I have friends who are always quick to exclaim, “Oh, I have no patience at all. I’m the most impatient person I know.” It’s often spoken with a touch of pride – as if knowing this fact about themselves is a mark of introspection. I also have friends who are parents and struggle mightily to demonstrate patience while raising their children. But children can sense the difference between actual patience and stuffing down frustration. See here for more on the benefits of patience.
The good news is that patience can be practiced. Studies have shown that with just two weeks of patience training, participants reported a greater understanding of their triggers, the emotions surrounding their impatience, and greater ease at regulating their emotions and empathizing with others. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to become aware of my impatience, much like my friends who accept their impatience as an unchangeable truth. But through my own mindfulness practice, I’ve learned to push myself beyond awareness into acceptance and action.
Try these practices in order to cultivate patience in your own life.
My friends who proudly proclaim their impatience, see it as an unchangeable truth; an automatic emotional response that is just who they are. But impatience also involves our belief system and conscious thought. Reframing gives us the chance to shift perspective and exercise self-control.
I used to commute 45 minutes to work. The majority of my route was a simple two-lane road that didn’t allow for passing. Inevitably, a long row of cars got stuck behind a slower moving vehicle. Those of us in this long line would drive extremely close to the car in front of us, communicating our impatience and displeasure at the slow speed.
Then one day, I had engine trouble and to avoid a breakdown on the way to the garage, I had to drive extremely slowly. Suddenly, I was the focus of my fellow commuter’s impatience. This allowed me to see that there are so many reasons why a person might drive slowly and that driving slowly isn’t the end of the world. I was able to reframe the situation and have more patience during my commutes.
In general, I would argue that practicing any positive emotional state will help to cultivate patience in your life. But gratitude does seem to be a particularly swift way to see results. I once found myself between homes and needed a place to stay for a few months. A generous friend lent me the use of a flat that she was in the process of selling.
She was selling it because it had a number of problems – including incredibly noisy neighbours on all sides. Every night, as I fell asleep to someone’s techno music and every morning as I awoke to screaming children and blaring televisions, I took a minute to practice gratitude for the gift of a roof over my head. I recalled my travels in poor countries where shelter has a completely different function. It’s not about comfort, it’s about survival. This gratitude practice created the space for me to practice some reframing of what my new neighbour’s lives might be like.
When you notice impatience, ask yourself this question: “Why am I impatient right now?” After you’ve identified the trigger (or the build-up of triggers), try to shift to an attitude of curiosity. Curiosity is a present moment mindset, whereas impatience is about the past and the future.
Become curious about common triggers and what’s underlying them. If you like, as part of your mindfulness practice, keep a journal for a few weeks and record your moments of impatience and the triggers you identify. This act can help you see that impatience is often more about your state of mind than your external circumstances.
When my mother’s health was declining and she was struggling with the reality of aging and illness, I found that I was incredibly frustrated with her most of the time. I snapped at her unnecessarily and I would take over tasks that I felt she was doing too slowly. It was a stressful time in both our lives and I found myself journaling more as a way to process. I came to see that my impatience grew not from my mother herself, but from my own feelings of helplessness at being unable to alleviate her suffering.
I was taking my own issues out on her. Once I was aware of this, I started to check my impatience and eventually develop enough compassionate patience that I could talk to her about her own impatience at the changes in her body and mind. Ultimately, a win for both of us.
Challenges seem to come hand in hand with the human experience. Cultivating patience eliminates some of the frustrations that we feel. It isn’t about pretending not to be bothered by the things that bother us. Patience is about a different and more effective way of responding to those challenges.