Patience is, in some senses, an unfashionable word. It does not have the trendiness of many other current psychological words. It does not even rank, probably, in the hit chart of fashionable research subjects. And yet patience is at the centre of everything we do – either patience, or the lack of it.
This is a brief exploration of a few of the main aspects of patience, and their relationship to time frames.
SHORT-TERM PATIENCE (REFLEX MANAGEMENT)
Short-term patience is the ability to remain non-reactive over a very short time span, measurable in seconds. The opposite of this kind of patience is the person who flares into a panic or a temper shortly after a provoking stimulus. There is usually a lot of latent energy in panickers, or people liable to anger. When this is combined with the lack of a filter before action, then we can have an explosive effect.
MEDIUM-TERM PATIENCE (MOOD MANAGEMENT)
Medium-term patience is the ability to remain non-reactive, or controlled, over a time span comparable to a normal mood change. This is probably measurable in minutes, and possibly a small number of hours. The opposite of this kind of patience is the person whose mood swings in an unhelpful direction during the course of a part of a day.
LONG-TERM PATIENCE (ENDURANCE)
Long-term patience is the ability to remain controlled over a number of days. The opposite of this kind of patience might be the person who gives up a new project after a few days’ effort. Longer term cognitive patterns are at work, as well as more general homeostatic systems (bodily systems which react to attempted changes in habits by creating cravings for the old norm).
In a future article I hope to come back to these in more detail, but for now suffice it to make these time-based distinctions. The reason for the distinctions is that the different types of patience match the ways our bodies work: we have short-term reaction systems (over seconds), medium-term reaction systems (over minutes or hours), and long-term reaction systems (over days).
The main point of reflection is that, in training oneself to be patient, one is dealing, inevitably, with a body that has other ideas. Therefore, any quest to learn patience will inevitably be bound up in a scientific approach, since to control oneself, one has to know oneself.