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The Mental Load: Is Impatience a Virtue for Type A Personalities?

I made a quick stop at the grocery store recently to grab a gallon of milk. As I hurried out, the automatic doors opened WAY too slow for my liking. I mean, I practically had to stop dead in my tracks and WAIT for the doors so I could resume my desired pace. You’d think by now they’d make automatic doors that function a little quicker, right?

If it hadn’t been for my recent study of Type A personality, I would have ended my train of thought with this agitated observation about the ineptitude of the doors. But I’ve been practicing conscious thinking in an effort to further refine my “clean” approach to getting things done, and a big part of that has involved assessing which Type A tendencies are holding me back from the free-flowing and relaxed state of focus that I know generates the most powerful returns in my life.

I’ve known forever I’m a Type A personality, but when I started to delve into some research about it, I was initially shocked to learn that impatience is one of the hallmarks. “That doesn’t fit me at all!” I thought, thinking of my never-ending supply of patience when it comes to dealing with my children without blowing up, or my willingness to stick with a project to reach my goal no matter how long it takes.

But when I did some deeper self-reflection, I realized a LOT of the anxiety and stress I experience comes from a less overt type of impatience. And it can run on constant repeat in my head. For example, even as I calmly ask my daughter to put on her shoes for the eighteenth time in the morning, a very different track is running in the back of my mind (“She’s going to be late for school; I’m going to be late for work; I have way too much to do today to get stuck in the slacker last-minute school dropoff traffic…”). Or when I realized I’d forgotten milk on my weekly grocery trip and told myself it was all good because I’d just fly in and out of the store to grab some on my way home from work - everything under control, no stress, no ruffled confidence that I can hold everything together, right? (Wrong! I realized the dialogue in my head was quite different when I felt my blood pressure rising over the sluggishness of the automatic doors.)

If you’re a Type-A personality, take some time to really listen to your inner dialogue and your physical reactions to the daily tasks of your job and life. It’s hard to even acknowledge this underlying impatience because it’s antithetical to the Type-A personality to admit such flaws. But to fully tap into the good aspects of your personality type (your drive, ambition, and work ethic), it’s essential to face and ameliorate the negative aspects. And impatience can be a really sneaky and insidious one to identify and correct. (I have to mention as an aside that impatience isn't always a bad thing. It can motivate you to achieve, to work efficiently, and to make swift decisions. But the aspect of it that sends your mind reeling and your heart pounding is what may need some reigning in.) 

So what do you do when you notice an underlying impatience invading your thoughts? Practicing mindfulness surrounding the issue is the first step. But then, you need to retrain your mind. By taking actions contrary to the impatient emotions, you can actually rewire your brain (it’s science, I’m not making this up!). So when you feel that impatience, anxiety, or stress rearing its ugly head, take some deep breaths, acknowledge the feeling, and then put a positive statement in your head to replace the harmful reaction. It sounds silly, but just come up with something that works for you to transition your thoughts and physical reactions to the efficient flow you know will make you most productive.

The more you practice, the more it will begin to click. It doesn’t happen overnight when you’ve got a lifetime of Type-A conditioning, but slowly and surely, progress will come. (Maybe soon I’ll even reach a point where I’m calm and collected enough that I don’t forget the milk in the first place!)

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