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Why Is Practicing Patience Sometimes So Difficult?

A Personal Perspective: Consider holding the door open for someone behind you.

Key points

  • Technology has created an over-automated society that expects us to deliver goods and services faster and faster.
  • Our lives are becoming more harried and chaotic—as if someone is standing nearby shouting, “Faster! Faster!,” every minute of the day.
  • Practice patience with yourself by stopping and acknowledging the situation you’re in, and then taking a few deep breaths.
 Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels
Source: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels

Recently, while shopping at a local grocery store, I stopped by its coffee bar to treat myself to a beverage while I shopped. Although the station wasn’t staffed, it had a small bell on the counter that shoppers could ring to call someone over.

I noticed several workers nearby who were all helping other customers. So, I decided that I wasn’t going to ring the bell and, instead, would just wait patiently until a worker noticed me standing there.

Sure, I was in a hurry and definitely looking forward to that shot of caffeine that would be in the small mocha latte I planned on ordering. But I also recognized that waiting patiently would be a good test of my resolve. Why? Because technology has created an over-automated society that expects us to deliver goods and services faster and faster. Therefore, I decided I was going to stand there and wait patiently to break the cycle.

Think about it. Getting evening or late-night emails from supervisors used to be taboo. Now, we feel like we must respond to work-related emails no matter what time of day they arrive (even if it’s during hours that we’re off work). Even friends and relatives sometimes get annoyed if we don’t instantly reply to text messages. Our lives are becoming more harried and more chaotic–as if someone is standing nearby shouting, “Faster! Faster!” every minute of the day.

Thus, my standing at the coffee bar and waiting patiently without ringing the service bell was going to embody my protest. I could stand there enjoying the moment, waiting for someone else’s timing to accommodate my own.

I’m ashamed to admit that “just standing there” wasn’t easy. My initial thought was to grab my phone and scroll through incoming emails or text messages. But I fought the urge. I didn’t have to be doing anything other than breathing. Still, I wondered to myself, where do I direct my eyes? What kind of posture do I assume? How, exactly, does someone wait patiently? It was a mystery—mainly because I’ve been a participant in life’s chaos and haven’t paused in several years.

So here I was, Pausing–like a robot that had been temporarily switched off. After what seemed like an eternity (roughly about two minutes), a cheerful employee approached and asked what kind of beverage I wanted.

Like any proud kindergarten student handing in their first homework assignment, I wanted to boast that I’d purposely not rung the bell and then bask in gratitude from the employee. But I caught and circumvented my need for acknowledgment. My being patient was its own reward (as was the small mocha I ordered, which I’ll admit was quite delicious).

I realize that waiting patiently at my local market’s coffee bar was a small act when it came to patience. And yet, the muscle of patience is one many of us don’t exercise enough. Sure, we are all very busy and sometimes face insurmountable demands and obligations of all kinds. But if we don’t initiate temporary pauses in our lives, who will? Even the smallest patient acts can add up. And those acts begin with us and our choices.

So next time you’re racing for an entrance, consider holding the door open for someone behind you so they can enter first. You might even allow a car at a four-way road stop to go before your own—even if you have the right of way. Or, if you see a bell on an empty counter, perhaps wait for the employee to return on their own accord rather than banging out a fractured symphony of "I'm in a hurry!"

Lastly, practice patience with yourself. We can do this by stopping and acknowledging the situation we’re in, then taking a few deep breaths. This sounds like a simple act. And the good news is that it is. An act that can help remind us that life doesn’t have to be a race every single second of every single day—and that we deserve patience as much as anyone we might encounter does.

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