What comes to your mind when you think about patience? In my head, I picture a Winter day at the beach. I can feel the wind blowing softly lifting small grains of sand in the air, the waves rocking as if whispering a lullaby, the seagulls leaving a trail behind. Everything is quiet and still. One can hear their own thoughts echoing while sitting in silence and stillness.
It may sound a bit weird, though this is the place I travel to in my mind that gives me the inner peace I need when patience is lacking. Sometimes we hear these stories of gurus or spiritual guides whose forbearance feels inspiring…and by the way unattainable! How can someone remain so calm, be so patient in the face of chaos, adversity, suffering, pain? Are they lacking empathy or are we – common mortals constantly seeking patience – lacking a superpower?
At the risk of sounding radical, I’d say that patience is not only a human virtue, but the virtue. There is so much to be accomplished when we are patient. There is so much to notice and be grateful for when we are patient. So damn much. Yet we rush. We want the immediate, the tangible, the wins. And we want it all now.
How to achieve this mindset shift? Especially when the world around us seems to have no intention of slowing down, leaving us with a feeling of missing out. Aren’t we missing out much more when we rush? Running into the next meeting, the upcoming project, that next major goal? Rushing into responses, comments, decisions?
Nothing against being a high achiever and having big goals, quite the opposite! What would happen if we just slow down? Maybe the world would become less impatient, maybe not. Though we would certainly develop more patience to deal with its challenges.
Below are 5 strategies to help you increase your patience. Before putting these into practice, travel to your special place and embrace the patient person you know you can be. Open your arms and welcome it.
1. Acknowledge your triggers: Though all of us get impatient sometimes, it does not mean we experience it in the same way. Each of us has its own triggers. For some people being stuck in traffic might be terrible, while others enjoy the time to listen to their favorite tunes and audiobooks, talk to a colleague sitting next to them, or just relax and be with themselves in silence. Others get impatient when they talk and are often interrupted or when other people talk too much or too loudly. In other words, knowing what your triggers are allows you to be better prepared next time. Go ahead and observe yourself in the next couple of days. Notice what, how, when, who contributes to your impatient behavior. If you already know your triggers quite well, then it is time to enter the next level – change your attitude towards these triggers. Let us explore how through the points right below.
2. Pause to breathe and relax: It may sound obvious, but a lot of us forget the basics about breathing. We are so used for it to be an unconscious action, that we underestimate the power of deep breathes and body relaxation. There are practices such as meditation and yoga where you learn how to reconnect with your body and your breathing. Nonetheless, whenever you feel you are getting impatient, you can always bring your awareness to the present moment. Pause, close your eyes, take a few deep breathes and let the air entering and moving out through your nose and mouth – in this sequence – to warm you from within. Give it a few rounds before you return to your natural breath cycle. In case it is hard for you to remember to do it, you can remind yourself by using alerts and schedule a specific time in the day to do breathing exercises. Among the daily rush, your brain and your body need to be retrained to relax through these (or other) breathing techniques before it becomes more natural and easier.
3. Shift your focus: Again, when something triggers us, we tend to immediately react to it. Meaning that despite its existence, the gap between the stimuli and the response is practically null. Good news: You can change this! You can lengthen this gap giving yourself time to respond. How can you do it? Shift your focus to something completely different. Sometimes it means literally walking away from the situation, especially if you feel it will escalate. Go for a walk, get some air, and get back in a calmer state. When getting out is not an option, you can still move your body – change positions, shake your legs or hands – or focus on other senses like smells around you or something you can taste. In addition, you can get away in your own mind by thinking of something you like doing, someone you enjoy spending time with or traveling to that special place of yours that brings you peace.
4. Keep the big picture in mind: There are these little moments and particular situations that make us loose our patience. And they are just that – short moments in time compared with our whole life. So, try to bring the bigger picture to mind. This one is tricky, especially because when we are about to lose our cool, we forget everything else. For some people, it becomes pitch dark, as if all lights had been suddenly shut down. Our vision gets narrowed, our focus redirects solely to that restlessness inside. But let us keep a positive mindset, considering also the previous mentioned strategies, and take a moment to pause. Pause to remind yourself that this scenario does not represent your whole life, that you can raise above the impatient side of yours which is ready to break loose. Imagine that your toddler is throwing the fifth tantrum of the day. You are tired, frustrated, and all you want to do is probably scream or cry. Take a step back and recall the bigger picture – in this case, your child is cute and sweet (they were just hugging you 5 minutes ago!), you are a great parent, you can handle it. One tantrum at a time. One impatient moment turned into a patient attitude.
5. Do a reset: After all the trial and error, you feel that you have failed. You are getting impatient and acting out more than you would want to. You are losing your patience with your spouse, your kid, your mom, your best friend. It is not being your finest day – you come to realize after a brief self-reflection. The worst it could happen is that you go on this self-guilt trip, ending with you going to bed angry at yourself, only to wake up the next day not feeling any better. If you are having a tough day (we all have them!), just do a reset. By this I mean getting yourself back to baseline, a neutral position where you give yourself the chance to start over. Not to win the day in your highest note – we want to take off the pressure of having to overcompensate –, but by cutting yourself some slack while keeping you open to still show your patient side to someone in need that day.
You may have started this reading without a clue about your special patience place. Any clarity on that right now? Is there a picture you can visualize, travel to when in need? If not, take a few minutes during the day or the week to come up with your singular spot. Above all, be kind and patient with yourself. It may sound paradoxical, though you must be patient while developing patience. Once you recognize the power of this virtue, you will surely see yourself, others, and the world through a renewed set of lenses.