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How To Be Patient: 6 Strategies To Help You Keep Your Cool

In a world where instant gratification is the norm, you can train yourself to be more comfortable waiting patiently

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Your kid is taking forever to put on their shoes. The person ordering coffee in front of you apparently never did this before. You’re already running late and yet your partner thinks now is the perfect time to take a “quick” shower.

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Aghhhh!

Sometimes, life’s annoyances — both big and small — can make you feel like blowing your top.

But you know they’re not going away. So, maybe it’s on you to become more patient. To learn to keep yourself in check when the world isn’t moving at your speed.

Contrary to what you may believe, patience isn’t solely the domain of kindergarten teachers and saints. It’s not something you have or don’t have. It’s a skill that everyone can develop and strengthen.

“Some people are naturally able to call upon patience better than others,” says clinical psychologist Ramone Ford, PhD. “But it’s kind of like dancing. Everyone can improve with practice.”

How can you be more patient with your partner? Your kids? Yourself? Dr. Ford shares some strategies to be more patient.

Why is it hard to be patient?

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.

Reading a particular book, listening to a certain song or watching a popular TV show is as simple as a few clicks. An evening’s dinner or a week’s groceries can appear at our door in a flash. That burning question on your mind is no more than a quick internet search away.

Dr. Ford calls it the “microwave generation.”

“So many things are available to us instantly,” he notes. “It’s increasingly common that we have so much of what we want at our fingertips. Instant access means our expectations have gone up, which often leads to our level of patience going down.”

In other words, instant gratification can feel like the key to keeping your life on track. But it can be bad news when it comes to your ability to wait patiently.

  • If I can get my pet’s food delivered same-day, why am I waiting on hold just to talk to the vet?
  • Why did I just waste an entire afternoon looking for curtains at the store? I knew it would have been faster to just order them online.
  • I’ve been waiting in line for five whole minutes. Isn’t this supposed to be fast food?
  • I neeeeeeeed those concert tickets, but the site keeps crashing. Refresh, refresh, REFRESH!!!!

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How to be more patient

The good news is that you can learn to be more patient. But like any new skill, expect it to take some time. It can be tough work to rewire your thinking.

And if your patience is already tapped, patiently learning to be patient can ... well, try your patience.

Worth it? Yes. Likely uncomfortable? Also, yes.

So, take a deep breath and try the strategies Dr. Ford suggests to help strengthen your patience.

1. Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is a practice that encourages you to be in the present moment, without judging. It sounds simple, but it can be a challenge to actually pay attention to what you’re doing, how you’re feeling and what’s happening around you.

“We get so caught up in what’s next on our to-do list that we lose track of the moment we’re in,” Dr. Ford notes.

And it’s easy to lose your patience when your thoughts start spiraling. Because when you disengage from the here and now, your mind can create pretty elaborate stories about the consequences of what’s happening.

  • Your head: We need to leave right now, or I’m going to be late for that meeting. My boss is going to be on my case, and I’ll never get promoted.
  • Reality: You’re pacing 30 seconds behind your usual routine. And you have plenty of time to get to work. (And even stop for a coffee on the way, if you want.)

There are a lot of ways to practice mindfulness. The key is to get out of your head and engage your senses. Take the time to actually see, feel, hear, smell and even taste the world around you.

No distractions. No thinking about what’s next. No replaying that embarrassing event from sophomore year. Just concentrating on what’s happening this very second.

There are a lot of ways to practice mindfulness. You might try:

2. Know what’s in your control

Whether you’re stuck in traffic or stuck in a job you hate, your patience can wear thin. But it can help to recognize when you can and can’t change your circumstances.

It’s a matter of acknowledging what’s within your control and what’s not.

If the clutter in your home is driving you bananas, come up with a plan to tackle it bit by bit. If your partner is getting on your nerves, talk it out.

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But if the line at the DMV is moving at a glacial pace ... well, not much you can do to change that. Losing your cool isn’t going to get you out of there any faster. So, it’s best to just accept it for what it is.

And try to find a silver lining if you can. Maybe pop in your earbuds and enjoy that podcast you’ve been meaning to get to.

3. Build your tolerance for discomfort

Practicing patience during life’s little setbacks can build your tolerance when the bigger issues arise. Getting into the habit of letting a car go in front of you in traffic can be a small gesture that will help you get used to the idea of being OK with slowing down.

Other ways to flex your patience muscles:

  • Let other people go ahead of you in line.
  • Purposefully ignore the notifications on your phone, even for a few minutes.
  • Take up a hobby that requires patience, like knitting or woodworking.
  • Resist the urge to scratch an itch.
  • Handwrite a letter to a friend and wait for the response.

4. Listen well

When you’re feeling on edge, it can be tough to take the time to listen to what other people are telling you. Because when your head is swimming in what comes next, you lose the present moment, including keeping up the conversation you’re in.

Impatience during a conversation can look like formulating your response to what is being said before it’s your turn to speak. Or mentally tapping out of the conversation while you instead make a grocery list in your head.

Remind yourself to stay present with the person you’re talking with. Put your phone down. Sit by them. Look at them. Focus on understanding what they’re saying. Ask clarifying questions. And stay engaged.

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5. Find the fun

Laughing can lighten any mood. And it can help you find patience when it seems you don’t have much.

Sure, it can fray your nerves when your kid decides they’re not getting on your hamster wheel this morning. You have places to go, and if they’d just put on a shirt already, you’d be on your way.

So, when they come strolling down the stairs in their outfit of choice — a tutu and cowboy boots, accessorized with a stethoscope from their play doctor’s kit around their neck — enjoy the absurdity for a moment.

You probably can’t send them to daycare looking like something that crawled out of the back of the closet. But you can take a moment to appreciate their creativity. Even if it does make you late for work, you’ll at least get to the office with a funny story.

6. Empathize

It’s easy to lose your patience when others aren’t keeping up their end of the bargain. But take a moment to recognize that their goal (probably) isn’t to inconvenience you.

Rather than considering the effects that other’s actions have on you, stop to consider their point of view.

  • If your teammate isn’t keeping up with the demands of the job, ask what’s going on, rather than assuming they’re sabotaging the group.
  • If the person at the self-serve checkout line in front of you can’t seem to figure out where the barcode is, recognize that it’s not a personal attack on you. And they’re probably frustrated, too.
  • If your friend hasn’t replied about getting dinner tomorrow, understand that they may be dealing with bigger troubles right now. Consider checking in to ask if they’re OK, rather than demanding a response to your plans.

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, too. You deserve it.

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