The Lost Art of Waiting

Technological innovation has brought about amazing changes in our lives. We can pretty much do anything, anywhere, anytime. I have to admit, it’s pretty convenient. I love being able to do online banking, check the weather, post comments, search for just about anything, get directions, check stocks, manage my schedule and connect with others via email/social media/messaging all on this little device I call my phone…oh, and yes, it still enables me to call people at the touch of a button too.

There’s no denying that we now have a great deal of power in our hands. Devices are no longer a simple tool. They're almost considered an appendage because we never leave home without it anymore. Case in point: I’m much more likely to forget my wallet than I am to forget my phone. Lucky for me, I don’t buy much when I’m on the go.

This instant access to technology has also come at a cost. What we often hear about is that smartphones:

  • Are dangerous because people use them to talk/text while driving, sometimes with deadly consequences.
  • Cause kids (and some adults) to spend an increasing amount of time on social media, to the detriment of face-to-face interaction.
  • Can be hacked, resulting in identity theft.
  • Can be taken by force and sold on the black market.
  • Can lead to hours of obsessive gaming/gambling.
  • Can erode our privacy now that anyone can take pictures and/or video of you in unfortunate circumstances and post it for the world to see.

…and now there’s a watch for us to worry about too.

All of us who use technology on the go are suffering from something far more pernicious than any of the items listed above. With every tap, pinch, swipe and click, we’re allowing a device to change our behaviour.

We’re relinquishing the art of waiting.

Patience Is A Virtue

The slowness with which productive change actually takes place does not play well in an impatient society. Where do we find the determination and patience required to achieve the things we want?
— p. 56, Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart by Gordon Livingston

Learning to wait, to be patient, is an important skill. It teaches us to stay calm, to stay focused on the bigger picture, to look at our lives—and what we need and want to do—holistically. It teaches us to be better people, to give others space, to give ourselves and others time to think. It keeps us content. It keeps us healthy. It keeps us focused. It keeps us sane.

And it used to be far more common than it is today because waiting was, well, expected.

Patience Keeps Us Content

Being able to wait for things, people, activities is helpful on a number of fronts. Tolerating elapsed time between wanting to do or have something and getting it makes us:

  • Feel we have control over our impulses.
  • Feel the sweet anticipation of choosing to wait.
  • Ponder whether that thing/event/relationship is a fit for us. 
    • Maybe I don’t want to buy that sweater after all.
    • Maybe I’d prefer to play volleyball with Tom as opposed to tennis with Jacob.
    • Should I go on that vacation?
  • Optimize the quality of how we spend our time by proactively planning events as opposed to merely reacting to the demands and requests of others in real time.
  • Optimize the use of our resources by giving us time to think about what will provide the greatest return on investment.

Patience Keeps Us Healthy

By its very nature, patience focuses the locus of control inward. It accomplishes this by reducing or eliminating the strong reaction we can naturally have when we can’t do or have something immediately. Feeling we can stay in control when things don’t or can’t happen immediately frees us to focus on what we can do as opposed to what we can't. It focuses us on the possibilities as opposed to the barriers. Have you ever heard of someone who is overreacting to a small concern being able to think clearly and rationally about how to mitigate the situation? I haven't either.

The ability to temper our reaction not only keeps us in a better mood and able to think, but it also offers a number of health benefits because we don’t go into fight-or-flight mode.

Staying calm:

  • Keeps our blood pressure and heart rate lower.
  • Keeps our stress hormones in check.
  • Keeps us breathing normally.
  • Enables us to get restful sleep.
  • Keeps us from sweating the small stuff (literally and figuratively).
  • Might even keep us from getting an upset stomach, a headache or the chills.

Over the long term, chronic impatience increases our stress level and puts us at greater risk of developing a myriad of diseases, including the number one killer in North America: heart disease.

Patience Keeps Us Focused

Being able to see the big picture, as opposed to focusing on what's going right or not in the moment, allows us to make better decisions about what we need and want. Obsessing over the small hiccups caused by daily inconveniences or responding to the latest push offer by one of our favourite retailers is like using the stock ticker to make investment decisions. It’s not likely to lead to good returns over the long term. In short, our reactions in the moment, and the resulting decisions, are not usually what makes sense the most sense overall.

Patience is power. Patience is not an absence of action; rather it is “timing” it waits on the right time to act, for the right principles and in the right way.
— Fulton J. Sheen

Planning ahead and purposefully spending our resources on what matters makes us feel more in control of ourselves, more productive, and more successful as a result. Ultimately, purposeful, focused action gives us a pattern of behaviour that helps keep our emotional lizard brain at bay. It helps us built willpower based on desires that are greater than the immediate wants we try to convince ourselves are worth it.

Patience Makes Us Stronger

The ability to remove the constant need to be doing something, to get comfortable with having a little time to breathe and be in the moment, to be comfortable in our own skin, to not have what we want right away, to just be, is potent. It means we don’t need anything to feel we’re “enough”. There’s confidence and equinimity in being able to just be. The more we have this feeling of being enough, the less likely we are to seek comfort in immediate action or things, in the need to restore order when something feel uncomfortable.

Rediscovering the Art of Waiting

Let’s be a little more patient with ourselves, with others and with the world in general.  

Being mindful of how we think and feel is the most powerful tool in moving ourselves toward choices and actions that are more in line with what we want over the long term. 

How patient are you? Are there thoughts and actions you use to stay patient when you want something or you’re waiting for something or someone?