By: Rochelle Perper, Ph.D. | July 10, 2020
We live in a time where everything can change at an accelerated pace. No protocol exists for a time like this, no wisdom upon which to rely or set a course to follow. If ever there was a time when we should show patience, it would be now, right? After all, we’ve never done this before, and we can’t expect to get it right the first time. Sadly, too many of us do the exact opposite. We hold ourselves and others to unrealistic standards, beat ourselves up for not doing it well enough, criticize ourselves for lagging behind too long, and expect not to feel natural, human emotions.
Patience is that natural power we have within ourselves to wait for something without getting angry or upset. The longer we must wait, however, the more patience escapes us. In our changing world today, it’s no wonder that our patience is being tested. We are still waiting for answers to questions like “When can we resume usual activity?”, “What will school look like next semester?” or “When will we see a real change for racial equality?”
In our changing world today,
we could all use a little more patience –
with ourselves, our world around us, and with others.
Why is it important to be patient?
In the best of circumstances, disruptions to our daily routine cause frustrations that unnerve us. Now, consider the added stressors of:
- Negotiating new social norms and health protocols
- Grappling with anxiety and fear for the future
- Feelings of outrage in response to police brutality and racial injustice
- Suffering with personal and collective grief
- Managing added responsibilities
No wonder we have a tough time. Quite frankly, it’s exhausting.
We all want to feel or be better as quickly as possible, an understandable goal in our achievement-driven world. The common misconception prevails that if we push ourselves, we will drive ourselves toward reaching our goals. This is simply incorrect.
When we are inpatient with ourselves, we reject parts of who we are, judge ourselves harshly, and speak to ourselves unkindly. Do thoughts like “I should be used to this by now,” “I can’t get anything done,” or “I’m so exhausted all the time; there must be something wrong with me” sound familiar?
This lack of patience blocks change because we deny ourselves support and knock ourselves down. This leads to lack of motivation to keep trying, and we end up stopping before we’ve really ever started.
Tips to be more patient:
Learning to stay patient with ourselves and others is one of the hardest skills to master in life. And, we need it now more than ever. Use the tips below to engender patience:
1. Focus on progress, not perfection
Think for a moment how you would talk to a child when learning something new. You would likely offer this child encouragement and support while passing off mistakes and errors because this is how kids learn and grow. So, why would you speak to yourself any differently?
You wouldn’t blame a child if they didn’t get it right the first time or get frustrated along the way. Even as adults, we never outgrow the need for gentle, supportive guidance. Try focusing on the progress you make and what you learn rather than beating yourself up for not doing it right or aren’t far enough along.
The same goes for others too. When your partner, a neighbor, co-worker, or stranger at the store acts in an irritable, unhelpful, or unkind way, try giving them the benefit of the doubt. We easily imagine the worst in people, but we never really know their story or what situations they come from. We can safely assume that these times present difficulties for everyone. We all deserve a little grace when we fall short now and again.
Like anything else, learning to garner patience with ourselves takes practice. Research shows that waiting makes us happier in the long run. Give yourself the opportunity of time to earn your reward and resist the urge for immediate gratification. For example, try the following:
- Allow someone to go in front of you in line at the post office
- Really listen to someone else’s opinion without interrupting them and before you respond
- Watch half of a movie one night, and the other half the next night
- Wait a few moments to begin eating when you sit down for a meal
As you practice, you will begin to gain more patience, and may even realize that you feel calmer, can come to agreements more quickly, and feel happier overall.
3. Reduce stress
Patience comes with more difficulty when you have a lot on your plate and a lot on your mind. When overscheduled or preoccupied with worries, you have diminished capacity to put forth the effort required for patience. To remedy this, examine the things in your life that cause your stress. Try to find solutions to these problems and ask for help when you need it. Look at where you spend your time and see what you can cut out to allow more time to focus on the things that are important to you.
There is no substitute for good old-fashioned self-care to reduce stress. Research shows that three deep abdominal breaths three times a day lowers your levels of stress hormone in your bloodstream. Other relaxation techniques include imagery, guided meditation, body scan, or mindfulness practice. Of course, you also reduce stress if you get enough sleep, allow for physical activity in your day, and eat healthy (especially avoiding too many sweets and alcohol.)
4. Stop multitasking
We are more impatience when we juggle too many things at once. We all do it, we jump from one task to another without finishing the first. This practice proves ineffective time and time again. Worse, it causes a great deal of frustration because you do not do any one of these things well. By focusing on one thing at a time you will feel calmer and accomplish a great deal more.
Bonus tip: Before you go to bed, write down 3 things on a post-it note that you want to do the next day. Make these tasks a priority by tackling them first and resist the urge to get distracted by other things. Research in organizational settings demonstrated that this strategy significantly increased productivity in the workplace.
Change isn’t easy. Quick fixes reside mostly in theory, and lasting change takes time. We will experience challenges, and we may even go backwards at times. Long-term success includes small steps in the direction of your goal. With calm, controlled perseverance and loving kindness, you will achieve whatever you’ve set out to do.
5. Say kind things to yourself
Patience with ourselves and others requires mindful recognition of our humanity and that none of us are perfect. Patience means embracing yourselves with self-acceptance and focusing on progress rather than on perfection. It means giving yourself compassion rather than withholding it. It means speaking to yourself with more kindness and empathy such as:
“I know this is hard. I know you’re struggling,
but I believe in you. You can get through this.”
Changing your internal dialogue provides the most helpful practice you can do to develop the patience that resides within you. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is a technique used to identify critical, negative thoughts and develop a more balanced way of thinking. Learning to change your internal dialogue takes time, so try to be patient with yourself as you learn to be more patient with others.