We learn, from a very young age, that being patient is a virtue. We treat impatience as a weakness. And procrastination is the big bag flaw. Many of us spend a lot of time beating ourselves up because we are too impatient or we procrastinate too much. Yet when we’re in the thick of things we often cannot tell if we are being patient or waiting or procrastinating. Not knowing the difference leads to thinking we are practicing patience when we are making common mistakes.
What Patience Doesn’t Mean
The definition of patience appeared in last Monday’s post. But the definition doesn’t help us practice patience much. Learning what patience is not is a start.
Patience does not mean to passively endure. It means to be farsighted enough to trust the end result of a process. What does patience mean? It means to look at the thorn and see the rose, to look at the night and see the dawn. Impatience means to be so shortsighted as to not be able to see the outcome. ― Elif Shafak, The Forty Rules of Love
We often define impatience as the opposite of patience. Its definition is the quality or state of being impatient. Well, that doesn’t help much. But we get closer when we examine the definition of impatient: “not patient, restless or short of temper, intolerant, anxious.” But is that all that impatience is?
Mistaking Impatience as a Fault
According to Psychology Today, impatience “is a very particular mental and physical process that gets triggered under specific circumstances, and which motivates specific kinds of decisive action.”
The article explains that when we have a goal, and it’s going to cost us more than we thought to reach that goal, we experience impatience. That impatience may lead us to find more efficient ways to reach the goal. Being impatient may cause us to change goals and make us successful. While impatience can be a bad thing, efficiency and success aren’t bad.
Is Patience Procrastination In Disguise?
We judge the value of patience as positive and the value of procrastination as a negative. The definition of to procrastinate is “to put off intentionally and habitually.” Anyone hear “lazy” in that definition?
Mistaking Procrastination As Laziness
In practice, procrastination is goal avoidance. This seems odd. Why do we avoid something we’ve identified as a goal?
Yes, sometimes someone else, a boss or leader, sets the goal but usually, the job is something we chose to do. So why goal avoidance?
Often the goal has a negative aspect—If you don’t quit smoking you’ll die of cancer. Or it’s a vague goal you don’t know how to approach or the goal is too big and you fear (sometimes with good reason) that you’ll fail. The fear and anxiety that develops create that avoidance reaction.
Try to NOT think about a white polar bear for 30 seconds. Setting such an impossible task makes the white polar bear larger and more difficult. Think what it does to an already too large or too vague goal.
Thinking Impatience and Procrastination Aren’t Helpful
Yes, even impatience and procrastination can be good things.
Impatience motivates us to reduce the costs of reaching our goal or to switch goals.
Procrastination, if used productively, gives us time to reflect on our whys. Realizing that we’ve set the wrong goal or we need to change goals is important.
Learning to set specific, reasonable, and actionable goals is not an easy thing to do. Commitment to goals is an intensely personal thing. So your goals methods may not work for someone else.
When we’re impatient or we’re stuck in a pattern of procrastination there are some questions to ask ourselves.
- What is my goal? Is it specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused, and time-bound?
- What did I think it was going to cost to reach this goal?
- What do I now think it will cost?
- Is there a way to reduce the costs of reaching this goal?
Making patience a habit takes practice. Learning to use impatience and procrastination to move you toward your goals also requires practice. Will you make these common mistakes even after practicing all these things. Of course, you will. We all do. Every day. But knowledge is power. Learning these things helped me. Did it help you?