learningpatienceHow is it that when we are very young, we learn what it means to be patient, yet as we grow older patience becomes more difficult to grasp?

When you were growing up, you were taught to wait your turn, stand in line, wait for food to be made or the longest wait of all, wait for Summer to come and for the school day to end.  Maybe you fidgeted or whined a bit and showed some signs of impatience, but each day and year that passed, it’s likely that you learned some rewards were worth waiting for.

Patience as an adult can seem much more complicated.  For those of us who grew up never quite learning how to show patience, it’s even more difficult.  I believe that as human beings, our desire for swift reward or gratification is innate.

We have desires like getting to work on time, becoming wealthy, filling our stomachs, getting to the front of the line or getting our kids to fall in line.  Whatever it is that you desire, the sooner that it’s in your hands, the happier you’ll be! (If you’re too impatient to read the whole article, 😉 skip to the bottom for the Patience cheat sheet.  )

And don’t you deserve to have what you want?!  Maybe you put in the work and want to see the results ASAP.  Or maybe things shouldn’t be so difficult and they should just work perfectly right now.  Maybe you’re tired of waiting and it’s about time!

If you can relate to any of those scenarios, then you understand how much more complicated being patient as an adult can be.  It’s no longer a matter of learning the proper etiquette as we did as children.   Patience as an adult seems beyond the patience we learned or didn’t learn as children.  But at its core, it’s just about the same.

We have a desire, something postpones that desire, and frustration arises. You probably know that all too well and it’s why you’re here.  But just like there were lessons in patience to be learned as a child, patience as an adult must be relearned.

Maybe you’ve picked up a few lessons on patience throughout life or someone simply told you to take a long deep relaxing breath.  But something’s still not quite working.  Before I break down how you can learn patience, (yes it will include breathing as well 😉 ) let’s try to understand the frustration that bubbles up a little more.  Because when you begin to understand what the obstacles are, you can begin to plan to get beyond them.

Often what stands in the way of you having patience is the inability to control a situation.  Let’s face it, you know, as I know, life is not in our control at all times and that’s okay.  If all of  life was completely under our control, it would get pretty boring and become a huge burden!

Just to give you an example of our struggle with control and patience, let me just mention, The Dreaded Post Office.

I can not stand going to the Post Office!  Do not get me started on how aggravating it can be.  I’m pretty sure my post office is located in some layer of Hell!  At least that’s how I used to see it.  Seriously, how long does it take to find my package?!?! And why can’t they hire more people?!  If I were in control, I’d have my package in the easiest place to find it with a spot light on it and there’d be so many postal workers, happy and willing to quickly service everyone in line.

But obviously, that’s not realistic nor is it in my control to fix.  It might also be a huge hassle to figure out how to make a post office work perfectly.  So although, what’s happening at the post office may be out of my control, I know I wouldn’t want to be in charge of figuring it all out.  But I can control how I respond to it.

You can control your behavior.  And it’s important to know that patience is not only a state or feeling, it is a behavior.

The first thing you do to show patience is to calm the frustration that bubbled up to the surface.  Because patience ultimately is retaining your composure.  And composure means to have control over Your behavior in order to feel calm.

Tame Frustration:

Rate how irritated or angry you are on a scale of 1-5 (5 being extremely frustrated).

Take a deep breath and hold it for that number of seconds.  Let it all completely out and repeat twice more.  Do this until your number goes down.

Afterwards, if you choose to or need to, do any other thing that you can in the moment to calm/distract yourself.  That can be listening to music, excusing yourself from the room for a while, taking a shower, scribbling on paper, recalling a loving, funny, or warm memory, visualize your irritation surrounding you like a comforting breeze.  Anything safe, as long as you do something to calm yourself enough to lower your number.

Now let’s lower that number again, if possible.  

Get Real:

Is it realistic that you can control the situation?

Is it realistic that your impatience will fix the problem?

Is the reward that you want realistic? How can you get it without being angry?

This next step works best if you plan it advance and choose to use this technique the next time you feel impatient.

What does patience look like to you?

Model Patience:

Recall a memory of a time when you were patient or saw someone who acted patiently.  What did they do?  How did they speak?  What did it sound like and look like?  What did it feel like when you were patient?  Perhaps you spoke calmly, in a low tone of voice.  Maybe you spoke very slowly.  Perhaps you smiled or laughed instead of getting angry.  Or stood still and quietly.  Maybe you exuded warmth and your body looked relax.

The goal here is to mimic the behaviors of someone who is acting patiently.

If you can adjust your body you can adjust your mood.  For example: Ball your body up tightly, curve your back, hunch your shoulders, look down and make a face you’d make if you were afraid.  Now, sit up straight, lift your chest up, straighten your neck and keep your head held high with a slight smile on your face.  Notice any difference in your feeling or mood?

The next step can be the most challenging but I believe it to be the most vital step towards learning patience.  Depending on the situation, it is one step or two steps.

Replace Impatience :

The fastest way I know to extinguishing fiery impatience when it involves others, is to truly empathize. Empathy will clear the way.  

If you are a parent at your wits end or in a frustrating intimate relationship,I’ve experience countless times of feeling impatient in a relationship and feeling completely fed up.  Maybe he did something wrong yet again or was wearing down my nerves.  But as soon as I felt for him and put myself in his shoes, my impatience was replaced with deep understanding.  When you can empathize with someone else, it’s hard to maintain explosive frustration when you’re caring about their feelings and their experience first.  It may not seem fair in the moment to put them first, but it works.  Empathy opens the heart and anger doesn’t live in the heart.

Acceptance is what will keep you in a patient state for as long as you need it.

More specifically, accepting your limits and knowing what you can and can’t control can alleviate aggravation.  Once you recognize and accept that certain things are out of your control, you will begin to relax.  Because what else would you choose to do if your hands are tied?  If your answer is, “Untie those hands!” then you haven’t accepted that you are not in control.

The great thing is that when you’ve truly accepted that you can’t have it your way right now and you’ve calmed your agitation, you can reassure yourself of one important thing.  Reassure yourself that you can trust life to happen exactly as it must and will.

When it’s finally time for your reward, you will get it.  When it’s time for your turn in line, when it’s time for that other person to change for the best, when it’s time for your children to do what’s best for everyone, you’ll be there.  Because when you’ve accepted life the way it is, you’ve done your best, you’ve responded patiently and with care, you’re ultimate reward will be a sense of peace.  Remember that great lessons take time to learn.  Be patient with yourself above all and give yourself the time, empathy and warmth you need.  You’re doing your best. Don’t give up!

Ask your highest self, your inner wisdom, your spirit, what does it say about patience?  Mine says, patience is peace.  It can be difficult and simple to attain all at once.  But it’s worth learning.

 Here’s a bonus Simple Step to becoming more patient:

 *Find someone who will support you in being patient*


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