We rush for no reason. Or at least I do. It seems to be ingrained in us, right? Like there’s this strong sense of pride associated with being over-scheduled and over-committed. Like having many social engagements automatically means that you are fulfilled by your relationships or having sooo much work to do automatically means that you are engaged at your job. And with a packed schedule comes many moments of impatience and frustration when things do not go as planned.
That’s why I wanted to explore this idea of how to learn patience in life. I struggle with patience a lot. It’s one of those things that I’m prepared to talk about in an interview when asked, “Can you tell us about one of your biggest weaknesses?” Because I want to achieve a lot in my life. They say you can’t have it all -- happy relationship, strong friendships, good job, financial security, health and hobbies -- but I’m determined to, for better or worse. And with time as my only true constraint, I’m constantly iterating on the number of hours in a week I give to the pursuit of each of these goals.
This balance is far from perfect, evidenced by the fact that I’m overcome by fits of impatient rage on a weekly basis. The rage is almost always disproportionate to the event it’s been triggered by. It might surprise some of you who know me in person or through my writing to learn that I struggle with anger at times. It’s not an emotion that I characterize myself by, but as master meditator Mary Maddux, MS, HTP, says, “Anger is a natural flow of life’s energy.” We all experience it, because it actually helps us at times.
I’ve been blessed to live a life relatively anger-free life (anxiety and insecurity, sure, but little anger), so I’m pretty new to dealing with it. In most situations, anger is a direct result of my impatience at something. So let’s work through this together, and hopefully learn to mitigate these uncomfortable feelings along the way.
How to Learn Patience in Life
As I write this, I’m sitting in a rerouted Uber because I just arrived at the wrong location for a company volunteer event (completely my fault) for which I was already 10 minutes late. So now I’m going to be 30 minutes late.
This sort of thing would normally cause me to seethe, say mean words to myself, and break out in hives. The perfect trifecta of anger, anxiety and self-destructiveness. And while my new mantra does not completely dissipate these feelings, it’s a fair reality check.
Before we get to the mantra, it’s important to first have a sense for what patience is and why it’s important for us to practice.
What is Patience?
To me, patience is a sense of calm about the passage of time. It’s that intrinsic feeling that everything is going to work out over time. In the dictionary, patience is defined as:
“The capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.”
Tolerance and self-restraint are two of the word’s synonyms. To have patience is in direct contrast to the concept of instant gratification, which we in the technological age are so familiar with.
What Patience Is Not
Note that there is a difference between being impatient and being respectful of people’s time. If you’re overly relaxed about arriving most places 30 minutes late, it does not signal that you are a lovely and patient person. I find that to be a troublesome indication of selfishness or simple lack of thoughtfulness.
Being considerate is a value that I personally hold in high regard, so my desire to be respectful of other people’s time or my commitments to them can lead to an amount of impatience on my end. I will get frustrated when obstacles arise that impede my ability to be considerate of others. I view this impatience as healthy and necessary.
Signs of Impatience
As a general rule of thumb, it’s good to be able to recognize any emotion that comes your way. For me, impatience looks like a sudden shift in mood to pure anger. My muscles tense and I actually have a hard time controlling my impulse to utter profanities. It’s crazy how linked my sense of impatience is to my anger.
But it turns out I’m not alone. Judith Orloff, M.D., an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of California at Los Angeles, says that impatience is characterized by:
“The sense that you should be able to go ahead of someone or that your needs should be put first in any situation. You get pushy and think that you have more rights than others.”
For the record, it bothers me how profoundly self-centered my impatience is. It surely comes from some ego-driven belief that the world should revolve around me and if it dare impede on my plans, I shall be angry. I guess the jokes on me because the world doesn’t care if I’m mad.
Here’s another compelling look at the actual functional signs of impatience, courtesy of Jim Stone Ph.D.:
“We suffer impatience when 1) we have a goal, 2) we have accepted certain costs (including opportunity costs) for reaching the goal, 3) we learn that it’s going to cost us more than we thought to reach the goal, and 4) we start looking for ways to avoid having to pay those extra costs.”
So if we apply this to one of the earlier scenarios, we suffer impatience when we 1) want to get to work at 8:30 for a global team meeting and 2) we think it will take the normal 30-40 minutes on the bus to get there, but 3) we learn it’s going to take over 15 minutes for the bus to arrive at our stop alone and so 4) we start looking at taking an Uber or just friggin walking the whole way so as to avoid getting to work late.
Basically, you know you’re at risk of impatience (and subsequent anger) when you have a goal that ends up taking more time to achieve than you’d planned for.
Why Practice Patience? The Benefits
Why should you want to learn how to have patience in life? Isn’t it kind of a useless function in today’s world of instant gratification? Well, I think the ties between impatience, anger and stress are really compelling. In fact, a 2007 study by Fuller Theological Seminary professor Sarah A. Schnitker and UC Davis psychology professor Robert Emmons, found that:
“Patient people tend to experience less depression and negative emotions, perhaps because they can cope better with upsetting or stressful situations. They also rate themselves as more mindful and feel more gratitude, more connection to mankind and to the universe, and a greater sense of abundance.”
Also, the Buddha practiced patience, and he is an icon for all mindful humans to strive toward.
My Mantra For Patience
Ok, here it is. It’s this simple -- my new mantra is:
“What’s the rush?”
Seriously, who is riding your coattails to make sure that you show up to this event on time? Is it possible that you are the only one who cares this much about you showing up right on time?
It is possible, but only after a little self-interrogation. What’s the rush?
This new mantra is something I’m repeating daily. To remember, I have it written down on sticky notes at my desk at home and work. Keep in mind that habit change -- including mental habit change -- does not come overnight. It requires consistent repetition to form a new pathway in the brain.
Scenarios In Which This Mantra Works Well
This mantra can work well both when you’re experiencing acute impatience or when you’re feeling frustrated by the pace of your life in general. Here are just a couple of my regular sources of annoyance that I’m trying to apply the mantra to:
Sitting in an Uber or on the bus in stop-and-go traffic while anxiously trying to make it to work on time for an early meeting.
Stuck walking behind a slow person on the street on my way home from work.
When only 20 people read a blog post I spent hours working on (!!).
Petty disputes with friends or family that aren’t even worth arguing over, but it’s the principle of the matter!
Legitimate disputes with folks who see reality differently than myself, whether personal, professional or political.
Going deeper on just one of these examples, as an individual in their mid-twenties, I’m thinking about age 30 as a clear deadline to have a lot of stuff figured out. But truly, what’s the rush? I have something like 70 more years of life after that to also figure stuff out!
You Don’t Have To Be Controlled By Your Impatience
I returned to this post after the volunteer event mentioned at the beginning. No one cared even a little bit that I was late, and I was able to quickly get into the volunteering spirit upon arrival, because I hadn’t beaten myself up about my lateness. Instead, I remembered my new mantra and practiced repeating it until I calmed down.
Again, I am a very impatient person. That impatience leads me to a ton of unwelcome, unhelpful anger. Part of being mindful is recognizing uncomfy thought patterns and taking action to break the cycle. For me, that looks like two mantras: you’ve already heard Jade’s, my life coach’s killer quote, “Less think, less do, more be.” Now, I’m adding “What’s the rush?” and it seems to be helping!
Do you have any tips for overcoming impatience? Is it a mantra, a philosophical position, or simple awareness meditation that helps? I’m still traveling this road, so any sign posts would be helpful to me and my fellow mindful friends :)