Mind Matters – The art of patience

Image: Library picture of a jigsaw puzzle; copyright Björn Larsson

Our regular Mind Matters columnist Nicholas Rose has been away. Meanwhile, Nicholas’ colleague Evangelos Raptis has written this Mind Matters blog on his behalf.

A forgotten virtue

The pandemic took a heavy toll on me – quite literally. In the two years since March 2000, my weight increased by about 8 kilograms, my shirts could barely keep my belly out of public sight, and my five-kilometer run became a struggle.

This summer, I decided I needed to shed that extra weight. I started typing for advice on Google, and the first suggestion that came up was “how to lose weight fast”.

I clicked and was flooded with recommendations: 12 tips, 9 scientific methods, 3 simple steps, 7 surprising ways – very different strategies, one shared objective: get thin quickly.

As a therapist, I am familiar with the anxiety of clients in the first session:

“So, how long do you think it will take for me to change my way of doing things in life?”

To which I sometimes respond with another question:

“Well, how long have you been doing things this way?”

Since it took me two years to put on 16 pounds of fat, I thought I would give myself at least a year to lose it. But impatience took the best of my reason and experience: I signed up to the nearest gym promising “impressive results by August.”

According to Sarah Schnitker, associate professor of psychology at Baylor University, many of history’s great philosophers, from Aristotle to Thomas Aquinas, regarded patience as one of humanity’s noblest attributes. Likewise, most of the major Eastern and Western religions — from Judaism and Christianity to Islam and Buddhism — describe patience as a fundamental virtue to be admired and cultivated.

Yet in our times, patience has a poor reputation as it tends to be associated with laziness, passivity and lack of strength. Our culture places a premium on speed and ease over patience and endurance. As Schnitker puts it:

“We are all about instant gratification, and I think the advertising and technology industries push us in this direction.”

Patience is not a sign of laziness, passivity or lack of strength. Quite the opposite, it requires grit, energy and deep engagement with life. From a neurophysiological point of view, fast-track living involves the over-activation of our body’s sympathetic part of the autonomic nervous system.

This chronic overactivity, according to Peter Payne, a researcher at Dartmouth College who studies meditative movement, is associated with anxiety, depression, headaches, poor sleep, and diseases of the heart, gut, and immune system.

In the words of Stephanie Brown, psychotherapist and author of Speed, patience has become the least fashionable yet perhaps most consequential of superpowers of our time.

What does it take for us to access this “superpower”? Three “tips” from Oliver Burkeman, author of Four Thousand Weeks.

First, kindle your taste for having problems. In our rush to get through unpleasant situations in life, we – unconsciously – long for a problem-free future. This is a fantasy. Not only is it not achievable, it also prevents us from engaging with the present.

Secondly, embrace an incrementalistic approach to life. It takes things the time it takes to develop. Obsession with productivity goes against our organic rhythm and, in the long run, becomes counterproductive.

Lastly, dare to take the conventional route. We celebrate the unconventional, the “off the beaten track” and seek all possible shortcuts to get there. Yet, the surest route to authenticity and innovation is to start with the well-trodden path taken by so many others before us, and patiently work your way to the novel.

I reflect on these words of wisdom as I make my way to the gym’s swimming pool. I look at my options and dive in the Fast Lane. It takes patience to deal with impatience…

Evangelos Raptis is a psychotherapist working at 34B Chsiwick High Rd, W4 1TE. evangelos@myredtree.co.uk

Read more blogs by Evangelos Raptiss and Nicholas Rose

Read the previous one by Evangelos – Mind Matters – To Know or Not to Know?

See all Nicholas’s Mind Matters blogs here

Read a profile of Nicholas here

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