The other day, I was driving to an Atlanta Braves game with my kids. The traffic is awful in Atlanta, and it took two hours even though I only live thirty miles away from the stadium. Eventually, my three kids got restless and started arguing. There’s nothing more frustrating to me than their sibling rivalries.
As you might imagine, I lost my patience. I was short with my children, and then of course I felt bad. I had a sinking feeling in my stomach and a general feeling of unhappiness… and I was on my way to a baseball game with my kids, for goodness’ sake!!!
All our power exists in the moment; it is the only place we can take action, and the only place we can experience true progress and joy. Impatience is a very poor use of our time, as it is a devious form of self-induced suffering and a sublime saboteur of happiness.
In our moments of impatience, we are also quite ineffective as friends, spouses, colleagues, family members and parents. It is often the source of vindictiveness, criticism, sarcasm and judgmental attitudes, as well as a number of other life-damaging behaviors.
Socrates once said, “Patience is bitter, but the fruit is sweet.” If we can learn to be present, to flow with and not against the currents of life, then true joy is within our reach. If we resist these opportunities to follow life’s natural flow by attempting to swim upstream, the world can become a very uncomfortable place to live in.
Here are 6 Keys to Developing Patience that you can apply in your life:
1 – Expect Challenges
I recently heard a business talk from Ed Catmull, President of Disney Pixar Studios. Ed is renowned for his empowering management style and ability to manage through a crisis. Something he said stuck with me. Describing adversity at work, he said “Challenges are not impediments to your job, they are your job.”
If everything always went smoothly, we would all be paid minimum wage. It is our ability to be creative and deal with issues that makes us valuable in different areas of our lives.
So just expect that there will be problems, things will not go according to plan and it will test your patience. Also, try to adopt the Mindset that we are demonstrating our greatest value when dealing with problems and correcting mistakes. Simply creating a little vigilance in yourself will actually allow you to begin embracing some of the very circumstances that once frustrated you the most.
2 – Go Slow to Go Fast
I admire my brother-in-law for many reasons, but perhaps most for his patience. He is extremely handy around the house, seemingly able to do and fix anything. I always assumed it was just a talent he had, but have come to realize that it’s more of a Mindset.
I once watched him repair my garage door, a process that was completely daunting to me. There was nothing involved with fixing the door that I was incapable of, other than maintaining my composure through the process.
It reminded me of a saying I’d heard about communicating: “Go Slow to Go Fast.” The idea is that if you slow down, become intentional and do it right, the effectiveness and ultimately the efficiency of what you’re doing will be greatly enhanced.
Next time you’re taking on a task you know will test your patience, say this to yourself: “Do it once, do it right and never do it again.” There is nothing more frustrating than redoing what you have already done or fixing the things you didn’t do right, so a little preventative maintenance to avoid frustration can be a powerful course of action.
3 – Create Space in Your Life
Our world is going too fast. Too many of us are trying to do too many things, all of which are very important to us. The tension builds up, and it’s just a matter of time before we snap.
We have to create space in our lives. We must shut our minds down, regroup and gain perspective. The best ways I know to create space are: 1) meditation, 2) prayer, 3) exercise, 4) therapy, 5) playing or listening to music, 6) connecting with others and 7) play. As Zig Ziglar once said, “If you tell me you are too busy to do these things, I will tell you that you are too busy NOT to do these things.”
4 – Find the Soft Place in Your Heart
A great little book I would recommend to anyone trying to build patience is Practicing Peace in Times of War by Pema Chodron. In the book, war is synonymous with the anger and frustration we feel when we lose our patience at home, in the workplace or in the car driving home. This war starts with the hardening our hearts.
This book taught me a powerful concept that I’ve tried to use every day since, which is learning to find the soft place in my heart. For example, I often lose my patience with my children. My children (like all children) are developing at their own paces and have many challenges along the way. I find the soft place in my heart when I see them struggling and trying to learn, grow and fit in. By doing this, I shift my focus away from my frustration and towards the developmental needs of my children instead. In other words, my heart softens.
When we act from impatience, we are weak, and when we act from empathy we are powerful. So put yourself in others’ shoes and try to see the best in the people around you. The capacity to do this will add years to your life, not to mention a greater amount of joy.
5 – See the Big Picture
Everything in life is a process: parenting, growing a business, getting in shape, building relationships. In a world of growing levels of instant gratification, our patience is waning, and our ability to stay patient through the process of achieving success is deteriorating.
When we see everything in our life as a necessary and valuable step, we’ll have greater perspective when we get involved in those momentary frustrating tasks along the way.
So keep the big picture in mind. Make the goal bigger than any individual moment. Stay the course and keep doing the work the right way. If you can build this Mindset, you can put your ego in check and have greater patience during the pressure points of your life that are essential to the process of success.
6 – Practice Presence
I might define impatience as wanting to be somewhere else or doing something differently. First, an impulse enters our minds and triggers frustration, then our focus is lost, followed by our ability to be patient and effective in the moment.
One great practice is to recognize those impulses or triggers in your life. What are the situations and circumstances that drive you to impatience? This knowledge alone will make you much better equipped to decrease frustration and anxiety.
Another compelling practice is to learn to bring your attention back to the task at hand. Say to yourself, “Be here right now, and do what needs to be done.” It is our ability to align our creative energies right in front of us that creates the Mindset to get centered and do the right thing. It is what truly makes us powerful.
If none of the above strategies work for you, simply try to understand the self-sabotaging nature of impatience in your life. Pretty much every action you take that is driven by impatience is ineffective and often destructive. The ideas above are just some of the ways to develop patience, and you’ll find many others. In the meantime, fake it till you make it. If you get frustrated, walk away, count to ten and calm down. Try to never act from the place of frustration, because that’s when you’re at your weakest.
We eventually made it to the Braves game, of course. It was the first time my youngest daughter had been, and we cheered and laughed the entire evening. It was more than worth the two-hour car ride to have that memory for the rest of my life.