In a few hours a courier will arrive at my house with the last book of the three-times Pulitzer Thomas Friedman. I bought it this morning on Amazon. The operation took less than a minute because I chose to click the «buy now with 1-click» button. Until it arrives, I’ll be entertaining myself by watching another chapter of The Sinner on Netflix. I will press the «Skip Intro» button, but I will say no to the proposal to continue with the next chapter after this one. Wanting something and having it available almost immediately is hard to refuse – why wait when I can enjoy it already?
This affirmation, which from a hedonistic point of view is unquestionable, has nevertheless been questioned throughout history, from religion, philosophy and more recently from psychology.
All great cults preach the virtues of patience. The Old Testament, for example, in its book Proverbs, contains this quote: «It is better to be patient than to be brave. It is better to be self-controlled than to conquer cities». It makes sense that from the pulpits one is exhorted to reject haste and to embrace temperance, basically because all religions advocate reflection as a method of meeting their divinities.
The author concluded that those who delayed gratification were more successful academically.
Philosophy, on the other hand, has also addressed the importance of mastering one’s inner drives. Let these examples serve: in Classical Greece, Stoicism defended the need to have a contained life. Centuries later, Kant enunciated this aphorism: «Patience in the strength of the weak». Rousseau said, «Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet». Nietzsche, in turn, proposed «See, think and speak calmly».
complaining, therefore, against the way in which today’s society embraces immediacy is not at all original.
Let us stop now with more interest in the treatment that psychology gives to the attitude of urgency, for its validity and, above all, for its scientific basis.
Over the past 50 years, numerous studies have been carried out to show what impact the pace at which a person approaches everyday tasks has on him or her.
Perhaps the most emblematic research known is that conducted by Stanford professor Walter Mischel in the late 1960s. I’m sure you remember. Some children between the ages of 3 and 6 were given a choice between taking a candy at that time or waiting 15 minutes and receiving two. The author followed the children for 20 years and concluded that those who delayed gratification were more successful academically.
Already in our century, studies coincide in identifying two types of benefits associated with patience. Firstly, individuals with a more serene attitude, less given to urgency, show a marked inclination towards cooperation and empathy. That is, they are better able to internalize how others feel and offer help where it is needed, so they develop higher quality relationships.
Secondly, these same calmer subjects benefit from enjoying greater emotional stability, less propensity for depression and negative emotions.
The consequences of living under a state of emergency, right here and now, can extend to other life circumstances. The main consequence of immediacy is that it leaves no room for reflection. Buying my book from the beginning so quickly has not allowed me to see other options offered by Amazon that might be more interesting. Jumping from one chapter to another in my Netflix series, cuts off the space needed to analyse and put in order what I have just seen.
When a person makes an impulsive, impatient, unthinking decision it is because someone is making it for him.
Every day we are faced with situations that force us to reflect: what shirt I wear, what I eat today, whether or not I meet John, what I watch on TV. In many cases these are inconsequential situations that would not bring us any great harm if we approached them impulsively.
However, there are other moments in life that do demand a time out, as the bullfighters say they are moments of stopping, tempering and commanding. These are situations that will mark part or all our life, that will involve other people or that can make us to take up the cross of regret for years. We are talking, for example, about choosing a career, making an important investment, having children with someone, or engaging in risky sports.
Acting with patience provides a space for analysis that places the actor on the right path towards his goal. Enough study of the background and probable consequences of any initiative not only generates a sweet sense of security, but, more importantly, empowers the person as the thinker of his or her actions.
Any action is always preceded by a decision and this by an analysis, whether superficial, almost non-existent or deeper. When you make an impulsive, impatient, unthinking decision it is because someone is making it for you.