Your daughter takes forever to put on her shoes. The person in front of you in the drive-thru apparently is ordering everything on the menu. As a deadline approaches, your work computer chooses that moment for a software update. Oh yeah, and the copier is jammed.
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Do life’s small and large annoyances make you feel like blowing your top? OK, you know the annoyances aren’t going away. So maybe it’s time to cultivate more patience.
Contrary to what you may believe, patience isn’t solely the domain of kindergarten teachers and saints. It’s a skill that everyone can develop and strengthen.
“It’s kind of like dancing,” explains clinical psychologist Scott Bea, PsyD. “Some people are naturally better at it than others, but everyone can improve with practice.”
The pitfalls of instant gratification
If you feel like you’re becoming less patient in recent years, you’re not alone. Cultural shifts — particularly when it comes to technology — have primed us to expect immediate gratification.
When we want to read a particular book, listen to a certain song or watch a popular TV show, most of the time those things are only a few clicks away.
An evening’s dinner — or a week’s groceries — can appear at our door in a flash.
“So many things are available to us instantly,” Dr. Bea says. “It’s increasingly common that we get things delivered to us quickly.”
And that’s bad news when it comes to our ability to wait patiently.
“Our expectations go up and then our level of patience goes down,” he says.
7 tips for practicing patience
So how can you strengthen your patience muscles? The first step? Let’s just admit up front that it won’t be much fun at first.
“If we’re going to grow patience, it’s going to come from doing slightly uncomfortable things,” says Dr. Bea.
Ready to work on it? Here’s what he suggests if you want to become a more patient person:
- Practice mindfulness. Be in the present moment, without judging. Simply sit quietly and notice your breath. Notice what distracts you from your breath, then ease yourself back into awareness of your breath.
- Practice accepting your current circumstances. This may mean being stuck in traffic or stuck in a job you hate. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to change things if you need to. It only means accepting your experience in the moment for exactly what it is — even if it’s unpleasant.
- Actively build a tolerance for being a bit uncomfortable. Let other people go ahead of you in line or in traffic. Resist the urge to scratch an itch. Don’t act on every impulse to check your phone.
- When you’re feeling rushed, consciously slow down. You don’t have to feel like a hamster on a wheel all of the time. Know that you can choose slow. In our culture that prizes speed, know that there is value to be had in slow too.
- Be playful. Practice acting like a kid sometimes. Sing around the house, be silly, laugh. Actively try to take yourself less seriously.
- Let it feel broken. It doesn’t matter whether it’s a work project that’s gone off the rails, a problem in your relationship or something in your home that’s literally broken. Resist the urge to immediately fix everything.
- Practice being a good listener. Listen carefully to what family members or other conversation partners are saying. Focus on understanding, rather than on formulating your response.
No one says increasing your patience is easy. But, with daily practice, you may find you’re more calm, less frazzled and more willing to give others the benefit of the doubt — and maybe even give yourself a break once in awhile, as well.