When I was growing up, my father was Exhibit A for impatience. He’d fly off the handle if he had to wait too long in line. He’d fume if he was caught in a traffic jam. Recently, I began to wonder why some people are able to sit tight when events don’t go their way while others lose their cool. I’ve tried to set a good example for my two teenagers, but I admit, I find myself too often struggling to remain calm, just like my dad. Is patience something we have or don’t or can it be developed like any other skill?
M.J. Ryan, author of The Power of Patience: How to Slow the Rush and Enjoy More Happiness, Success, and Peace of Mind Every Day, embraces the idea that patience is wholly within our control. She writes, “It’s a decision we make, a choice we take, again and again. And the more we recognize patience as a decision, the more we are free to make it.”
What is Patience?
Patience expert Sarah Schnitker says we can definitely improve our ability to be patient over time. But before we dig into her best tips and strategies, let’s define our terms and why we need to care. Patience, as Schnitker defines it, is our ability to stay calm in the face of frustration, adversity, and suffering. This skill isn’t just helpful for building new relationships or nurturing old ones; it’s good for your health.
Patience is linked to a variety of positive outcomes, including decreasing depressive symptoms and boosting overall life satisfaction. It also ties into decreased risk of using of tobacco, marijuana, and alcohol. And finally, being more patient may lead individuals to being more cooperative.
Three Steps Toward Patience
To encourage patience, Schnitker offers three essential steps: identify, imagine, and sync.
- Identify: This first step is about noticing and understanding how you’re feeling. Are you angry? Sad? Afraid?
- Imagine: The next step is imagining a situation from a new perspective so you can change your attitude and emotions toward it. Sometimes we can’t change a situation, but we can change how we think about a situation.
- Sync: The third step involves the ability to connect these skills. And by doing so, you can live the kind of life you most want for yourself and family.
Ryan also offers several strategies in her book. These three got my attention:
- “Try a vigorous walk or job. You’ll burn off the stress hormones that have accumulated in your system and will be more able to re-engage your patience when you return.”
- “Put a small pebble in your pocket. When you start to feel irritation rise, move the pebble from one pocket to the other, which will help interrupt the anger cycle and give you a chance to regroup.”
- “Ask for help. Lots of times we are impatient because we are overloaded. There’s no prize at the end of your life for doing too much, particularly if you do it in a frazzled state.”
Take an Honest Look at Yourself
Gretchen Rubin, bestselling author of The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too) and the forthcoming, Outer Order, Inner Calm: Declutter & Organize to Make More Room for Happiness, offers helpful words of caution. She says finding renewed patience (perhaps with your tween or teen) may require an honest look at your own behavior. Rubin wrote me the following example in an email, “If you’re having trouble staying patient with your messy child, try tackling your own clutter. Often we tell other people to clean up their messes before we deal with our own! By starting with your own possessions, you can make progress right away; you bring order to at least part of your environment; and often clutter-clearing is contagious. “
Learn Patience Anytime
It’s never too late to learn how to be more patient. My father began working on his patience only after his first grandchild, my nephew, was born. Always a good artist, he bought himself a sketchbook. Whenever he felt his blood pressure rise, he’d take it out and draw, purposefully and effectively changing his focus. I didn’t know it then, but he was following another strategy encouraged by numerous patience experts: distraction.