Whether we’re dealing with a prolonged case of the flu, a troubling relative, learning a second (or third) language, or digging ourselves out of a financial hole, patience makes it possible for us to withstand frustrations, control our temper, regulate our stress level, and keep our situation in perspective.
Facts about patience:
Patience can be even more important than talent. You’ve probably heard the fable about the hare and the turtle, in which the turtle’s slow and steady persistence wins out over the hare’s swiftness and distractibility. (“Slow and steady wins the race.” – Aesop) True, natural aptitude will give you an edge, but if not tempered by patience and the willingness to hang in there and to keep your eye on the goal, your innate abilities may not take you far enough. However, even if you’re not the fastest horse out of the gate, take heart that your tenacity can be a powerful aid in reaching your goals.
Patience can help you resist impulsive urges. It’s pretty clear that lashing out verbally or physically can sabotage an important relationship, derail your career, or even endanger your life (example: road rage). Also, giving in to your cravings in the form of binge eating or excessive alcohol urge can result in an ingrained addictive cycle and associated damage to your health and peace of mind. Who wants to be at the mercy of their knee-jerk reactions?
Patience improves your relationships. People find comfort and satisfaction in being around people who can be trusted to keep their commitments and tolerate the inevitable rocky times.
Patience decreases your level of anxiety. Life will not always go our way, and no amount of hand-wringing, slamming of doors, pouting, or foot-stamping will change this fact. When we refocus our attention on what we can do about a situation, and resolve to tolerate that which we cannot change, we become calmer, rather than wasting valuable energy fretting and demanding that things happen according to our timetable.
Patience is an exercise in accepting that many things take time. Sometimes it takes awhile before we see any indication of progress, but with patience we are more likely to endure the wait until change and growth become evident. To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Adopt the pace of nature; her secret is patience.” We cannot expect that an acorn planted in the ground will grow into an oak tree overnight. It can take months for even the tiniest shoot to emerge from the ground – yet it would be a mistake to assume that nothing was happening in the meanwhile. Most progress happens incrementally, not in sudden, huge manifestations.
Methods to improve your patience:
- Reframe how you see a situation. If a friend is 15 minutes late for a coffee date with you, instead of automatically assuming that they are disorganized, don’t have their priorities straight, or are inconsiderate, try considering other reasons for their tardiness. Perhaps they got stuck in traffic, got a flat tire, or misunderstood the time that you were meeting. Or maybe they are just habitually late for appointments, at which you can consider the relative importance of this trait in your friendship. We all have our quirks.
- Count your blessings. When we get caught up in impatience over people or life itself not playing out in accordance with our preferred timetable, it can help to stop and make a gratitude list, whether mentally or on paper. What factors are on your side? What can you appreciate right now, rather than holding your breath for a desired outcome that may or may not materialize?
- Expect challenges. Optimism is helpful to a degree, but to be a Pollyanna and blithely assume that all will go smoothly can trip you up when you encounter obstacles. Being realistic and being patient with hurdles will increase your chances of going the distance. Just because something is uncomfortable doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be. Remind yourself that you can tolerate this inconvenience.
- Practice the pause. When feeling stressed or impulsive, take five slow, deep breaths. Stay mindful of your breathing and let go of other concerns. Refocus your attention on just this moment, rather than on ruminations about the past or concerns about the future. Notice your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. Develop the capacity to keep taking the next indicated step, as guided by your inner wisdom, rather than indulging your compulsive urges.
- Let go of perfectionism. We are works in progress. Have patience with your own process. It’s difficult to be patient with your circumstances and other people when you are demanding too much of yourself. You may well find that the best place to begin practicing patience is at home and within your own soul. If you make a mistake, learn what you can from the misstep and keep moving forward. Remember that no baby ever learned to walk without falling down many, many times – and getting back up on his or her feet to take the next wobbly step.
- Be okay with not knowing all of the answers. Most of the time we are operating on incomplete information. As Rainer Marie Rilke so eloquently stated, “I beg you, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart, and try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” Patience is an exercise in trust, while also doing the pertinent work.
- Do not let your moods dictate your decisions. To quote Robert Schuller, “Never cut down a tree in the wintertime. Never make a negative decision in the low time. Never make your most important decisions when you are in your worst moods. Wait. Be patient. The storm will pass. The spring will come.” Especially be careful of HALT, which stands for being too hungry, angry, lonely, or tired. If you find yourself in such a state, eat a snack, calm yourself, speak with a friend, or take a nap, according to your need. Once you’ve done so, you’ll be a better position to take a balanced view of your situation and reapply yourself to the task at hand.
Ultimately, be patient with the process of developing patience. There’s a reason that patience is considered a virtue – it takes practice.