The psychology of patience

People want cognitive ease.  The brain has a lot to think about, and we don’t want to waste that brainpower in areas that don’t give us a great return.  This was pointed out both in the millionaire tips I posted yesterday

“Conserve your mental power by making easily reversible decisions as quickly as possible and aggressively planning recurring actions so you can execute simple tasks on autopilot. I know what I am wearing to work and eating for breakfast each day next week. Do you?”

and in the “Thinking, Fast and Slow book (that I need to finish and read a second time).  Recently a friend posted on FB

Fresh out of fucks to give today. My emergency backup reserve of fucks is also tapped out. Try again tomorrow.

And it reminded me of what I had read, that we all have different tolerance levels for bullshit, and if you frustrate somebody before beginning a task, they will give up faster than a different person who was not frustrated before beginning the task.

Ok.  So we know there is science telling us that we have a limited amount of frustration endurance.  Is there science telling us how to increase it?  We know anecdotally we have friends who are better than others at forcing themselves through bullshit.  I know for myself, my frustration level with computer tasks has changed over time as I’ve gained more experience… new frustrations don’t see like a big deal, because I’ve gone through the process for unknown to solved so many times that I just assume now it’s just a matter of time until the thing is solved.  And I also recognize that after a good night’s rest, my success rate will be higher, so I don’t worry about anything too much.

So maybe this endurance is built up by repeated exposing yourself to frustration?

Being forced to wait for things makes us more successful, says research

But patience isn’t quite the same thing.  Patience in the sense described by Wikipedia is

In psychology and in cognitive neuroscience, patience is studied as a decision-making problem, involving the choice of either a small reward in the short-term, or a more valuable reward in the long-term.

which makes it sound like waiting, which is passive.  What we’re talking about is expending even more mental energy for a better reward.

Neuroscientists Conduct the Most Frustrating Brain Scanning Study Ever

Maybe frustration is the wrong word to look for.  Grit?  Grit is the positive attribute, perseverance.  Popularized by Angela Duckworth.

Turns out, many of the scientists at work on this question have converged on the same answer, according to the BBC piece. It’s something you’ve heard of before, but probably never imagined played such a role in cultivating grit–mindfulness. “Many of the factors [Charney] mentions are internal strengths that can be cultivated through mindfulness,” explains Linda Lantieri, a former school principal who has developed a program used in U.S. schools to help students develop grit.

The program includes tools like “deep breathing exercises designed to improve conscious awareness of the body and how to calm it down.” Martin Seligman, sometimes called “the father of positive psychology,” has created another program based on promoting conscious awareness of participants’ thoughts and an ability to challenge those that are inaccurate by considering alternatives–e.g., “That popular girl just ignored me in the corridor because she didn’t see me, not because she hates my guts.”

Although I’ve come to respect the phrase “mindfulness” more over time (as its definition has become more clear cut to me), this explanation seems weak sauce.

a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

Avoiding the hippy dippy woo woo parts, mindfulness is just the practice of observing yourself, especially when you’re in a stressful situation, and consciously acknowledging the specific ways that you’re reacting to the situation and acknowledging the reasons why you might be reacting that way, in order to give a name to your anxiety so that it can be set aside for later examination rather than completely dominating and controlling you.  When certain emotional parts of your brain are freaking the fuck out, mindfulness is giving your logical robot brain a voice in the matter so that the freaked out parts aren’t completely running the show.  And yeah, it does take practice, because the emotional parts are extremely good at sneaking themselves into the party without being on the guest list.

Pursue what interests you: You’re not going to stick it out if you don’t care.
Practice, practice, practice: It’s not just how you get to Carnegie Hall. We love doing things we’re good at.
Find purpose: How does what you do help others? That’s what makes a job into a calling.
Have hope: No “wishing on a star” here, pal. Have hope because you are going to make it happen.
Join a gritty group: Mom was right; spend time with slackers and you’ll be a slacker.

Well, the group thing definitely echoes back to The Power of Habit.  But I think the overall message here is preparation.  Grit cannot be evenly applied to every task.  Rather, it is the result of several different systems all aligning in the same direction to give an individual an attention advantage, but only in a specific area.  So my computer grit doesn’t really work for driving in San Francisco.  Based on the amount I curse and scream when a sign tells me I’m not allowed to turn left because it’s a Thursday… I can confirm this truth.


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