When Shawshank Redemption's Andy Dufresne is wrongly convicted of murdering his wife and sentenced to life in prison, he takes the slow way out.
Every night from his cell he digs a little further toward freedom. Each morning he gathers the debris in his two fists and then releases it down his pant legs through holed pockets on the prison grounds. Handful by handful, after 20 years, he escapes.
When everything's going wrong--our jobs, our families, our health, politics--it's easy to freak out. Like a fly slamming against the window, we hunt the nearest exit and hurt ourselves in the process.
Gradual solutions, like a 20-year-long tunnel, feel unbearable. But patience pays off.
Patience, according to one study, is the "propensity to wait calmly in the face of frustration or adversity." It's correlated with job performance, health and well-being. Patience is both hard and highly possible. Here are six things patient people do:
Patient people work better. People with low levels of impatience and irritability report that job demands increase their satisfaction. Patience makes challenge enjoyable. Impatient people, by contrast, become overwhelmed and ineffective under pressure. They're also more adversely affected by office politics and bureaucracy.
Type A people, marked by their impatience and perfectionistic ambition, have a tendency to take on several tasks simultaneously at inappropriate times. Patient people know multitasking kills their calm and their bottom line. While impatient and Type A people rush into work without knowing how to accomplish the desired result, patient people prepare in order to, ultimately, save time.
Patient people are healthy. Impatience is an unhealthy lifestyle: Impatient children and adolescents are more likely to spend money on alcohol and cigarettes, show worse conduct at school and have a higher body mass index. They're less likely to save money. Patient people have lower instances of depression and more positive affect than impatient people. Patient people prioritize the bigger picture, which means taking care of psychological and physical needs in addition to our to-do list.
Patient people act at the right time. Patient people don't act on ego. Instead, they act in the best interests of their highest goals and values. "I make my bread at thy hearth," said Patience Worth, the probably imaginary writing assistant of early 1900s novelist Pearl Curran. Patience waits for the right time to put something in the oven or take it out or change it. "Patience is not an absence of action; rather it is timing. It waits on the right time to act, for the right principles, and in the right way," said Fulton J. Sheen.
Patient people practice. Our present bias makes us think that this moment is the most significant in our lives. Many of us live every day like it's the climax. It's exhausting. In fact, right now is one of many moments and highly unlikely to be life-defining.
But it's still important: Patient people view their lives--especially the frantic, fear-inducing times--as practice. "Don't get carried away. Take it slow. Train with humility," writes Ryan Holiday in his latest book, the The Daily Stoic: 366 Meditations on Wisdom, Perseverance, and the Art of Living.
Some theorists have suggested that patience developed as a necessary condition for reciprocal altruism. We need patience to get along with each other and maintain civil society. It's no wonder that patience is a virtue in every major religious tradition, and it's significantly correlated to religious behaviors. Christians, for instance, are instructed in Ephesians to, "Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love."
Patient people hope. In one sampling of 500 university students, patience negatively predicted hopelessness. That is, the more patient people were, the less likely they were to feel hopeless. Patient people wait out storms.
If everything's going wrong, look outside yourself, remember life's just practice, treat your body and mind kindly, and have hope. If you don't find a solution just yet, you will, at least, find patience.
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