Developing more patience has been a long-time personal pursuit. There’s no formula I can recommend. It takes diligence. It takes commitment. It takes attention.
Mostly it takes remembering.
Lately, I noticed I’ve been sliding back into some old habits of impatience. On closer examination, they’re predictable.
I’ve often written about the power of patience because I have experienced that impatience is a form of chaos I bring upon myself.
Sharing this with you, I assume that barring deeper emotional or physical impediments, we all have within us, the nascent ability to be more patient – and consequently, more peaceful. Few of us can get there “naturally.” If we want more of this easiness in our lives, we have to do the heavier mental and emotional lifting that identifies what stands in our way – and what allows more of our calmer nature to emerge.
While habits of thought and behavior activate our impatience, it’s emotional triggers that route our patterns of impatience. Certain emotions are particularly likely to enable impatience.
Here are some of mine:
What’s important to note is that these emotions have to do with a sense of feeling in/or out of control. When I am feeling patient (and peaceful) I feel very much in control; in other words, safe. What shows up on the surface of our experience – impatience – is evidence of unmet core needs.
And while we tend to think of impatience and irritation as those pesky, uncontrollable and unpredictable feelings, they can be patterns that are reflective of deeper emotional roots. Knowing and understanding how those patterns are interconnected is critical to making changes in our routinized habits of impatience.
Our arguments with reality are often rooted in how much time we spend in past and future thinking. Because much of past/future thinking is driven by what we don’t want, impatience easily arises.
While there is nothing wrong with remembering the past and considering the future, the cognitive skill comes from knowing where you now are and why. Habituated thinking patterns typically move into past and future comparisons and block being present to what is happening now. Often this is an unconscious process, driven by emotional discomfort.
Start with What You Believe
Buddhist Monk and author, Thich Nhat Hahn, wisely reminds us there is no magic bullet to acquiring patience, “Every day brings a choice to practice peace or practice stress.” Too many of us believe that remaining calm in the face of life’s stressors is an insuperable task. There’s just too much going on to even expect a balanced response to life’s curve balls.
If we accept the idea that our responses to whatever comes our way are, in fact, choices we constantly make – we need to consider what knocks us off-balance so easily.
A useful analysis of what undermines our choices, then, has to start with our beliefs about why we respond the way we do – and what is possible if we take more responsibility for the control we have. Too often we act as if we are victims of circumstances, stripped of choice in terms of managing our emotional and behavioral responses to events outside of our control.
The bottom line is that to build cognitive strength, we have to clean up our beliefs. What we believe about our ability to be peaceful will set the stage for our experience. If we believe peace isn’t possible, weak, for monks only, or reserved for spa vacations, we won’t make much progress.
If you truly want to practice more patience – these factors will support you immeasurably.
The reality is that very few of us aren’t impatient – the question is what we do when that happens. Like all emotional triggers, there are usually behavioral outcomes, often unhelpful. Author John Baldoni explains, “Patience unfairly is perceived as a passive act. In reality, as we know from the Buddhist tradition, it is all about self-mastery, and that requires absolute control over one’s thoughts, words and deeds.”
While few of us are able to master absolute self-control, we can do more to be less reactive. Baldoni accurately points to a common perception of patience as soft or even, weak. This is not uncommon in cultures that tend towards aggression
The more I practice, the more I realize that peace is a choice. It’s not the absence of conflict or inner chaos or drama, but the choice not to engage in it. I often worried that making the choice would make me apathetic. The opposite is true.
Cultivating greater patience has given me more freedom than I ever imagined possible.