Patience is one of those virtues that sounds simple from a distance. However, while the thought of waiting for something you want or need seems easy in theory, it is much more arduous in practice. When you’re actually faced with the obstacle, the entire concept of patience grows more challenging, and it can be difficult to improve patience in the moment.
This test of patience rings true not just for Type-A East Coasters like me, but also for special education teachers, speech therapists, and nurses – who drip with patience. At times, it’s not a muscle that’s easy to flex no matter who you are.
Some people have more patience for family and loved ones, while others find strangers actually easier to be patient around. For some, the smaller the obstacle, the less the patience – and for others, the opposite is true.
Whatever or whomever your trigger, patience is most difficult to muster up when you encounter a roadblock or waiting time between you and that something you want or need. Whether it’s as simple as:
- The long line at the grocery store when you just want to get home with your groceries
- The hold time when you want to speak to a customer service representative
- The five minutes you must wait when your spouse is running late for dinner
- Waiting for your computer to reboot
Or as BIG as:
- Waiting for your doctor to call you with test results
- Waiting to hear back about whether or not you got that promotion or dream job
- Waiting for an investor’s offer on a business
No matter the gravity of the situation, mindfulness can help you practice patience. What is the link between mindfulness and patience? Let’s have a look:
Patience vs. Mindfulness
To understand the role mindfulness plays in being patient, let’s make sure we are all working off of the same definition of patience, which, according to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary means, “bearing pains or trials calmly and without compliant” and “steadfast despite opposition, difficulty, or adversity.”
You can’t really practice patience if you’re not mindful – aware of the situation you’re in and your reaction to it. In the face of discomfort, inconvenience, or difficulty, which is an inevitable part of life on this planet, you must persevere calmly, steadily, and mindfully.
This may be easier in the face of some of the simple inconveniences, like waiting in line or in traffic, and can become much more difficult at the center of a very troubling or prolonged situation.
The good news is that even the most impatient people can improve patience. And there are ample opportunities to practice being patient, given the inevitable inconveniences, annoyances, and unplanned challenges that show up pretty much all the time. So you want to get better at patience? You must practice patience. Here are seven strategies you can use to build your patience muscles.
Pause and Breathe
If you use the time you must wait to take a few deep breaths, your nervous system will slow down instead of speed up. In some situations, by the time you have taken 10 deep breaths, your wait will be over. In others, these breaths will help to center you and invite a calmer reaction to the wait.
Have you ever noticed that when you meet an unplanned inconvenience or challenge with resistance, you are really thrown off – and your mood can turn sour and heavy? Everything becomes about overcoming and removing the challenge when you resist it.
On the other hand, when you meet an unplanned inconvenience or challenge with calmness, your mood remains steady and patient. This is the power in responding, rather than reacting to unwelcome circumstances. Most often, it is not external circumstances that make you upset, it is your reaction to those external circumstances that causes the greater dose of stress in life.
How do you control this when you’re at risk for getting impatient? The trick here is to reduce resisting experiences that come your way, where you are unable to affect change. Practicing acceptance does not necessarily mean you like, want, support, or endorse everything you cross paths with. Rather, it means you’re choosing to allow it to be there without resistance, when you can’t change it anyway.
In this way, practicing patience is to practice making your default reaction to accept what is with openness, rather than resist it. This does not mean you have to welcome the situation with open arms and enthusiasm – it just means that you avoid resisting it and let it happen within a neutral attitude.
Acknowledge the Effects of Impatience
In the moment, notice what is making you impatient and ask yourself:
- Do I have control over the situation? If not, what do I have control over in this moment?
- Is the feeling of impatience helping or exacerbating the impact of the situation?
- What emotion or mood would be more helpful, instead of the impatience?
Look for the Silver Lining or Lesson
Get curious about the particular moment you are in. Is there anything about the challenging or inconvenient situation that may land a positive impact on your life? Is there anything positive that was not available to you before – and now is – now that this challenge has presented itself?
This may be include meeting someone new, discovering a new coffee shop, or having the opportunity to practice patience and exercise those muscles.
Use the Extra Time Wisely
Now that you have extra time in this moment, what will you do with it? Instead of focusing on the thing that is in your way, or the thing you are after, focus on something else you normally don’t have time for.
After all, how often do you find yourself with “extra time?” Probably not very often. Use that time to meditate, read an article, listen to a podcast, text something nice to a loved one, or practice gratitude.
Try a Mini Meditation
Take a time-out and practice a short meditation to help you calm any frustration or anger that may result from the situation you are in. Here are 10 mini meditations you can try.
Befriend the Situation
Assume that the obstacle before you was put in your way because you needed to slow down and take a break.
Watch your impulse to perceive the challenge before you as unfair or as bad timing. Instead, shake off any anger or frustration and take this as a cue that an old friend is reminding you that you need a moment to slow down and reset.
If you shift your thinking about the meaning of the obstacle, you’ll wind up arriving wherever you’re headed with a calmer, clearer mind and attitude.
Getting better at being patient will make your life (and the lives of those around you) easier and ultimately will make you a happier person. After all – adversity won’t be going away anytime soon – it’s part of the human experience and you can’t escape it. So you may as well learn to improve your patience and calmly endure the setbacks, difficulties, and unwelcome roadblocks along the way.