The Power of Patience: How to Master This Essential Life Skill

Mastering Patience1

Mastering Patience

We’ve all heard the saying “Patience is a virtue.” I’ll be honest, though, it’s not a sexy, snazzy one. It doesn’t conjure up strong, powerful images like courage or wisdom do. It doesn’t seem big like creativity or boldness. Instead, patience calls to mind slowness or tranquility. It can almost feel meek or subdued.

It’s a mistake to view patience that way. 

It is incredibly underrated. Patience is powerful. So many things in life can be improved by mastering patience – this essential skill. 

Hold Your Horses

Unless you find yourself in the ER, or the OR, or work as a first responder, I’d dare to say that very few things are truly life or death. 

Yet we treat them like a crisis, unable (unwilling?) to exercise patience.

Often to our detriment.  

  • The person you’re dating goes out with their friends and doesn’t text you back. You get anxious or angry, check your phone constantly, and maybe rapid-fire messages you later regret when you find out your phone died. 
  • Your kid comes home from school crying about someone being mean to them. Your mama bear instincts kick in, and you call the other kid’s mom to demand action…before finding out the whole story and how your child instigated it.
  • You embark on a journey of self-improvement. Frustrated by the slow pace of progress, you inadvertently sabotage things by biting off more than you can chew or, alternatively, giving up.
  • You hear rumors of layoffs coming down the pike. Anxious and consumed by a need to know, you’re too distracted by talking about whether your job is safe or not that you can’t even do said job.
  • You interrupt your partner because you just know what they’re going to say…and the argument escalates. 

Countless examples abound. Times when we feel a sense of urgency or frustration with waiting. We struggle to pause, practice patience, and allow things to unfold, potentially even resolving on their own. And in rushing to action in our impatience, we often make things worse.

Why Is It So Hard to Be Patient?

Patience seems to be in short supply for many people these days, in part because of the way our brains work and in part because of our modern lifestyles. As technology has improved, our ability to wait has gone in the other direction.

Thanks to Google, we now expect to have answers immediately and have little tolerance for not knowing or having to do the leg work to find out. Same-day delivery makes waiting weeks for whatever goodie caught your eye seem unacceptable. Taking for granted that we can have what we want when we want it, and the effect isn’t so flattering. We get angry when things are delayed. We get anxious sitting in the not knowing. Getting bored or defeated way too soon.

Short Attention Spans

It seems that technology and the pace of life have conspired to zap our attention spansWe expect big flashy things to grab and hold our attention and move on in mere seconds if they don’t. Contrast TikTok videos with reading a book or compare current-day news, with its striking headlines and super short stories, to the long-form no bells and whistles news of a generation ago. We want immediate entertainment, easy and instantaneous engagement, and have zero patience with waiting for the real substance. 

Delayed Gratification Is Hard

Similarly, we expect instant results in our lives. We see others having success, whether that’s in relationships, business, or health, and we want the same. Right. Now. And when those results don’t come immediately, it’s easy to give up rather than be patient with the process. Change can take time. Success has to be built, not willed into existence.

Anxiety and Urgency

Beyond the I-want-it-now-and-waiting-is-unacceptable phenomenon, we also have to consider how a sense of urgency makes it hard to be patient. Anxiety, our body’s built-in threat detection system, does several things in an attempt to keep us safe. One of those is to up the sense of urgency. 

Anxiety makes whatever it is focused on feel important. This is a big deal, and it must be dealt with right this second. 

Moreover, anxiety constricts our attention so that the perceived threat is all we can focus on. That also ups the sense of urgency. 

And anxiety is demanding by nature. It literally compels us to handle the threat – remove it, escape it, avoid it, and don’t stop thinking about it until we do. Anxiety turns things into crises…but they aren’t.

Again, unless it’s truly life or death, it isn’t the crisis it feels like. I promise.

Even looming deadlines with very real implications for your professional or personal life or someone you care about being in pain (like your child crying or your friend struggling), while important and maybe even urgent, aren’t a crisis. We can practice patience and address what needs to be done effectively, from a place of calm, and self-control. We don’t have to run around frantically like a chicken with its head cut off.

Intolerance of Distress

Finally, our intolerance of distress often drives us to be impatient…and impulsive. In psychology, this term means being unable or unwilling to experience distress or discomfort. Again, we have a sense of urgency. I want to feel better right now. I want this to go away right now and I can’t handle this for a single second longer.

Those imperatives often lead to ineffective or even destructive behaviors. Not a great way to go through life given that we will inevitably experience distress or discomfort, probably pretty often. Instead, we need patience, among other things, to be able to tolerate the ick without making it worse. 

How to Become More Patient

Patience is the ability to handle delays or challenges in a calm, composed manner rather than reacting with anger, anxiety, or impulsivity. It’s not something that comes naturally to most people. Rather, it’s something that has to be developed and practiced. Patience isn’t something you either have or don’t. It’s a skill, albeit a complex one, that can be mastered. 

If patience isn’t your strong suit, I implore you to start doing the work. Use these tips to help you practice.

1. Adopt the right mindset:  You need to believe that patience is a good thing. You need to believe that you are (or can become) a patient person. And you need to approach things from a patient perspective, intentionally setting the goal of practicing patience.

2. Pause:  When you feel yourself getting impatient – anxious or angry about having to wait for something you want (whether that’s answers, relief, or results), pause. Literally and figuratively. Be still. Stop talking. 

3. Take a breath or two:  I know, I know. It’s annoying to be told to take a deep breath, especially when you’re feeling agitated and have that sense of urgency telling you that you don’t have time. You have time to breathe. You’re going to do it anyway, so at least make it useful. Take a full inhale – feel your belly fill, your chest expand, and take air in all the way up to your collarbone. Then exhale slowly. Deep breaths, especially with a longer exhale than inhale, tell your body to chill out. It’s a mini-reset. Repeat it often.

4. Get meta:  Use your self-talk intentionally. Notice and describe what is happening internally. Think of it like being a narrator. I feel impatient, annoyed, and worried. I have a strong urge to address this now. Then coach yourself to be patient. I want to fix this now, but there is no need to be impulsive. I can practice patience. Or, I will wait and see how things play out. It will likely be fine. This is not a crisis.

I repeat. This is not a crisis.

5. Move with Ease:  When we feel impatient, it shows up in our movements. We move with frenetic energy and tension. Instead, slow it down. Relax your muscles and move as though you feel patient, even if you don’t.

What other psychological strength skills or strategies can you use to tap into the power of patience? 

“If I don’t have patience, then the problem gets bigger instead of smaller.”
 Leah, age 8, in Magnolia Magazine 

We would like to thank Dr. Ashley Smith and Peak Mind, for sharing this educational story with us.  Please share your thoughts and/or comments on this or any other article.  And if you would like to get involved and share your experience with Ataxia, please get in contact with us and join our community today.  A place where we empower you to build a healthy lifestyle and raise overdue Ataxia Awareness.  Experience transformative storytelling and share your story to inspire positive change.

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