You’re waiting for the elevator at the office, sitting in a meeting that’s late to start, or checking your phone with the hope that a co-worker finally responds to your email. You know it’s not productive to let your impatience consume you, but you can’t help but tap your foot and fidget as time passes you by.
Far too often, we let impatience get the best of us at work. There are lots of situations when time is of the essence — when you have a pressing deadline, for example — but on many occasions, we let our stress and desire for instant gratification limit our ability to remain calm and respond with empathy.
And impatience doesn’t just put you in a bad mood; it can have physical implications, too. When you’re impatient, your stress hormones (like cortisol and adrenaline) soar, blood vessels constrict, and the acid in your stomach increases, resulting in a state of physiological stress, Judith Orloff, M.D., a psychiatrist and author of Emotional Freedom, tells Thrive Global.
“As far as psychological impacts go, impatience can cause you to feel irritable, anxious, and snappy. You say things you regret. You simply don’t adjust to the flow of life — you’re always trying to push it and make things go according to the way you want, versus learning how to harmonize with the flow of things,” Orloff says.
What’s more, impatience can put you at greater risk of several negative health outcomes, Sarah Schnitker, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Baylor University, tells Thrive. “Impatience is associated with cardiovascular problems. We have a lot of research showing that chronic stress and allowing yourself to be negatively impacted by daily stressors is not just bad for the physiological system — it can shorten your lifespan,” Schnitker says. But while the consequences of impatience are certainly alarming, it is possible to avoid them.
Schnitker notes that people who are more patient often report higher life satisfaction, more positive emotions, and higher levels of hope and self-esteem. Plus, people who are more patient might experience greater success in achieving their goals, because they ultimately exert more effort and are more satisfied with goal progress.
“Building patience is a worthy pursuit. It takes time, but it is something that you can improve,” Schnitker says. Here’s how.
There are a variety of ways to practice being patient that will ultimately build your tolerance and your ability to deal with slow periods or moments of stress at work. If you notice your impatience has impacted the way you communicate, Orloff recommends taking a deep breath and counting to 10 before you speak up. “By taking this pause before you speak, you won’t say something you regret. Be aware of your tone — when people are impatient, they tend to get snippy,” Orloff says.
On top of paying extra attention to your communication style, it’s also helpful to be conscious of the way you talk to yourself. “Practice cognitive reappraisal — reimagining a situation,” Schnitker suggests. “Say you have a co-worker who is frustrating you: You’re getting annoyed, because they’re not turning things in on time. You can try to reframe this — maybe they have something going on with their family. This helps you transition from being very frustrated to thinking ‘OK, this is frustrating, but there are a lot of things going on in their life that I don’t know about.’”
Having a high level of patience often isn’t something that comes naturally; instead, it is something that improves over time. Schnitker says the key is to start small; with the help of cognitive reappraisal, you can try to shift your habits in a more positive direction, or better yet, try habit-stacking.
Take traffic, for example — no one enjoys the rush-hour commute after a long day at work, but Schnitker says it can be the perfect time to reflect on the events of your day. “Instead of focusing on the fact that you are stuck, and impatient about it, think, ‘Let me see what I can do with this time,’” she says. That way, the time will feel less like an inconvenience, and instead, like an opportunity to develop a healthy habit at a time when you might normally give into negativity.
You may often turn to technology in moments that particularly try your patience, like when you’re waiting in a long line. But it’s worth trying to practice being patient without the distraction of our screens. “Having technology makes it easier to wait in certain situations. Say I’m stuck in a doctor’s office — I’d use my phone and I’m not as frustrated. But by allowing our technology to entertain us when we’re in low-stakes waiting situations, like waiting in line or other daily hassles that are part of life, people may actually not get to practice the skill of patience that they’d need in a more high-stakes situation,” Schnitker says. With that in mind, use low-stakes waiting situations as an opportunity to simply be present, practice deep breathing, or find a non-technological way to keep yourself busy.
Another way to become more patient — and to improve your well-being in general — is to identify the purpose of things both big and small. “In our culture, our approach to any sort of suffering, waiting, or hardship is often, ‘Let’s just fix it and move on.’ But to really be patient is to say there is a bigger picture, and something important beyond this moment,” Schnitker says. An easy way to find deeper meaning in the smaller moments of life is to ask questions.
If you find yourself particularly impatient and stressed by something in the workplace, Schnitker suggests asking yourself about it. “Ask, ‘Why am I doing overtime this week and missing out on something fun I wanted to do? Why do I put up with this person who frustrates me? Why am I struggling to write this deck? What’s the purpose behind it all?’ The answers will be beyond the self,” Schnitker says.
By identifying a purpose behind the moments that cause you to feel impatient, and practicing patience both in and outside the workplace, you can not only improve your mental and physical health, but also equip yourself with an important tool to deal with whatever life throws your way.
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