It is natural to feel impatient, especially when we are eager to have something we really want: a coffee, a meal, a train ticket, a reply to an email or message. And yet impatience is a habit.

I grew up in a culture where impatience wasn’t a thing and, in my youth, I don’t really remember it being an option most of the time. In recent years, however, the culture has changed dramatically with smartphones, social media and other technological developments offering instant gratification and a sense that our time has become so precious that any delay is an outrage.

This made me curious, so I decided to observe my growing impatience and to question it. Driving was the first port of call. As anyone who drives knows, whatever happens it is always the other person’s fault.

Also, because we are mapping our ancient psychology onto a very modern situation, it isn’t always obvious why we feel enraged and impatient. I therefore started thinking of the other drivers – maybe they were going through difficult times; maybe they were suffering in some way.

Rather than being impatient with them, might I not offer them a hand of compassion?

This trick of replacing one emotion with another can be more effective than logically working through the pros and cons of an emotional response but let’s give it a shot anyway.

From a logical perspective, however, the case is fairly shaky. In this instance, let’s just focus on time impatience as opposed to impatience with the behaviour of others.

  • For starters, what is a reasonable waiting time?
  • How can I possibly tell?
  • Would I ever happily wait longer in a different context?
  • And even more fundamentally, what am I being impatient for?

The perfect example is queueing to board a plane. Let’s say the plane is scheduled to leave at 12:00 with boarding starting at 11:30. Let’s say everything is pretty much on time and the airline staff appear and start preparing. A queue will form pretty immediately. And once that initial queue forms most of us can’t stop ourselves from joining it. It is as if we think the plane will leave without us. And yet we know it won’t.

Just think it through logically: you have a ticket, you have an assigned seat, you are metres from the gate, you can keep an eye on what is happening, you are probably sitting down at the moment and, critically, the plane won’t leave any earlier because you board earlier.

  • So, what are we being impatient for?
  • What is the upside?
  • Why not wait until everyone else has boarded and saunter on then?

You may want more space in the overhead lockers but that is about the only benefit of going on first. Aside from that, it is much easier and pleasant just to sit and keep doing what we are doing and avoid the queue.

In summary, when impatience strikes, take a moment to reflect and be curious:

  • Why am I being impatient NOW?
  • What am I truly being impatient for?

That “for” is key – it may be impatience for respect, to feel important, to get a “better deal” or a myriad other things.

Questions in the Image:

  • Why am I being Impatient now?
  • What am I impatient for?
  • How is my impatience serving me?
  • What is it taking from me?

Want to Read More Around This Topic?

Wait: The Art and Science of Delay by Frank Partnoy (link to This counter-cultural work argues that we should only make decisions at the last possible moment. The book explores how patience and waiting can lead to better decision-making and overall well-being.

Nurturing Curiosity – Daily Practice: This is part of the Nurturing Curiosity series of tools, insights and questions designed to help nurture curiosity as part of our daily practice. In point of fact, every interaction we have is an opportunity to question what we are observing and how we and others are seeing the world. Also remember that questions come in many forms throughout our day – a temporary feeling of bodily discomfort might offer this: What can I be grateful for?

About Tom O’Leary

My mission is to help others think differently – meaning more broadly and deeply – and thereby make better decisions. The key to thinking differently lies in our curiosity.

The more we question, the more possible answers we uncover, and the more we expand what we thought possible. Life has taught me that possibility lies not so much in seeking answers but in learning to ask better questions – the ones that help prioritise what is truly essential.

And yet, in a culture obsessed with efficiency and productivity, the paradox is that much energy and resources are wasted by a bias towards action over contemplation. If you are answering the wrong question, it doesn’t matter how ‘hard’ you work, you are still answering the wrong question.

That is why I am a big advocate of nurturing curiosity and innovative thinking at all ages, particularly amongst leaders because of the impact they have on us all. In my vision, leaders aren’t boxed in by traditional thinking or established playbooks. They are curious, open to fresh ideas and diverse perspectives, fostering a culture of exploration and learning.

What Thoughts Would You Like to Share?

I welcome your thoughts, feedback, or personal experiences related to these questions or any insights they may have sparked.