One trait that can give us that “am I a bad person?” pit in the stomach is impatience. When I surveyed listeners several months ago about the things that make them feel like a bad person, the most popular response was a struggle with impatience. Which could show up in a few different ways. Noticing that they were constantly interrupting people in a conversation. Or getting frustrated with kids who were taking a long time to do something (like tie their shoes). Or not do something (like clean up after themselves).
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One listener described impatience this way:
“Reacting to things right off the bat instead of taking the time to think about whether or not they really are that big a deal/inconvenient/not going to work for me.” Which I thought conveyed it well.
Let’s look at a low-stakes example:
There’s this really nutty unwritten driving rule in Rhode Island, where I live. Which is when you’re at a red light or a stop sign, if a car heading in the opposite direction has its left blinker on, you’re supposed to let that car go first. Ideally, you flash your lights or give a little wave to let that car that wants to go left know that you’re letting them go. But sometimes, they just assume that OF COURSE you’re going to let them go and they gun it as soon as the light turns green. And you’re kind of like, woah buddy where’s the fire?! Sometimes there’s saltier language, lol.
I’ve gotten used to the Rhode Island left now. And my husband has developed this funny little wave like Obi Wan Kenobi saying ‘these aren’t the droids you’re looking for’ to let people know they can take that left and he won’t ram into them. But when we first got here, it drove us nuts. Because it requires patience to let someone go ahead of you, whether you’re at a red light, in the checkout line at the grocery store, or getting on an elevator. As former New Yorkers, we did not have a lot of patience when it came to things like driving and ordering at restaurants.
Sometimes impatience arises because a situation is defying your expectations. Like in the case of the Rhode Island left. Sometimes it’s because of inconvenience, like when your flight gets delayed. And sometimes it’s because of stress, and it just feels like your nerves are frayed and you’re overreacting at every little thing.
But if you look a little deeper, there’s one thing that’s nearly always at the root of impatience
And that is, fear of wasting time, fear of not being in control, fear of being left behind or missing out, fear of not being safe. And, most existentially, fear of not mattering.
Which is why a helpful path out of impatience is to remind yourself that you’re safe. It may be inconvenient to not get home from a trip a few hours later, but you’re still safe. It may be stressful to have your kid take so long to put on their shoes and make you late to school, but it’s not a life-threatening situation.
Daily Tiny Assignment
As with all the things that make us secretly wonder if we’re bad people that we’re covering this week, the first step in working with a habitual impatient response is awareness. Be honest with yourself about what impatience looks like for you. When someone takes too long to do something–in your opinion–acknowledge it. Say, here comes my impatience again. Not in a whack-a-mole, must beat this down kind of way. But in a, huh, look at that kind of way. If you can be patient and accepting of yourself when you’re feeling impatient, well guess what, you can be more patient and accepting with the people or situations who make you feel impatient.
If you want to take it one step further, once you notice that you’re experiencing impatience, put one hand on either your belly or your heart and take one deep breath. It just never ceases to amaze me how even one breath can help shift out of that reactive state. Of course more breaths would help even more. (And developing some form of relaxation-inducing practice will certainly help, too). But some is always better than none. Remember, we’re not talking about being perfect. We’re only aiming for better.
So, notice when you’re feeling impatient, and then take one good breath before you respond.
Before we go, I’d love to know:
What things make you worry you’re a bad person? Shoot me an email at beabetterpersonpodcast.com. Or DM me on Instagram @katehanleyauthor, and I’ll do an episode around them if I can. ALSO, I just launched the Am I a Bad Person quiz on katehanley.com, which is a very light-hearted look at those things we do that we may or may not have good reason to feel bad about later. Again, you can find the quiz at katehanley.com.