Ep. 111 – The Practice of Patience (+ the Brain Science Behind It)

It is said that patience is a virtue.
Maybe so, but I’d still like to skip the line and buy it in bulk somewhere.

It’s not the act of waiting that I find so challenging. I really don’t mind being patient when it comes to anticipating a great meal, an event, an upcoming vacation, or a goal in general. I usually enjoy the anticipation of what’s to come and I like to savor the details and the planning. 

It’s the energy of the unknown that I struggle with the most. When the details and decisions aren’t up to me – or at least not known in the present moment. 

This is where faith comes in, I suppose. Or trust or that ounce of optimism. All good in theory. But in practice? Well, I think I need to practice the practice more. 

The Bottom Line on Top of this episode is that the path to progress is paved in patience. All the information, desire, research, and wishing still needs a place to simmer. 

There is a common quote that’s often attributed to John Lennon that says: Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end. 

That’s a lovely sentiment. Yet anyone who has ever nursed a broken heart or waded through the depths of grief can attest to the really painful part of patience when it comes to healing the heart. 

But the brain also plays a role. Serotonin is a chemical messenger between the brain and our body, and it is also involved in modifying our mood such as when it comes to having more (or less) patience. 

There’s been some recent research that shows the potential of serotonin levels will increase in what they call the “patience effect” – meaning serotonin levels were seen to increase if there was a belief that a timely reward was at least 75% guaranteed. Now I don’t know where we find the percentages of guarantees but it’s an interesting concept.

Let’s put this into a real-world scenario. Say you’re in a busy restaurant and you have your name on the list for a table. You’re excited about dining there and you’ve been intently watching other patrons come and go. When will it be our turn? you think. Should I go up and ask to see how much longer?

The less in control we feel, the more likely we are to be impatient. But a slight increase in confidence can increase the extension of your patience as well. So in the same scenario, if the host at the restaurant gives you a time range or comes back and tells you how much longer it might be, you’re much more likely to have patience then than you would have been with the initial wait. 

Psychologically, what we are doing is called time blocking the unknown. We are willing to be patient under certain conditions until new information or action is then known. 

There is a difference, however, between having patience and having blind faith. 

“Fish just don’t jump into the boat,” my business coach said to me recently. 

Okay, we weren’t talking about fishing, but I see his point. We still gotta make the effort.  
Patience incorporates elements of confidence. You’ve done the work, you’ve advocated for the outcome, you’ve communicated your desires. Once this is done, patience is now a ticket to the waiting room for what’s next. 

Wishes without work to achieve them can be like cognitive cotton candy – sweet in the moment, but quick to dissolve. 

It’s an important reminder that in our digital days with hacks, quick fixes, and AI apps, there is nothing quick or artificial about the practice of patience. 

Slow is steady. Slow is sustainable. 

To make a meaningful difference in just about anything, we need persistence as much as patience. Those two ingredients are how we move past the quick whims, early skepticism, and inevitable barriers. 

Emotional emojis are the quick hits. External accolades are a way to assess achievement, sure. But fulfillment is the result of slow satisfaction. 

Be careful not to stick too long in the grit and grinding. Behavioral scientists call this commission bias, or the tendency to err on the side of taking extra action over inaction. And patience can feel like inaction. We can get impatient when we don’t see results, so we want to do something, anything to see if we can nudge the wheel of progress a little faster. 

But that’s the part about the waiting room. There’s the time to do and the time to be. A few extra beats may just bring the perspective or opportunity that wasn’t visible in all the motion and movement.

After all, the fish can’t jump into a moving boat either. 

This doesn’t mean wait forever. Sometimes the waiting lets you see what – or who – you are waiting for a little more clearly. In those cases when you’re not getting an answer, that might just be the very answer. 

And that in itself is progress. 

Your brain is hungry. Give it some intellectual snacks in the
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I'm Kristin

I left my corporate work and dove further into how to navigate this noisy, digital, exhausted world. The result is a methodology centered on communications, productivity, and culture that blends theory with practice and helps people better enjoy the life they worked so hard to get.