“If we want to live wider and deeper lives, not just faster ones, we have to practice patience — patience with ourselves, with other people, and with the big and small circumstances of life itself.”M. J. Ryan
Have you ever felt frustrated? Exasperated? I think those are pretty natural feelings to experience occasionally but have you felt like you’re in a mode where it happens all the time? I have. A challenging class, too many commitments, illness, or other stressors compound to take us to our wit’s end. The result? We lose our patience, maybe have a cry, and ultimately feel defeated. At least that’s what happens to me.
Patience is something that I’m usually pretty good at. A lot of people would say it’s a requirement in the job of teaching. But, every once in a while, I lose patience. And, once the cycle has begun, it is like a crazy roller coaster ride you can’t get off of and you seem to lose patience with every dip, drop, and screeching turn.
Happily, we don’t reside on roller coasters and are therefore not trapped on a crazy ride. For me, remembering that is step one in self-help because feeling trapped turns us into non-thinking, tunnel-visioned, instinctual animals – think fight or flight response – and that kind of thinking isn’t conducive to the sort of calm and balanced thought process linked to patience.
The key to everything is patience. You get the chicken by hatching the egg, not by smashing it open.Arnold Glasow, American humorist
I teach my students about the fight or flight response in relation to the fear of public speaking, but it encompasses any kind of fear and should really also include freeze along with fight or flight. I thought it was interesting that the fear response was an active part, for me anyway, of my losing patience cycle (my trapped feeling). Given that I also teach my students techniques and tips to help reduce the fear response in public speaking and that we talk about how practicing helps alleviate fear, I thought that there must be active strategies to help me improve my patience when I am on the downward slide.
With all this contemplation about patience and realizing how acutely patience and lack of patience affects my mindset and well-being, I wondered how big an impact patience has in general. I discovered that patience is a pretty important characteristic. In fact, according to Kira Newman in her article, Good things really do come to those who wait, it is linked to improved physical and mental health, helps us achieve our goals, and makes us a better friend. Newman goes on to offer practical advice for improving patience and outlines three things we can do:
- Re-frame the situation. Feeling impatient is not just an automatic emotional response; it involves conscious thoughts and beliefs, too. If a colleague is late to a meeting, you can fume about their lack of respect, or see those extra 15 minutes as an opportunity to get some reading done. Patience is linked to self-control, and consciously trying to regulate our emotions can help us train our self-control muscles.
- Practice mindfulness. In one study, kids who did a six-month mindfulness program in school became less impulsive and more willing to wait for a reward. The GGSC’s Christine Carter also recommends mindfulness practice for parents: Taking a deep breath and noticing your feelings of anger or overwhelm (for example, when your kids start yet another argument right before bedtime) can help you respond with more patience.
- Practice gratitude. In another study, adults who were feeling grateful were also better at patiently delaying gratification. When given the choice between getting an immediate cash reward or waiting a year for a larger ($100) windfall, less grateful people caved in once the immediate payment offer climbed to $18. Grateful people, however, could hold out until the amount reached $30. If we’re thankful for what we have today, we’re not desperate for more stuff or better circumstances immediately.
Self-control and delayed gratification are not the only things linked to patience. Patient people are often better liked by their peers and co-workers, while impatient people are seen as arrogant and insensitive. No wonder patient people end up in the lead for promotions and leadership positions.
Learning to be patient involves knowing your own body. If you are prone to losing patience, take notice of the typical signs like shallow breathing, muscle tension, hand clenching, jiggling feet, irritability, anxiety, rushing, and making quick decisions.
Catching ourselves as we begin to fall into the impatience cycle is important to help in stopping it. Many of us have typical triggers. For example, do you get more impatient if you are hungry or tired? What typically causes your impatience? Is there a root cause? Again, knowing yourself goes a long way in cutting down on our impatience and the toxic feelings that often go with it.
Remedying impatience can be done in a variety of ways and some techniques work well for some and not others. Again, know thyself! A few that go a long way for me are breathing exercises, positive self-talk, purposeful muscle relaxation (i.e. head and shoulder rolls, visualization to aid in regaining/attaining calmness, and finally practicing active and empathetic listening. The last one is my most difficult to do when I am really impatient, but it is also the most successful in immediately re-framing my mindset.
Patience does really come to those who wait … but it also comes to those who actively seek to be patient.
Mind Tools Content Team. “How to Be Patient: Staying Calm Under Pressure.” Stress Management Training from MindTools.com, https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newTCS_78.htm.
Newman, Kira M. “Four Reasons to Cultivate Patience.” Greater Good, UC Berkeley, 4 Apr. 2016, https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/four_reasons_to_cultivate_patience.