In a recent study, people were asked to choose between winning a small prize immediately and larger prizes they would have to wait several weeks to claim. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 70 percent chose the smaller-sooner prize.
But follow-up questioning revealed that those who chose to wait treasured their rewards more highly than those who claimed their prize immediately—even in cases where the prizes were identical. And researchers found another reason to opt out of instant gratification: They noticed that the act of waiting itself actually increases our capacity for patience.
These days, technology may have rendered the need to wait all but obsolete, but patience, as both a rational and a spiritual practice, holds hidden treasures: willpower, anticipation, gratitude, appreciation, faith.
“Patience and self-control are key factors in achieving success across every aspect of our lives, including school, career, health, and relationships,” says University of Chicago business professor Ayelet Fishbach, who led the study. “The reason is that patient people can delay gratification, control their impulse, and go for the larger prize, which is the key to many successful outcomes.”
How can you strengthen your patience muscle? Try these tips:
- Incorporate waiting periods into every selection process, even if you could choose immediately. Fishbach advises: “Basically, don’t make your decision right away. Wait for a while and you’ll discover that you’ve got better self-control.”
- Try thinking of patience as a gift you give to yourself and others. If good things come to those who wait, imagine the joy of sharing your success with your loved ones when it comes to pass.
- Turn waiting into a practice. Open your awareness: How does waiting feel in the body, mind, and spirit? Learn to recognize and welcome it as you would a friendly challenge.
- Turn waiting into a game. “Just thinking about how long you’ve been waiting could be enough to increase your patience and self-control,” Fishbach says. The self-confidence boost—Hey, I’ve held out for a whole week!—can make you feel like a strong winner.