It took mankind millions of years to develop opposable thumbs. It takes much love and care to see the night queen flower bloom just once a year. It takes nine months to grow a baby in the womb. Nature knows good things can’t be hurried.
We humans seem to be the exact opposite of nature. It’s excruciating for us to wait for 10 seconds before the traffic signal turns green. Why follow rules when we can get our way? We spend money we don’t yet have. What are credit cards for? We take steroids to beef-up in weeks. Why wait for months to get a natural bulge? We prefer liposuction to a healthy diet. Why bother with discipline when there’s a quick-fix? We modify crops to yield faster. Why wait for organic produce?
Our impatience is understandable. Technology and consumerism have eased a lot of things for us. If we don’t know the capital of Bhutan, we need only type the phrase on Google to find the answer Thimphu in less than two seconds. If we want to buy a last-minute gift, we need only get onto a shopping website, select something, and pay for same-day delivery. On the flip side, we now tend to view all kinds of goals through the lens of new-age technology and consumerism, hoping our paths will be easy. In our greed for instant gratification, little do we see how unnatural life can get.
According to psychologist Tishya Mahindru Shahani, human beings have an innate pleasure-principle that drives the need to satisfy all wants immediately. But health, wealth, wisdom and mastery are no results of clicking a button. There’s a growing gap between the things that are achievable in an instant and the things that take determination and persistence. It’s this gap that we’re frustrated with. It’s what makes impatience bleed into all areas of life.
When it comes to instant gratification, we’re our own enemies. Observes psychologist Anna Chandy, “Impatience limits our organisational skills. We don’t want to cope with delay and uncertainty. So, in the process, we hinder our own ability to plan long-term, and thereby delay our own goals.”
It’s no wonder impatience increases our frustration; it makes us less efficient at working on our aims. Our takeaway from this? A restless mind is like an angry serpent biting its own tail.
It takes over three months to form a habit or so shows a study published in the European Journal of Social Psychology. Generally, habits are easily formed when actions are followed by immediate short-term rewards. Given the instant-everything nature of our lifestyle, we’ve made an easy habit out of instant gratification. We’ve conditioned ourselves to be impatient. Shahani explains, “Lack of discipline and self-control fosters a habit of instant gratification. We try to feed our wants as quickly as possible, unlearning patience in the process.”
But is patience really a virtue? It was to answer questions like this that the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment was conducted. It was a series of studies, led by psychologist Walter Mischel, on instant and delayed gratification, among children. The kids were given a choice: Have one marshmallow right away, or wait for 15 minutes and get two marshmallows instead. Most kids chose to have just the one marshmallow right away.
Years later, the researchers conducted follow-up studies on these children. Interestingly, they found that the kids who’d chosen to wait for two marshmallows tended to be better off than the ones that didn’t. The patient children grew up to be patient adults who had higher educational scores, better professional outcomes, and even healthier body mass index than the impatient children.
We’ve all heard that patience can bear us sweeter fruits. But why is it so hard to wait? Social anthropologist Viesturs Celmiņš in his Tedx Talk Is Patience Reasonable? speaks about the need for radical patience for actualising radical ideas. Simply put, the bigger the dream, the more patient we need to be. Small things may come instantly, but the big ones need waiting. According to Celmiņš, the frustration in waiting stems from our own passiveness. To reduce the impatience, we need to actively engage ourselves in the process, he says.
More often than not, we don’t know when we’ll taste the fruits of our labour. But passive waiting won’t grow those fruits any faster. As Celmiņš suggested, we’d do well to be proactive on our path to getting the desired results. And that means we don’t get to cut corners. It’s simple. We can develop patience by simply practising it. Simple, not easy. But, in the long run, active patience sweetens the fruits; it brings perfection closer. Remember the good old Aesop’s Fable The tortoise and the hare? Slow and steady wins the race, after all.