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Patience, the number one missing skill in the 21st century

Text: Bas Vink Media: Deniz Korkmaz Illustration: Sanne van Lieshout

This short article is about your impatience to getting your User Centred Design grade. It’s just short enough to keep your monkey brain’s attention, and just long enough to convey the message. 

Have you ever heard of The Skinner Box? No, it is not some fucked up Industrial Design project. A Skinner Box works like this: A rat is placed in a box which has a lever and a little feeding bowl. The rat sniffs around the box, not knowing what the heck is going on, it will, eventually, push the lever by chance. A sugary little treat is then delivered into the bowl. The rat will learn that pulling the lever means getting a treat. The rat will keep pulling the lever over and over again, frustrated, even if no more new treats are coming in. The Skinner Box demonstrates something fundamental in animal behavior: if something feels good, we will do it again and again and again, and we eventually grow a sense of entitlement to that pleasurable thing. Today, life is full of Skinner Boxes. Your phone is a Skinner Box. Your laptop is a Skinner Box. Your tv is a Skinner Box. Your girlfriend’s vagina is a–okay, I better stop there. 

The point is: Every day we get all kinds of little pleasure burst. We eventually get a feeling that we deserve to feel that pleasure. We deserve to be rewarded. And when the reward is taken from us, or it takes a bit longer than expected, we might throw angry emails to professors for letting us wait a little longer. Patience is the number one missing skill in the 21st century. We get used to everything being instant. Food, traffic, relationships, good grades, etc.

But how do we learn patience?

Patience image

Learn to be still

Being still, French philosopher Blaise Pascal once said, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room, alone.” Think about that for some time. Or impatiently keep reading. Put your damn phone away for some time, get some good sleep. It will make you less impulsive and more emotionally grounded. Your professors will thank you.

Develop better awareness around impatience

Most of your impatience is driven by some deeply-rooted sense of entitlement. You don’t know what’s going on with other people. Maybe the pizza guy had to help somebody push his broken car off the road. Maybe the professor just works super hard and needs some time off for his family. 

And what the fuck have you done lately? Scroll through Instagram while telling your professor you studied?

Understand the real value of time

What is waiting? It’s essentially just experiencing a certain period of time without any reward. But what is a reward? Ah, we’ve now arrived at the root of the issue. If what we find rewarding, is something external—something exciting and flashy and fun—then yes, our attitude towards waiting will suck. We will hate it and hate the world for not rewarding us like the little rats we are. But if our rewards are internal, if we take pleasure in our own thoughts, our own presence, in the simple act of experiencing the world as it is, then we can theoretically feel rewarded in any place, and in any moment.

The true rewards in life are the ones that bring us the most meaning, and meaning can be found, well, anywhere. But it is most often found in the slow, methodical plod towards some great long-term destination–and the greater the destination, the less noticeable the hiccups along the way. 

So get some good sleep, set some good meaningful, intrinsically motivated goals for your PDP and get your ass back to your studies! And please, remember, to be patient.