Learning Patience

Patience is a virtue. However, our world is less conducive to learning patience than ever before.

We all know why. It’s obvious. Smart phones and other modern technologies make it so that we are never bored, always distracted, always stimulated (typically cheap stimulation), and allow us to get what we THINK we want, when we want.

The problem is that in order to get what we really want– deep relationships, skills and knowledge, career achievements, or anything else in life that is truly fulfilling– we have to recognize that it doesn’t work the same way. There’s waiting, setback, struggle, and anxiety.

Simply, when it comes to fulfillment, it doesn’t matter how much you want it now, you aren’t getting it now. This is what’s real. Meaningful endeavors take time, which means patience must be a central part of the formula if we want more out of life.

So what is patience? The Google definition is spot on: it’s the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.

Got it, so how do we do that? Here are three simple ideas to consider.

One, become aware of opportunities to work on your patience. Thankfully, there are opportunities everywhere. How about sitting in traffic, standing in line, dealing with your children, making fitness gains, reading a book, waiting to charge your phone after it dies (now that’s a good one), the list could go on and on.

The point is to reframe these moments in a growth-oriented way. There will be some anxiety, and that’s okay. But can you tolerate it? Can you get calmer? Can you keep your wits? Challenge yourself to do so when the opportunity arises, and with time, your patience will improve.

Two, expect to struggle, especially when taking on something new. Expectations are interesting things. They have the tendency to imbed themselves in our psychology without us being aware. Sometimes it’s not until we snap that we realize that we had any expectations to begin with.

To address this tendency, we have to get in the habit of what I call “priming” ourselves. Make it a routine to do mental check-ins before a potential patience-building opportunity. If necessary, recalibrate your expectations so that struggle is accounted for. What might you struggle with? The waiting part, uncertainty, the initial phases of learning something new? Build these struggles and your intended responses into your plan.

Three, down-regulate your nervous system. It’s impossible to be patient if your physiological system has been hijacked. Yes, a part of having patience is tolerating some suffering, but if that suffering is overbearing, it becomes so salient to the brain that we can’t focus on anything else. That’s a problem.

Research shows that breathing, specifically physiological sighs, are incredibly effective at reducing acute stress and anxiety in real time. Here is a link that will help you understand how and why to do this: Breathing Techniques to Reduce Stress and Anxiety | Dr. Andrew Huberman on the Physiological Sigh – YouTube.  In addition to breathing techniques, it’s also important to understand how our nervous system is impacted by our perspective of time. The biological effects of impatience tend to become more severe because of a hidden belief that things must happen when we want them to. So, rethink your relationship with time. Perhaps it’s actually more prudent and easier on our nervous system to accept that we have to deal with life on life’s terms.

To capture the profound implications of learning patience, I will end with a quote from Leonardo Di Vinci: “Patience serves as a protection against wrongs as clothes do against cold. For if you put on more clothes as the cold increases, it will have no power to hurt you. So in like manner you must grow in patience when you meet with great wrongs, and they will then be powerless to vex your mind.”

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