Cognitive Patience: Processing the World in no Rush

Cognitive patience means being able to look at the world and process it in no rush. It means taking things in in a relaxed, but precise way.
Cognitive Patience: Processing the World in no Rush
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 21 February, 2022

Have we lost our cognitive patience? Have we left behind this valuable skill for understanding and processing our reality in a relaxed, but complex way? According to some neuroscientists, the answer is “yes”.

You can see it everywhere nowadays, especially if you think about the way we process all the information we get from social media: fast and without contrasts.

The term cognitive patience was recently coined by Maryanne Wolf. She’s a cognitive neuroscientist and developmental psycholinguist at the University of California. In her book, Reader, Come Home, she talks about a fascinating thing that has been happening to her for a pretty long time.

A lot of readers nowadays can’t read for an hour straight without checking their phones several times. We’ve become impatient and are losing our ability to focus, although we still don’t know how serious this is.

Even Stephen King has discussed a new phenomenon: audiobooks. Audiobooks allow you to do daily tasks while someone with a good voice reads a book to you. So, the effort level is minimal.

As you can guess, cognitive patience is related to our ability to wait or delay gratification. It’s our ability to calmly process information, a situation, or an event.

It’s also a skill we use to give things meanings by having reflected on them beforehand. That also means being able to push away distractions and focus on a specific goal without any rush. You don’t feel pressure and know how to properly use one of your most important skills: attention.

Let’s take a more detailed look at this.

woman sitting in front of the sea

Cognitive patience is about to go extinct

“Skimming” is another recent phenomenon that’s on the rise. It refers to our tendency of reading things quickly and only worrying about the beginning and end of a text or piece of information. If you do this, you end up taking in only the most superficial part of what you have in front of you: a book, an article, an instruction manual, etc.

The opposite of “skimming” is “scanning”. Scanning means meticulously analyzing information. These two terms also summarize a tendency we’re seeing in a large part of the population. This tendency is the loss of an essential skill: cognitive patience.

If you’re in a rush as you gaze out at the world, you’ll never understand its secrets. If you hurry to get information from your environment, you might end up with half-truths. Also, if you don’t use your analytical, critical, and reflective skills, you’ll end up believing things that aren’t true.

We all need to realize that losing our cognitive patience makes us more vulnerable to demagogueryIn a speed-obsessed world that’s controlled by the rapid-fire transmission of information, we have to be sensible, critical, and meticulous.

An eye with flowers sprouting out of it.

Patience is a concentrated effort and it makes us wise

We live in a society that doesn’t value patience. For example, important, powerful people don’t have to wait their turn or get in line. When we’re children, people start telling us that if we want something, we have to chase it. Yes, determination is important. But it’s more important to learn to be patient and understand that success and wisdom take time.

  • If you want to start being cognitively patient, you need to start realizing that patience doesn’t give you power over your circumstances. What it does is give you more control over yourself no matter the circumstances.
  • Cognitive patience also involves re-learning how to look at the world through a child’s eyes. You need to get back that fascination, curiosity, and instinctive appreciation of details and nuance.
  • You also have to be highly critical. Let yourself be guided by a desire for knowledge and your quest for the truth about what you see, hear, and read.
  • It’s also worth remembering that cognitive patience isn’t a passive skill. Quite the opposite. No process takes so much effort, spontaneity, and open-mindedness.
  • Plus, a study published in the Journal of Positive Psychology says that using this skill every day actually reduces your risk of depression and other mood disorders.

It’s also the best answer to life’s daily challenges. If you’re patient and learn to process the world in less of a rush, you’ll be better able to appreciate all the magical details, beauty, and truth in the world.

Work on your attention and discover how great not being in a hurry is. You should also remember that, in the end, patience just means concentrating your efforts toward a goal.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Wolf, Maryanne Wolf (2018) Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain in a Digital World. Harper

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.