Many of us have a problem with patience. That is, we lack it. We might be impatient in all areas of our lives. Or we might get impatient in certain situations.
We might get impatient while waiting in line at the store, or sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic. Or waiting for an email to arrive in our inbox. Or hearing back from a potential employer.
Of course, the pace of our world doesn’t help with cultivating patience. Our society’s tempo is rapid-fire. We press “send” on an email, and it works in seconds (and how annoyed do you get if it takes a few seconds longer to actually send?). Our food comes with a time guarantee, or it’s free.
We’re able to walk into a grocery store, walk through any aisle and grab exactly what we need (without waiting hours in line only to find that the item sold out hours ago).
You probably know that being impatient isn’t helpful or healthy. When we try to speed things up, we only get worked up and stress ourselves out. Which affects everything from ruining a good meal to pushing people away, said Casey Radle, LPC, a therapist who specializes in anxiety, depression and self-esteem at Eddins Counseling Group in Houston, Texas.
She shared this example: You text your partner, but don’t hear back right away. You start growing impatient, which triggers feelings of frustration and insecurity. You start sending more and more texts. As a result, your partner gets annoyed or upset. They ignore you or send a frustrated text back, which triggers a fight.
Thankfully, if patience isn’t one of your virtues, you can learn to change your ways. Below, Radle shared five strategies that can help — no matter what your triggers are.
- Adopt some relaxation tools. One valuable relaxation tool, which is always available to you, is deep breathing. Radle suggested taking deep, deliberate breaths. “Take approximately three to four seconds for each of these steps: inhale to fill up your lungs, hold, exhale slowly, and then pause before inhaling again.” Pair your deep breathing with a calming mantra, such as: “I am breathing in relaxation, and I am breathing out stress.”This helps you shift your attention from the source of your impatience to your breathing, slowing your heart rate and soothing your nervous system, she said.Other tools include meditation, guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation and yoga, Radle said.
- Get curious. Curiosity “involves refraining from making assumptions and/or drawing conclusions based on limited information,” Radle said. She shared this example: If you haven’t heard back from a potential employer, don’t automatically assume they’re not interested in hiring you. Or don’t conclude they’re being rude or inconsiderate, she said.Instead, consider alternate explanations. Maybe the employer is out of the office. Maybe it’s taking longer than they expected to interview all the candidates. Maybe they’re negotiating with HR. Maybe they’re waiting for your references to return their calls.As Radle said, “Who knows for sure? Without all the facts, it’s not fair to you or to anyone else to make assumptions.”
- Dig deeper. Pinpoint which part of the situation is anxiety-provoking for you, Radle said. Then “focus on your own emotional needs instead of focusing on the irritation and frustration you’re experiencing.” She suggested asking ourselves these questions: “What do I need right now? What about this is so uncomfortable? What would help me tolerate the waiting? What might be a better, more productive focus of my emotional energy?”
- Accept the discomfort. According to Radle, “Acceptance involves recognizing that lots of aspects of our lives are beyond our scope of control and that not everyone in the world operates on our timelines.” She suggested accepting that waiting is uncomfortable, versus believing it’s intolerable.Even though it might seem counterintuitive, acceptance can be freeing and can bring calm. If you’re stuck in traffic, accepting that there’s nothing you can do helps you arrive at your destination a whole lot calmer than trying to exert control in an uncontrollable situation. Which, of course, is futile.(This is where practicing your relaxation techniques can really help, since it’s hard for us to remember this when we’re already triggered and fuming.)
- Use the word “yet.” Radle suggested “befriending the word ‘yet.’” “Those three little letters infuse a great deal of hope, optimism, and tolerance into our lives.” That is, you haven’t heard back from the employer yet. You haven’t gotten to the front of the line yet. You haven’t achieved your goals yet. You haven’t found the right job yet. You haven’t found your home yet.
Patience is a muscle we can strengthen. The key is to employ some relaxation strategies, avoid making assumptions and refocus on our emotional needs.