The Virtue of Being Patient is Overstated

Towards the end of 2015, I found myself wishing that 2016 would arrive sooner than later. I had convinced myself that my 2015’s accomplishments had not met my goals. So I thought rather naïvely that if the year ended I would be able to start a new march towards my goals. Of course, it made no sense to wait until the end of the calendar year to refocus my efforts on achieving my goals. None of them were dependent on a specific calendar year.

Everyone operates under a set of time constraints. For better or worse, our ability to meet our goals is often dependent upon the collaboration of others. I cannot count the  times in 2015 that one of my collaborators requested that I be patient only not to produce the expected outcome within a reasonable amount of time. It is no wonder that my time constraints were often shot to hell.

I welcomed in the New Year at a party with friends. When the clock was approaching midnight, we began to discuss our resolutions for 2016. We talked about old resolutions that would be renewed and new ones that would be pursued. Someone stated that we should continue to pursue our old goals. This recommendation came with a warning; we were more likely to succeed in accomplishing them only if we were patient. “Good things come to those who are patient.” As always, this cliché sounded seductively reasonable. Yet, I challenged the notion that being patient was linked to the passage of a certain amount of time. How could the mere passage of time enhance the probabilities of accomplishing one’s goals? If anything, the opposite was true. My views on this subject might have cost me an invitation to this year’s New Year Eve party.

The American Heritage Dictionary, 4th Edition, reissued in 2007, defines patience as the capacity, quality, or fact of being patient, “capable of calmly awaiting an outcome.” The word is derived from the Latin word pati which means to suffer, to endure, to bear. It is fair to say that most people do not have the ability to be patient. In today’s world, people want things now and technology makes instant gratification possible. The exercise of patience is a skill that must be learned and practiced to perfect. Yet, the patience needed to navigate a State Department of Motor Vehicles is different from the kind of patience required to deal with a family member. Depending on the context, patience can be a good thing or inhibitor to the acquisition of better things. What do you think?

I agree with the experts that exercising patience can have positive health benefits. Being patient reduces stress levels and makes the practitioner a happier person. A patient person is more likely to exercise compassion and empathy, which boosts the personal growth process. The successful practice of patience develops in the user a greater degree of self-discipline and ability to measure one’s words. The use of patience gives us a peace of mind which allows for the building of better relationships. Additionally, most religious doctrines hold that impatience supports desire, which often forms the basis of greed, hatred, and delusion. The benefits of practicing patience have been scientifically established by the Greater Good Science Center of UC Berkley.

In my opinion, the strategic advantages of being patient are advocated at the expense of its disadvantages. While being patient, you often miss important opportunities to act. Sometimes when holding out for more information, you become confused and lose focus on your goal. Innovative wisdom can be gained from going with one’s instincts. Lastly, being patient in group settings often leads to inaction due to members constantly expressing their opinions. So much discussion leads to very little action.

Close your eyes to stimulate your memory. Now count the times within the last three months that someone asked you to be patient. How many of those times did you think that being patient or continuing to do so was a waste of time?

I think it is imperative to know when to stop being patient and start pursuing your goal through other means. In the past, I have been too patient waiting for something to happen that with the passage of time was less likely to happen. Let’s be realistic; the abandonment of unlimited patience will not result in the end of the world.

Harvard Professors Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey teach that positive personal improvement requires the unlocking of our immunity to change. According to these highly esteemed Harvard professors, we often become physiologically and emotionally ensnared by our “big assumption.” We erroneously believe that if we stray from a particular course of action, the deviation will usher in consequences that we dread. Hence, we are resistant to trying different approaches to solving a problem or pursuing a goal. Accordingly, the exercise of patience is more often than not a product of our “big assumption” at work.

You have already concluded that I believe that being patient isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. I said so at the New Year’s Eve party, much to the astonishment of my fellow party goers.  Many of them said that patience was a virtue that everyone should practice. This was not bad advice, but I argued that it should not be followed religiously. I offered the counterpoint that often we are patient at the cost of not embracing change. I pointed out there were occasions when we had to do something by a particular time. I postulated the following question; Why make ourselves unhappy just to pursue a virtue that will not produce the results we are looking for?

The better practice is to use patience in moderation while cultivating multiple options for securing the desired goal. At the first sign that your patience is wearing thin, trust your instincts, make a change in how you are going about things.  Make it sooner than later because the math works against you.  In the pursuit of a goal, time is a constant that can be measured. The goal has already been defined. The way to pursue the goal is the only variable in the equation. Consequently, while being patient, time continues to tic along causing the variable(s) to diminish in value. By using patience to keep up the value of the variable, you cause a corresponding drop in the value of the outcome. Have you ever thought to yourself that you had invested so much time, effort and patience in trying to secure an outcome that once you obtained it hardly seemed worth it?

In 2016, you should try having less patience and more positive movement towards securing your goals.

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