Is impatience your middle name? Just asking because mine is, and I have the feeling I am in pretty good company.
If you’re part of the impatience clan too, how’s that working for you? For me, honestly, not that well. Because whenever I get really impatient and try to rush things, it’s almost a given that I mess up. In my mind, I turn into this fabulous persona—Action Woman, the Queen of To-Do Lists and Getting Shit Done—who does everything efficiently and gracefully. In reality, I become that less-than-fabulous person who drops or spills stuff or has to do tasks over to get them right. Nothing efficient and graceful about that, and in the end, I am more fidgety and stressed than when I started the whole thing.
Then, of course, there are the impatience scenarios where we have zero control: in other words, waiting. We get anxious to do something, anything, even though we know perfectly well that trying to change the reality around us is a waste of energy. But tell me that when I am stuck in the back of an Uber with a ‘creative driver’ in heavy traffic and I realize I will most likely be late for my appointment. Tardiness sets me so much on edge that I could probably ignore the zombie apocalypse as long as it was playing out on the sidewalk and not holding me up on my way from A to B.
The issue with impatience is that it takes us out of the moment and into the future. And when the mind is not present, the body messes up the Here and Now. Fortunately, there are things we can do to push back at the monkey mind and return to the present moment. They take some training, but they work—and the more you train them, the more they become second nature. So here we go:
The first—and most important—thing you can do when you feel the impatience level rising is to stop in mid-sentence or mid-stride and breathe. Take a couple of deep breaths—I use the mantra, good things in, bad things out—while your brain continues to shout at you that There. Is. No. Time. For. This. Let it shout. You’re taking … what? … 30 seconds to breathe and your brain is telling you it’s taking too long? Pretty ridiculous, right? So just flip it off and continue to breathe. Trust me, this is a match you are going to win.
2) Body check-in
When you have calmed the monkey mind a little with your deep breaths, there’s another quick exercise you can run through to get yourself out of the funk: Check in with your body in the present moment. Personally, I use a variation on Sharon Salzberg’s lovingkindness meditation, asking myself: Am I safe right now? Am I healthy or do I feel pain? Is anything bad actually happening? Can I be happy? Usually, my honest answer is that yes, I am safe, healthy and free of pain, and nothing bad is happening right now, so I may as well be happy. There’s still time to freak out later if any of your horror scenarios happen. If!
3) It’s okay
This may sound like a bit of an anti-climax, but seriously, telling yourself It’s okay! is my top tip for beating impatience. Bonus points for saying it out loud—that way you’re more likely to believe yourself too. (No worries about people around you; in times of wireless headphones, we’ve all gotten used to people talking ‘to themselves’ in the street.) Here’s my suggestion: Focus on the story you are telling yourself that makes you so impatient and the first negative outcome that comes to mind (let’s say, being late for or missing an appointment) and then add, It’s okay! Move on to the next ‘huge problem’ your mind comes up with (for instance, being considered unreliable) and again tell yourself, It’s okay! Continue until you run out of ‘reasons’ why you should be impatient and freaked out. It may take a few rounds of It’s okay! to catch on, but that’s okay too.
By the time you’ve run through these quick and easy steps, chances are really high that your mind got the message: Nothing bad is actually happening. The only zombie apocalypse around is the one we make up ourselves. Not that scary, really.