Patience makes us pay attention

Published 8:31 am Saturday, May 27, 2017

We have incredibly unreliable Wi-Fi on Quisenberry Lane. My days are filled with rebooting the router, running up the hill in my backyard to find the 4G network and crossing my fingers when I send a text. If you send me a funny Facebook video, I have to wait until I’m at my parents’ house to watch it.

This also means I am always about six months behind in many popular television shows. Streaming is a pipe dream, so I have to cover my ears when people start discussing what happened on “Stranger Things” or “13 Reasons Why.” We actually have to wait for the season to become available on DVD to watch it. By the time I’m ready to talk about these shows, you will have moved on.

Science suggests that my crappy Wi-Fi is actually a blessing in disguise — that it might be molding me into a more patient and present person.

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Computer scientist Ramesh Sitaramen compiled research suggesting people with smart phones expect videos to load in less than two seconds. If it takes five seconds, at least a quarter of the people have moved on. More than half have abandoned the load at the 10-second mark.

A 10-second page load is actually fast on Quisenberry Lane!

It is weird in this day and age to wait. Convenience is our world-view.

Microwaves deliver lunch in less than two minutes. Amazon Prime gets my toilet paper to me the next day.

Can’t remember the lyrics to “Living On A Prayer”? Siri’s got your back in the time to takes to type in your query.

The Internet is full of “life hacks” promising to shave seconds or minutes off of everyday tasks. First, snail mail was replaced by email. Now, texting seems to be replacing email. Everything is faster, faster, faster.

We get frustrated now if we have to wait in the grocery store line for even five minutes!

Our attention span is like a hummingbird’s, flitting from one distraction to the next without waiting for any of it to really sink in.

Humans are hard-wired for immediate gratification; it is our evolutionary instinct. Our ancestors knew if they didn’t grab those berries, someone else would, and that might be the difference in who survived the long winter.

When we are working with the immediate, we are often operating from our limbic system, which is associated with stress, worry and hurry. This reptilian response system is our default setting.

Our brain is designed to go, go, go. Patience involves higher cognitive processing. We have to actively choose and practice patience.

And let’s be honest: waiting sucks. It can feel like we are wasting our lives when we are waiting in line.

But I think there is benefit in delayed gratification. Real things take real time.

It takes time to sift the real from the superficial, to truly know our values and make decisions aligned with them.

Neuroscience shows, time after time, people report more lasting joy from experiences than they do from material things. Much of that lasting joy arises from the anticipation of the experience.

The trip was magnificent, but being excited about the trip months ahead of your plane take off adds just as much happiness to your existence.

I remember the nine long months of my pregnancy. The cravings, the swollen feet, the insomnia, the acne. Also the moment we saw Izzie’s face on the sonogram, the awe at my ever-growing belly, the cuteness overload of teeny tiny socks, the overpowering love that would actually bring me to my knees sometimes in gratitude.

Some days it felt like I had been pregnant for years. Other days I wanted time to slow down so I could freeze the joy and love I felt. It was a season of waiting, and one of the greatest gifts of my life.

Like the quiet before the storm, it was that waiting that really prepared me for the marathon of parenting. I think we are pregnant for the better part of a year so we can practice those skills we need to parent, like fortitude and resilience.

Waiting makes us mindful and helps us to appreciate the moment. It seems to slow time, and pulls us away from the feeling that we are constantly in go mode.

In Sanskrit, the term kumbach refers to the tiny gap in your breath, but also to the pause between life things. We feel compelled to fill those pauses with more distraction-social media, Candy Crush, emails, texts.

But what if we used those pauses to simply practice waiting? To make it a habit to simply be patient and trust that things are falling into place as needed? Playing the long game wakes us up to the miraculous around us in each moment. As Paul Coelho asks, “Why is patience so important? Because it makes us pay attention.”

Erin Smith is the owner of the OM place in Winchester, the author of “Sensible Wellness for Women” and the online host of a yoga and mindfulness channel for Eppic Films. Send her a shout out at or play along at