perception of time – the crisis of the “time famine,” which seems to grip us and spike our impatience – plays a big role.
Allan Lokos, the author of Patience: The Art of Peaceful Living, writes, “Patience is not an item, product or object; a thing that we have in greater or lesser supply. We therefore cannot lose patience. Undoing this misperception is important if we are to see things as they really are, which is the ground of wisdom. Impatience is a feeling that arises when particular conditions come together in a specific moment. When we understand that feelings are arising and feelings are not reality, we can relax a bit. We see that we don’t have to react to every feeling as it arises; in fact, that would be an exhausting way to live.”
After all, impatience and frustration are about control. Lift the veil of every feeling of impatience and frustration that you experience and you’ll find you are grasping for control. Self-control, control of others, control of the world, control of time – most of it – – illusory. Yet we still hold firm on the grip of it. Our impatience often says this is not enough; it (whatever “it” is) is taking too long, I want more and I want it now.
Life is too ephemeral for me to wait – for anything. This life now – in this moment – is not enough and I can’t wait for the future to unfold.
Perhaps we, like the times we live in, are waiting.
You spend so much of your time
expecting to become
who will be different
someone to whom a moment
whatever moment it may be
at last has come
and who has been
met and transformed
into no longer being you
and so has forgotten you
meanwhile in your life
you hardly notice
the world around you
sirens dying along the buildings
your eyes intent
on a sight you do not see yet
not yet there
as long as you
are only yourself
with whom as you
recall you were
to be left alone for long
Thanks for reading .
Louise Altman, Intentional Communication Partners
Photo credit: thelma1 @deviantart