Learning to wait in an instant gratification world

Hungry? Deliveroo can be at your house in twenty minutes! Thirsty? Water coolers galore! Flirty? Tinder’s got you covered (insert winking emoji.) There are a lot of perks to living in an instant gratification world, but what happens when we are then asked to wait? Patience is esteemed as one of the great virtues and in a world that moves explosively fast, it seems to be in short supply.

Humans are designed to work for our rewards

Our ancestors lived in a world where nothing came easily. Food had to be hunted, water had to be carried and shelter had to be built. Literally everything that makes our life’s so much easier such as the car, lightbulb and computer had to be invented, had to be brought forth from the human brain and transformed into a tangible reality.

As such we have evolved to have to work for what we want. Our brain has a pretty nifty reward system in place whenever we achieve something critical; it floods us with feel good chemicals such as serotonin and dopamine. It explains the rush you experience when you complete a workout, get an A on an assignment or fall in love. Although surprises and short-term gratification appeal to us greatly (we get something for nothing), greater and longer-lasting satisfaction is achieved when we have to build towards something, when we earn it. The rush of positive reinforcement we feel when we eat a box of chocolates dissipates fairly quickly after consumption. The deep satisfaction of building a home or creating a nourishing meal lasts far longer and produces contentment rather than fleeting pleasure.

Balancing instant gratification with the ability to delay gratification is essential to ensure that we don’t short-change ourselves. Often, the easy option is convenient but not great for us. It is easier to order and eat the junk food than to source fresh ingredients and make a delicious meal. But the long-term consequences are bolstered by the choice that takes the effort, not the short-cut.

Categorising a task as either worth the short-term gratification or worth the long game is important. You might be happy to accept the easy way out in certain situations, but not others.

Some things can’t be sped up

Despite the convenience of our culture, not everything can be sped up. I learnt this the hard way via several long-distance relationships! You can’t spirit someone to you any faster! Visas, flights and security lines all take time.

Recovering from illness, a breakup, loss or any kind of trauma is not achieved quickly. Losing weight healthily does not happen at the speed of light. We can’t conjure up a long-term relationship over night or raise children in a heartbeat. All of these things take consistency, perseverance and yes, bucketloads of patience. In fact, ALL of the meaningful, worthwhile things in life do.

If we get used to expecting things to come easily, we forget that a lot of joy and fulfilment can be found in the experience of being present whilst in the thick of it all. We appreciate the birth of a baby because he or she took nine months to make, we celebrate healthy marriages with a lifetime of memories, and we gain valuable experience when we commit to a long course of study to prepare us for a career. Understanding that not all needs, wants or wishes can be instantly fulfilled or granted is key to not writing off deeper dreams that may take a while to come to fruition. This also helps us understand that sometimes we have to grow into something. If we were given it overnight, we might not value it or understand how to maintain it. If we grow into parenthood, a relationship or our career, we acclimatise slowly to what this change means for us as a person. Imagine waking up tomorrow and being married – you’d probably feel absolutely overwhelmed!

Cultivating patience

In some ways, I feel I’ve been very patient. In others, not so much. Typically, it’s the little things that make me most impatient. The big scary things tend to force patience from you. What’s the alternative? Cultivating patience continues to be a challenge for me. It’s a muscle you have to work on a daily basis, and there will always be something that challenges your internal ‘stuff’ and makes you feel antsy and agitated, whether it’s waiting for a friend to turn up, waiting for a train or a text back.

I don’t think patience is something that can be learnt overnight. It is something we must continuously practice throughout our lifetimes, and even when we think we’ve got it, we’ll have moments where we act with total impatience, almost as if we’ve forgotten everything we’ve learnt!

So, how can we learn to be patient?

Bringing ourselves into the moment can be a useful tool, other times (such as when waiting for a delayed train) distraction can be helpful. Finding something to focus your attention on or that helps you enter into a state of ‘flow’ is very useful. Having an outlet for impatient feelings such as anger or disappointment can also be helpful. What we suppress tends to build. If we can find a way to let out what we feel in a productive way, such as through journaling or exercise, we can feel a little less impatient!

The best things take time to build

As mentioned above, patience is required whenever we try to build something whether that’s an education, career, savings, relationship or marriage. Overnight success is possible in certain things. If you win the lottery you can pay off that mortgage overnight! But generally, most things require that we be patient and wait. There are stop signs in life and a lot of the time we operate in amber, getting ready to move but not being able to quite yet!

Acknowledging that patience is something we cultivate whilst working towards something that matters to reach a finished product can help us keep our nose to the grindstone. It is okay to have flickers of impatience, it’s only natural and we are only human, but the alternative is to lose something valuable because of a fleeting moment of annoyance. Sometimes we need to let off the pressure valve to release some steam before we can get back to the task at hand, hopefully with a new sense of perspective and purpose.

All my love



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