Patience and how to develop it

How To Improve Your Patience

It’s a fact that you can’t improve what you can’t measure and you can’t measure what you can’t understand. Patience as we understand it is “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, problems, or suffering without becoming annoyed or anxious.” But that capacity, traditionally has been ascribed to such insubstantial personal attributes as character, virtue and willpower.

There is a question still as to whether character is anything more than a social construct that is, like all social constructs, subject to context. Virtue is still under the domain of philosophy (which argues that it has to exist) and willpower is subject to measures and improvement strategies, predominantly because its absence has evident effects that can actually be measured.

Neuroscience however examines how different parts of the brain are activated, what happens before, during and after the activation event and what neurobiological and neurochemical states characterize it. The approach provides us with a more practical view of specific neural states that are represented as character-based or moral value judgements. It enables us to understand that the experiences we become aware of which then are expressed through specific value judgements are based upon specific neural states that arise out of the substrates of the living brain.

If this sounds somewhat reductionist believe me it’s far from being so. The brain produces a massive variety of neural states and despite our biological similarities, there are specific conditions that help or hinder the building of neural connections in our brains that enable, each of us, to process things a little differently and display different character traits.

It’s Never Just One Thing

As always when it comes to the human animal, there are multiple pathways that lead us to behave in a specific manner when making a value judgement. Willpower, certainly is one of them, because it leads to greater impulse control. Physical activities that take us out of our comfort zone like the Wim Hof method for example (which we covered in the Ice-Cold article) help us develop greater willpower.

Willpower however is a top-down control imposed by a fully self-aware brain on the impulses that arise out of a given situation. If jumping in a tub full of ice in sub-zero temperatures in winter however is not quite what you were looking for to help you develop greater patience the good news is that there are other ways to help you achieve the same thing.

Patience, as it turns out, is affected by the secretion of the neuromodulator serotonin and the activation of the brain’s reward system. The researchers, working on rats published:

These results suggest that increased serotonergic neuronal firing facilitates waiting behavior when there is the prospect of a forthcoming reward and that serotonergic activation contributes to the patience that allows rats to wait longer.

The brain’s reward system is activated when actions taken lead to a desirable outcome. This is the primary mechanism that reinforces behavior. Recent research indicates that patience is subject to the expectation of a desirable outcome where that expectation includes, in its scope, timeframes and other variables that may delay instant gratification.

Become More Patient With Just This One Thing

Cultivating a more active imagination then is one way we can develop greater patience. How do you develop imagination however? Here too, neuroscience has an answer. The way we think involves the creation of a schema (that guides general understanding of the working of the world). This then leads us to put together a script that is directly informed by what we have in our schema (and our understanding of local variables that may create deviations from the generalities proposed by the schema) and, finally, a frame where we sort of imagine how all this will play out, in our head.

How we think - a three step approach to mentalizing

These mental processes take place before we have taken any actionable step and they guide our decisions and choices that lead to our actions. Sequential framing is the process via which we create the end-game in our head. And it is here that we have the most latitude.

By creating more than one scenario we learn to exercise our imagination. This, in turn, changes expectations and allows us to adjust our impulses accordingly without having to rely on the top-down control of willpower which is there to restrain us from acting in an impatient or impulsive way. The activity is linked to the construction of narratives we use to establish our own identity and make sense of the world.

The Pay-Off

All of this would be of purely academic value if there wasn’t some way to put it into practice in our everyday world.

Marketers should:

  • Think about the framing of their marketing messages and the expectations they create in the target audience.
  • Develop communication campaigns that help the target audience create common schemata that create the “common basis” for understanding and the development of “common sense” assumptions.
  • Examine the customer journey to establish the touchpoints at which expectations can be managed and the reward system of the customer can be activated.

Individuals can:

  • Learn to apply the three-step method of thinking in their approach to virtually every situation.
  • Start to habitually expand the scenarios of their framing to help manage expectations and develop better mental resources.
  • Establish that enriched scenario-building frequently leads to better mental preparation for unexpected or unforeseen events that can affect their decision making.

Imagining possible scenarios is a mental game. It leads to a more stress-free life with better control of impulses and better emotional control. In almost every situation that is a recipe for success and that includes wealth building.