You don’t need me to tell you that being patient isn’t always easy. We see examples of how difficult it is every day – at home, at work, in life in general. We’re expect that things will happen how we want them, when we want them.
But life regularly teaches us the hard lesson that this isn’t how things work. With that in mind, I want to share with you my five ways to become more patient.
1. Be more aware of when you’re being impatient (and patient)
So much of our behaviour, day to day, is done without thinking. In some ways this is good. If we had to consciously think about everything we do, every time we do it, it would be exhausting. Sometimes, auto-pilot comes in handy. But it is also dangerous. Just ask anyone who has ever driven halfway to work without remembering any of the journey.
Patience is also one of those areas where being more aware – more mindful – really pays off. So what do we get impatient about? What situations and behaviours set off our impatience? Identify them, and then be more aware of when one of these triggers might be coming up.
Once we think more about what they are, we can begin to work out strategies to deal with them more patiently.
2. Simply enjoy the process
It also pays to be mindful in another way too. Often our impatience comes about because we’re focusing too hard on the end goal. Rather than enjoying the journey to get there, we’re stressing about achieving something that might take some time.
One way of combatting this is to try and do more things that aren’t immediately rewarding, but which pay off in the end.
Try to learn the piano – if you enjoy the process enough, you will soon learn to be more patient with your own slow progress. Or wait in line for hours for a ticket to a concert that you really want to go to. You’ll get your reward in the end if you’re patient enough to wait. And you might even meet a few new people along the way!
3. Take three big breaths
Take a breath. And another, and another. It is one of the simplest and most effective ways to stop yourself being impatient. It works for a number of reasons.
For one, it returns your breathing to normal. When you’re stressed, the first thing that is affected is your breathing. Secondly, the extra oxygen has a calming effect on your mind and body. You simply feel more relaxed and less stressed when you’re breathing more slowly.
And thirdly, it creates space. It puts a bit of distance between the thing that is triggering your impatience, and your reaction to it. It is a momentary beat, that gives you a chance to react more mindfully. The 4-7-8 ‘relaxing breath’ technique is particularly effective.
4. Practice being patient
In many ways, being patient is a habit. Like any good habit it can be learned. And once we’ve learned it, we can improve it with regular practice. The simplest way to do this to build up your tolerance for waiting, or for disappointment. This might sound strange, but it can be useful.
For example, don’t always give yourself what you want, straightaway. Make yourself wait for good things from time to time. Or lower your expectations about how things are going to turn out. This isn’t about settling for second-best, or taking a cynical approach to life. But rather, it is about being honest about how the world works (and how things don’t always go your way).
5. Be realistic
Building on this last point, patience is also about looking at the bigger picture. Having strategies up your sleeve for dealing with those moments when you get impatient is good. But it is also necessary to be realistic and honest about what is driving your impatience.
Expectations are central to this. When we set unrealistic expectations, we cause ourselves stress when, unsurprisingly, things don’t work out.
If we give ourselves ten minutes to drive somewhere that takes 15, we’ll find it stressful. Or, we tell ourselves that the call we’re making to a call centre will only take 10 minutes to complete. When it takes 45, we get stressed. Or we think someone should learn a new skill as quickly as we do. When it takes them longer, we get stressed.
That stress, that impatience, is born of unrealistic expectations. So be honest with yourself. Judge yourself and others on how things really are, not on how they would be in a perfect world.
Why? Because a perfect world doesn’t exist – and we’d all be a lot more patient if we remembered that sometimes.
About Graham Tomlinson’s blog
Graham Tomlinson blogs regularly on his website and has designed the perfect platform for sharing mindfulness & self-improvement tips with as many people as possible.