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Six Steps to Tame Your Impatience

How to patiently act while you are feeling impatient.

Attention spans are shrinking while impatience is growing.

I recently heard someone say that we are living in an Attention Economy where attention is the most valuable currency not only for the media, but for leaders, parents, and life partners.

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Psychologist Susan David says impatience is exacerbated in North America where happiness tends to be defined by personal accomplishment (including personal pleasure in the moment) and stimulation.¹ Most workplace cultures are pervaded with time pressures and mounting “priorities.” Impatience keeps ratcheting up.

Then there are the habits developed over the years of reacting impatiently with our parents, siblings, and children even though they are acting in line with our expectations.

Not only are we becoming increasingly impatient, how we react when we feel impatient is damaging our relationships and our health.

“Patience is not the ability to wait, but how you act while you are waiting.” (Many people claim this quote, while others say it comes from the Bible)

Most people try to suppress their impatience. They stuff it into their internal garbage can with the other emotions they don’t want to show. Eventually, the can overflows. Impatience bubbles up. Your breathing quickens. Your heart and blood pressure rises. Your face flushes, your thoughts narrow, and you feel a jolt of self-protection. Your reaction might range from a disrespectful interruption or cynical remark to an outburst of anger.

The impact of your reactions will damage the trust and outcome of your conversations. You either shame people into compliant silence, or they resentfully explain themselves, which could re-ignite your impatience.

Also, as soon as you react, your analytical brain moves into action, giving you a justification for your behavior. Why can’t they do their job and figure this out? I need to help them get to the point. There are other more important things to do. The person cares too much about the unimportant details. You react with emotions, and then quickly rationalize your behavior with logic.

Your inability to manage your growing impatience is an abdication of your responsibility to manage yourself and your relationships. You might not be able to stop feeling impatient, but you can notice it and choose what to do next. With practice, you can decrease the amplitude of your reactions.

Your impatience impacts your health, too. Every time your teenager, colleague, or the traffic agitates you, you increase your risk of heart disease. Repeated bouts of impatience stress your cardiovascular system, digestive system, immune system, and every other biological system you have, upsetting your health and happiness. Impatience is painful in the short and long-term.

Follow these steps to rein in your impatience and create better results from your conversations.

  1. Familiarize yourself with how impatience feels. Do you feel it in your stomach, shoulders, chest, sweaty palms, or somewhere else? Daniel Goleman explains that as soon as you note this biological occurrence, you shift activity from the limbic system to the prefrontal cortex which not only decreases the intensity of your reaction, but you can better think through how to handle the situation.2 You must name the feeling to gain power over it.
  2. Notice what triggers your impatience. If you track your emotional states during the day, you can better define situations and behaviors that trigger your impatience. Use this emotional inventory to help you monitor your emotions and moods for two to three weeks. This will help you develop your self-awareness.
  3. Look for patterns. You might find that you are more vulnerable in specific situations or time periods. This awareness can help you prepare for difficult conversations and better manage your schedule based on your energy and emotional needs.
  4. Choose another emotion to shift to. What would you rather feel instead of impatience? Do you want to feel calm, compassionate, or curious? Before you go into a conversation, pick your keyword. When you notice your impatience arising, think of your keyword and breathe it into your body to help you shift your emotions to this state.
  5. Celebrate your wins at the end of each day. The brain needs evidence of success before it will work with you to change your habits. Instead of beating yourself up for mistakes, notice when you decreased your impatience or explained your needs well. Find a meaningful way to celebrate your wins so your brain seeks this reward and supports your growth.
  6. Tell others what works best for you. Sabina Nawaz suggests you tell people you live and work with about your communication style and needs.3 For example, say things like, “If you feel my response is blunt or direct, please accept it’s the way I think, not about you personally” or “I prefer to get to the point and then look at the backstory if needed” or “I’m not a morning person so I prefer to have longer conversations in the afternoon.” Don’t substitute these statements for the work in the previous five steps. Use them to help you improve your relationships as you work to be more patient.

Bonus tip: Eat and sleep well. Your patience is impaired by sleep deprivation, poor nutrition, noise pollution, excessive conflict, money problems, and a shortage of friends.


¹ Susan David, “The Upside of Bad Moods.” Time Special Edition – The Science of Emotions, 2017, page 24. Article is an excerpt from Emotional Agility by Susan David, Avery, 2016.

² Daniel Goleman, The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights, More Than Sound (digital book), April 12, 2011.

³ Susan Nawaz, Do You Know How Each Person on Your Team Likes to Work?”, May 30, 2017.

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