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Have you ever taken the pizza out of the oven two minutes early because you just couldn’t wait? Or left lines that were barely moving, only to get into an even slower one? Or breaking up a good healthy relationship because you weren’t sure where it was going, and couldn’t stand the uncertainty?

We’ve all been impatient and we’ve all made rash decisions when impatience got the better of us. Then again, we’ve also been overly patient at times, sticking with projects, jobs, or relationships long after it made sense to do so.

Eventually, there’s this thought on which will cost us more in life—patience or impatience? Of course, different people will have different answers. The ideal outcome would be, to get it right every time we let our impatience lead us when changing course makes sense, and to stay on the course when that made the most sense.

Unfortunately, no one gets it right every time.

Now, here’s the thing: If we understand our impatience better, it will give us more control to get it right more of the time. Below are three useful insights about our impatience:


1.    Impatience Come With Goals

Impatience is triggered when we have a goal and realise it’s going to cost us more than we initially thought to reach it.

For example, if you sit in a room with nothing on your mind, you will not be impatient because you’re just there. Now, if you decide to go to a shopping mall to buy a pair of new sneakers, you have adopted a goal. At this point, you are not impatient yet, but you might be making ways towards it. Suppose you want to get a pair of new sneakers by the end of the day, the longer it takes for you to find them, the more impatient you grow.

Whenever I start writing my next blog, I usually think it will take about two days to have everything ready for it to be published. I’m on schedule, but then I get an even better idea for a blog. I realise that continuing to write my first blog is costing me the opportunity to work on my second more interesting blog. You’ve guessed it. At that point, I start to grow impatient.

Or lately, it has been snowing here and it would take me ten minutes extra to travel home. There were several interferences and traffic jams which made me have to wait outside in the cold. Then I realised that it was going to take me more than just ten minutes extra to get home. I was already impatient, and I grew even more impatient.


2.    Impatience Motivates Us To Reduce Costs

At the same time, impatience motivates us to reduce the costs of reaching our goal or to switch goals. When we realise it’s going to cost us more than we thought to get to our goal, we start looking for ways to avoid the additional costs in time, pain, distraction, or opportunity.

“It’s a heritage from our evolution,” says Marc Wittmann, a psychologist at the Institute for Frontier Areas of Psychology. Our impatience made sure we didn’t die from spending too long on a single unrewarding activity. It gave us the impulse to act.

So, Instead of direly walking around in the shopping mall looking for a new pair of sneakers, we can turn to our mobile devices to shop online; when writing one blog while dreaming of writing another, I might try to speed up work on the first, or just set it aside to work on the more interesting idea; knowing how terrible the traffic will be on the following days, I start looking for alternate routes or simply decide to work from home.

Unfortunately, the fast pace of the current society has thrown our internal clock out of balance. “Time stretches,” Wittman says. “We get mad.” It creates unrealistic expectations that can’t be rewarded fast enough, or rewarded at all. When things move slower than we expect, our internal clock even plays tricks on us by stretching out the wait, summoning anger out of proportion to the delay.


3.    Impatience Increases With More Options

Any project we do is bound to have its downs. There will be moments when we feel optimistic and on top of the world, and others when we doubt the project will work at all, especially when there are more options to choose from. In general, the more options we have, the more we lean towards impatience. If we have only one project to work on, we can be fairly patient and just solve the problems as they come.

In contrast, if we have several other projects we could be working on, we’re much more likely to abandon the current one when it gets hard. If we repeatedly do this when a project gets hard, we will find ourselves with a dozen unfinished projects lying around with nothing to show for all our effort.

To have options is good, but having too many can be bad. Barry Schwartz explains in the “Paradox of Choice” that having too many options can make it more difficult to choose in the first place. This can result in more regret and a greater tendency to change course after the choice has been made.


A Better Chance To Find Balance

When we understand how impatience works, we can manage it better. We can put our impatience to use when it’s time to speed things up or change course. And we can learn to calm our impatience when it makes more sense to stay the course.

Here are some questions we can ask ourselves when we find ourselves growing impatient:

  • What is my goal?
  • What is going to cost me to reach this goal?
  • What are foreseeable additional costs?
  • What are my other options?
  • Do I have too many options?
  • Do these options reduce the costs of reaching this goal?
  • Is it time to abandon this goal?

Knowing how impatience work will give us a better chance to find balance, so we can stay the course or change it when it makes sense.


  • What's causing your impatience?
  • How do you deal with it?


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