“The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.” —Leo Tolstoy
Looking at the vast beauty of the Grand Canyon, it can be easy to think that it was formed by a massive earthquake, or even as the result of a giant meteor hurling into the earth. However, rather than a sudden and cataclysmic event, the Grand Canyon was actually created over the course of millions of years, as water slowly eroded away layer after layer of sediment. Just like the Grand Canyon, the truly valuable things in life do not come as a result of quick decisions like earthquakes or meteors. They are like water, and you gain them only by having patience.
The old adage “patience is a virtue” has stood the test of time for a reason, but in today’s modern world where the internet has made practically everything instantaneously accessible, it can be easy to get used to having everything at one’s fingertips and become habitually impatient. Need to send a message? Do so instantly by voice, text, video, email or social media. Want new software? Download it instantly, click to install and get to work. Unsure how to tackle a D.I.Y. project? YouTube will teach you, in five minutes or less. Not to mention the fact that for many things you order online you no longer even have to wait more than two days for it to arrive at your doorstep. As wonderful as these technological advancements have been in making our life easier, they have also instilled in many of us a sense of impatience.
To have success — both in life and in business — you need patience to deal with the unexpected. From the big events such as business deals and career changes to smaller ones like traffic jams and slow grocery lines, we have to remain calm amid the many twists and turns that come with life. When curveballs are thrown in our path, it is only by being patient that we are able to truly learn from them. Below are just a few of the many benefits to developing patience in life.
The Benefits of Patience
Achieving long-term goals
In developing patience, you open yourself up to thinking more about the long-term. Having patience can reward you with positive recognition, better relationships with those close to us, and bigger career moves among other things. Rather than getting caught up in instant gratification, patience allows you to practice awareness and see the bigger picture. As an example, if you send a reactionary angry email in response to something not going your way, you may put yourself in that person’s bad graces and as a result be unable to get what you need from them in the future.
Additionally, one of the emotions that impatience brings about is frustration, which can cause you to quit if you get too caught up in it. Quitting can cause you to miss out on opportunities big and small, from not getting to experience a new restaurant because there weren’t any parking spaces close by to missing a career opportunity because you quit learning a necessary skill out of frustration at the pace of your progress. When you are patient, you are able to clearly map out how each decision and effort you make in life will affect your long-term goals, and are able to persevere because of it.
Making smarter decisions
Patience is an invaluable resource that can improve your decision-making skills. This is useful not only within your career where better decisions invariably lead to better performance, but also in life when it comes to those big decisions everybody faces. Practicing patience doesn’t mean holding back on every choice and waffling with indecision, it simply means that we remain mindful enough to stop and focus during the present before acting. The famous Stanford “marshmallow experiment” of the 1970’s is a perfect example of this. In the study, children were given a marshmallow and told that they were welcome to eat it now after the adult left the room, but if they waited until the adult came back they could have two marshmallows. In follow up studies, the researchers found that children who were able to wait longer for the preferred rewards tended to have better S.A.T. scores, educational attainment, body mass index, and other life measures. Although further studies have shown that economic factors also play a big role in these successes, the fact still remains that being able to use patience as a tool is a powerful way to make better decisions both in business and in life.
Building a better reputation
If you are consistently achieving your long-term goals and making smart decisions, you will build a reputation of being someone who is accountable and dependable. More than that, the steady demeanor you present by remaining calm in stressful situations make people more likely to trust you. Who would you rather work with: The hot-headed person who explodes in anger and frustration every time things don’t quite go their way? Or the person who is able to knuckle down when things don’t go according to plan, and maybe even finds some humor in a bad situation? Patience gives us the grit to persevere through any challenges we face, whether that be as minute as a traffic jam or as large as an important business negotiation. By operating with patience, you become a person that people know they can count on when the chips are down.
Obtaining better mental and physical health
Studies are increasingly showing that being patient benefits your health. A 2007 study found that patient people were less likely to report health problems such as headaches, acne, ulcers, diarrhea, and pneumonia, and other research has found that people who tend to have more health complaints and worse sleep are those who exhibit the Type A personality characteristics of impatience and irritability. If patience can reduce our daily stress, it is also reasonable to speculate that it could also protect us against the damaging health effects that stress causes.
Because of their ability to better cope with upsetting or stressful situations, patient people also tend to express less depression and negative emotions. They can be more hopeful and more satisfied with their lives, rating themselves as more mindful and feeling more gratitude, more connection to mankind and to the universe, and a greater sense of abundance. While it may seem like some people are simply born that way while others aren’t, one 2012 study had subjects participate in two weeks of patience training, learning to identify feelings and their triggers, regulate their emotions, empathize with others, and meditate. After the end of the training, the participants reported feeling more patient toward the trying people in their lives, feeling less depressed, and experiencing higher levels of positive emotions.
We all know that we should relax and wait prudently to make the best logical move, but when emotions get involved, we sometimes can’t help ourselves. The good news is, while patience may be a virtue, it is also a skill that can be sharpened with time and effort. Contrary to popular opinion, it is not something that is an innate part of a person’s psyche, but a conscious decision we learn to make each day with practice.
How to Practice Patience
As with most things in life, the first step to becoming more patient is by recognizing and acknowledging when you are beginning to feel impatient. We tend to think of our impatience as being caused by something that is out of our control because of the external factors that influence it, such as someone taking too long in front of you in line or being stuck in traffic. But the cause is really what is going on internally — our reaction to whatever circumstances we’re facing.
To start, you can set an intention to look out for when impatience comes up within your mind as a response to external stimulus. If you think about it, you probably already know the situations that trigger an impatience response, such as being placed on hold for a long time, struggling to fix an electronics issue, or having to listen to someone take what seems to be an interminably long time to explain something simple.
It is important to notice that impatience occurs when reality isn’t conforming to our expectations. We expect there to be no traffic jams on the way to work, no long lines, no airport delays, no absence of parking space near our destination, no waiting too long for food to arrive at a restaurant. We expect people to behave the way we expect them to, such as calling when they say they will or being aware that they are holding up a line and hurrying because of it. We even tend to have unrealistic expectations when it comes to what goes on in our minds — we think we should be able to have complete control over our thoughts and emotions. In identifying where you may tend to have unrealistic expectations in your life, you are able to better recognize when you’re responding with impatience.
Once you have identified what your impatience triggers are, you can next begin to investigate how impatience feels in your mind and in your body. It is important to not try to combat impatient feelings by suppressing them. Instead, work on becoming familiar with what impatience feels like to you, because it can manifest differently for everybody. You can’t begin to change a stressful state of mind until you have accepted you are currently in one, so the next time you are beginning to feel impatient pay attention to how you feel. Are you agitated, frustrated, or even furious? Don’t forget to look at physical sensations too: is your stomach in knots, or are your shoulders suddenly tensed all the way up next to your years? If you look down have you clenched your fists into balls? None of these sensations are pleasant, and recognizing that is a big step in motivating yourself to changing the way you respond when faced with them.
Once you have learned to recognize what makes you impatient and how your body and mind react to it, you can begin to transform impatience into patience. The next step is to incorporate a mindfulness practice — making a conscious choice and effort to pay attention to everything else that’s going on in your field of awareness and finding something in that to focus on rather than your feelings of impatience. This could be finding a good radio station when you’re stuck in a traffic jam, or noticing with amusement just how many different types of mint gum you can buy when you’re stuck in a checkout line. Obviously our ideal scenario in life would see us never encountering a long check-out line or traffic jam in the first place, but because we aren’t able to control every external factor in our life, we will likely always run into situations that are unexpected. In these instances, you are much better served to find a way to make the experience at the very least tolerable and ideally even enjoyable, rather than get upset and stew in anger.
It’s a little paradoxical, but it’s important to remember to be patient with yourself during the process — that is to say have compassion for yourself when you inevitably are unable to be patient at times. Instead of falling into the perpetual cycle of becoming impatient about your impatience, work to hold unwelcome thoughts and emotions more lightly, acknowledging them before letting them go. You would even serve yourself well to find a way to laugh at just how stubborn your mind can get when it comes to letting go of negative thoughts and emotions. At the end of the day, having patience isn’t about repressing frustrations or getting your way, it is about calmly accepting the way things are.