I have been learning how to unearth my patience for a long time. I’ll admit that I figured since it was not naturally occurring within me, that there was no hope. I am always going to be staring at a clock, willing it to stop, while I am late for an appointment and stuck in traffic. How did patience skip me? How did I not learn this? My dad is the most patient man I know. I mean, he taught eighth grade History for over 30 years. He even watched my basement play productions and paid the 25-cent admission fee. He taught kids how to sail at camp; no easy feat. This is a man of infinite patience. How could this possibly skip a generation?
It turns out that patience is a skill. It’s possible to learn it. Whoa. No more blaming my impatience on my upbringing or DNA. It’s like finding out about the growth mindset as coined by Carol Dweck. It is possible to improve. I can learn this just like I can learn Spanish, crochet, or playing the guitar. I can learn how to employ patience. And so can you.
Here are some ways to find patience:
Acknowledge the need
Not all people move at your pace. Not everyone has the same schedule as you (I get up at 4:30 AM sometimes). Not everyone inhales a plate of food in 5 minutes. Realizing that everyone comes to situations from different places and mindsets is important to acknowledge. Maybe I need to just slow down. Maybe I need to go grab a book or magazine and relax. Everyone is on a different path and they are all engaging in life at a different pace. Realizing this can help you embrace the need for patience.
I think this is my father’s secret. As Michele McDonald wrote for Bicycle, “We may be on the verge of making a brilliant retort to a coworker, but we hold our tongue rather than say something hurtful. Even though our impatience is triggered, we can tap into the deeper reservoir of our motivation not to do harm.” It’s all about getting back into the moment and realizing that we don’t want to prod someone else with our impatience. I can remember my restaurant days when a customer was obviously in a bad mood, I would be overly nice. Kill them with kindness nice. Sometimes doing the opposite of what I want to do is the best antidote. Embrace gentle forbearance.
Endurance of hardship
Again, from McDonald: “Patience isn’t passive; it’s motivated by an acceptance of and compassion for suffering rather a desire to eradicate it. When we feel impatient with our relationships, our work, or our spiritual practice, we need to realize that we are resisting how things are. A sense of humor and curiosity about our lives can also help us confront impatience.” Compare this to curiosity being the cure for fear. Curiosity can be the cure for impatience as well. So if I can add a little wonder to my impatience, I can change it up. Hmmm. I wonder why I am so impatient with the installation of my dishwasher. Is this really about the need for control rather than clean dishes? Do I really feel like Lowe’s has intentionally delayed the install or is it just happenstance? The important thing is that I have the choice to endure with bliss or with anger. Choose your response wisely.
Acceptance of truth
Accept what is the reality of the situation. You are late. Your son is late. The project is late. The flight is late. “Acceptance of the truth, means that we accept our experience as it is—with all its suffering—rather than how we want it to be. We recognize that because our experience is continually changing, we don’t need it to be different than it is.” As I sit here with the third delay of my new dishwasher to be installed, I am calm and accepting the reality of the situation. To some degree, it’s just fine. So I wash dishes for another week, or month, or year. Washing dishes is actually a Zen experience for me and it’s really not that bad. As my boyfriend Roy says, “This is a first world problem.” Acceptance helps end the suffering.
Bring it back to your body
So much of what helps you move forward when you are impatient is paying attention to your body. What are the signs that you are impatient? Is it the rapid heart rate? The tapping of the foot? The clenched fist or jaw? When you sense the warning signs, come back into your body and slow it down. Unless there is a Polar Bear chasing you, there is no need to elevate the stress in your body. Get out of your head and into you body. Relax. Feel into your toes. Get out of your head and slow down your adrenaline. Most of your perceived threat is in your head. Bring it back to your body.
Build your new skill one moment or situation at a time. Celebrate the small wins you can make over your response to stressful, impulsive situations. What do you need to have patience with?