I’ve been noticing a theme in conversations with friends, recent tarot readings, and my own internal dialogue as of late. It seems that, for most of us humans, it’s really, really hard to wait.

I think all of us, at one time or another, have had thoughts along the lines of, “I want this thing to happen. So…why the hell isn’t it happening, like, immediately?”

It’s easy to look at someone else’s situation with a Zen-like attitude and think, “Just be patient, dude. Good things come to those who wait.”

But try saying that to yourself–or refrain from punching someone who’s sharing this nugget of wisdom with you–while you’re in the throes of impatience.

So, why is it so hard to wait?

While I can’t speak for all of humanity, I can share my own reasons for jumping the gun at times and the struggle I go through when things seem to be moving at a (dead) snail’s pace.

My First Reason for Being Impatient

I have a habit of staying busy. I’ve made a lot of progress in this area over the past year, carving out non-negotiable time for meditation and general sitting-around-doing-nothing, but I still have regular urges to do something–anything!

When situations don’t unfold on my desired timetable, it feels like the Universe has hit a giant pause button, and I’m forced to slow down. In those moments of stillness, things can arise. And they’re not always unicorns and bunnies. Sometimes they’re negative self-talk that seems to reach a fever pitch in the stillness of doing nothing. Sometimes they’re feelings of fear and anxiety.

But regardless of the feelings, what I’ve found is that forcing life to operate on MY schedule is a means of controlling away these unpredictable feelings by not leaving myself any time to experience them. The funny thing is, when I actually stop to feel those feelings–well, they’re rarely as bad (and never as long lasting) as I feared. They come up, I experience them, and then they go away. Just like that.

Lesson learned: Energy spent trying to prevent yourself from feeling your feelings is always energy better spent elsewhere. And the great thing about feelings? They’re not permanent. Feel ’em and let ’em go.

My Second Reason for Being Impatient

In our culture (and many cultures, in fact) passivity has gotten a bad rap. Most of us see doing nothing as one or all of the following: laziness, weakness, indecisiveness, stupidity, cowardice, and so on. Hmm…no wonder why it’s so difficult to do something “passive” like being patient.

What wise people have realized (and the rest of can aim to embody) is that being patient is anything but easy. It takes a lot of strength and discipline to wait, especially when everyone around you is rushing and striving and pushing their way through life like they’re being chased by a pack of rabid chinchillas (aww…).

Having the discernment to recognize that barreling forward, guns a’ blazing (I just watched a documentary on the American West), isn’t always the best course of action takes wisdom and the willingness to listen to your intuition. And the courage to accept that you can’t control everything, and life won’t pass you by if you’re not pushing 100% of the time.

Lesson learned: Stop worrying about what the neighbors are doing, and check in with your own inner voice. If striving is feeling icky, then stop. There’s nothing weak about waiting; quite the contrary.

How to Tell the Difference Between Good Waiting and Bad Waiting

I’d love to spit out any easy formula to help you figure this one out, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t exist. What I can say is, as I’ve committed to listening to my inner voice by meditating, hiking and being in nature in silence, doing yoga, and communing with my Guides (which I do in a variety of ways, including tarot readings), it becomes very clear when I’m going after something because the timing is right and I’m riding the wave of momentum, versus when I’m pushing to make things happen rightnow, even though it feels forced.

Here are some other clues that I’ve picked up along the way:

  • If you hear yourself thinking or saying, “If only so-and-so would stop doing x, this wouldn’t be happening and things would be moving forward!” stop and check in. You might be right about so-and-so, and at the same time, you might be focusing on their behavior as a means of avoiding your own internal work.

    Nine times out of ten, when either myself or a friend is in this head space, it becomes clear that the real questions are, “Why is this affecting me so deeply?” and “What am I contributing to this situation?” This brings the focus back to the only element you have any control over–yourself–and out of blame and distraction mode.

  • Feelings can be a useful barometer. (Yet another reason why suppressing them keeps you stuck.) If you notice that you’re feeling a lot of fear and anxiety around a waiting situation, explore the thoughts surrounding the feelings.

    Are you giving away your power to someone or something else (“I have no choice!” or “So-and-so is making me feel ____!”)? Are you playing old mind tracks that no longer serve (“If I don’t make this happen, people won’t like me” or “Once this thing is accomplished, then everything will be okay”)?

    Your feelings can clue you in to mental patterns that, when operating at full blast, make it hard to tell the difference between wise waiting and fear-based waiting, aka procrastination.

  • Looking back on situations where, at the time, I wanted to hit fast-forward, I see how the waiting period was actually a valuable opportunity. The Universe was giving me time to catch up on paperwork, take more time off, or call my grandma.

    We always have a choice to use the waiting time to cram in more worrying and obsessing–or we can do something far more enjoyable.

  • It’s almost always a good idea to wait, even for just a few minutes. Before sending that email, before saying “yes” to those plans, before launching that new product.

    Getting into the habit of hitting the internal pause button has helped me avoid over committing, over reaching, and over sharing, and thus far, I’ve never had an occasion where I’ve said to myself, “Man, I really wish I would have rushed through that without thinking first.”