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    Enjoying boredom – And learning patience.

    Anyone who sets themselves targets first needs to acquire a good portion of patience. As studies show, patience is not only the key to success, but also to good health.

    Text: Claudio Rimmele

Preventing stress and confusion.

“I’m late, I’m late for a very important date. No time to say hello, good-bye, I’m late, I’m late,” cries the white rabbit from “Alice in Wonderland” while staring in panic at his pocket watch. If the author Lewis Carroll were to rewrite the children’s book today, he might replace the rabbit with a manager who can’t stop glancing at his smartphone. As a child, you probably had sympathy for the stressed rabbit, but as an adult you find yourself in his shoes all too often. Yet this feeling of having to hurry is often not caused by a real shortage of time, but simply by our own impatience.


Woman does puzzle.
Puzzle.

Patience – more than just a virtue.

We all have a rough idea of how we imagine a patient person: always relaxed, smiling, calm, gentle and easy-going. But if we want to define the time-honoured virtue of patience in more concrete terms, we find that it is very multifaceted: If you can wait until Christmas before opening the presents under the tree, we speak of impulse control. Someone who goes through much suffering without complaint is enduring. Athletes who train hard and work patiently towards their goals are said to have stamina. If you can cope with setbacks without becoming frustrated, psychologists talk about frustration tolerance. Further aspects of patience are self-control, composure and diligence. And it is not only the variety of terms connected with patience which is complex – research on the subject is also.


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One marshmallow now or two tomorrow?

The most famous experiment on the subject of patience is probably the so-called Stanford Marshmallow Experiment. At the end of the 60s, psychologist Walter Mischel set out to measure the willpower of humans. To do this, he put children in a room on their own with a single marshmallow. The children were promised the following: if the marshmallow was still there after 15 minutes, they would be given a second marshmallow as a reward. He defined the time which elapsed before the marshmallow was eaten as the measured value for willpower.


Fourteen years later, Walter Mischel invited the participants to visit him again in order to see how they had developed. It turned out that those children who had been able to wait longer to receive their reward had, on average, performed better in school and been more successful so far in their career – regardless of their intelligence. They also exhibited better social competence and were found to be more confident, empathetic and better able to deal with setbacks. And the ability of delayed gratification also plays an important role for our health.


Everything requires stamina and patience.

In their studies, scientists David Laibson and Christopher Chabris from Harvard University have observed a correlation between impatience and an unhealthy lifestyle. If one transfers the concept of the marshmallow experiment to a specific fitness goal, it soon becomes clear that you are not going to get a six-pack or become a marathon runner without a good deal of patience. Anyone who is not willing to work patiently towards a set goal will not be able to muster the necessary motivation for long-term fitness goals. Impulse control is also decisive when it comes to our relationship with alcohol or cigarettes: someone who is patient will find it easier to find pleasure in moderation and will often even be able to refrain completely from consuming harmful substances.


Mikados.
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Make a conscious decision to slow down.

Relax completely and master everyday life like a Buddha: stoic and laid-back instead of stressed and irritable – for many this can be a long road with regular meditation practice, mindfulness training and relaxation seminars. If this all sounds too much like hard work, you could first try out the following mental techniques:

- Enjoy doing nothing: for some people, doing nothing might involve active meditation. For others, it is a lazy day spent in bed without worrying about missing out on something. Try this experiment: spend a week without planning any appointments or other spare-time fillers.

- Save special things for special moments: whether it’s a piece of cake or a text message from an important person. Simply test how long you can resist grabbing the “marshmallow” and observe how your anticipation grows.

- Take pleasure in boredom: overstimulation from smartphones and Co. leaves little room for boredom. Which is a shame really, because boredom can be really enjoyable – if it is practised with the right mindset. Here’s a little exercise for the waiting room, traffic jam or tram ride: instead of seeking distraction from your smartphone, just allow your own thoughts to wander from daydream to daydream.


- Patient hobbies: Whether it’s a 1,000-piece puzzle for grown-ups or mandalas for colouring – there are hobbies which actively encourage patience and also help us to relax.

In the marshmallow experiment, the patient children also had to come up with a strategy to take their mind off the treat. Some of them hid the marshmallow, others took a nap and some even licked the marshmallow in order to satisfy their curiosity. So there’s nothing wrong with being inventive when practising patience and willpower. As is often the case, mental training does not provide a single formula that works for everyone. Indeed, for some people patience is not necessarily a desirable trait, because it simply does not match their temperament. Even if studies show that patient people have more chance of success: people who are at ease with themselves will always make a more authentic impression and be more satisfied in life, even if it means having just one marshmallow. But for those who wish to change something, we suggest you don’t just skim through this article but maybe even take all the time in the world to read through it again.