Growing up, we’re often told patience is a virtue but we don’t always learn why.
Patience, arguably one of life’s most fundamental skills, is something that will determine whether the drive home, a wait in a queue or a social situation will be experienced with ease or hardship.
As children we are likely at our most impatient – when we couldn’t have what we wanted in the moment we wanted it, tantrums ensued and all hell broke loose.
Throughout our lives we may recall moments where we were ordered to “be patient!” by teachers, parents and other authority figures, but can you remember being distinctly taught how to be patient? No, neither can I.
Perhaps this is why our childlike impatience has been transmitted to our adult world, too. You see drivers losing their cool in traffic, online readers who comment before reading the full article and frustrated outbursts when people experience a slow internet connection.
In the evolving world of instant gratification, our expectation of immediate results is oozing into every aspect of our lives.
We live in a time where retailers can give us same-day delivery, movies and TV shows stream in moments, and smartphone apps significantly reduce (or completely remove) the wait for a taxi, your next date or a booking at your favourite restaurant.
And, as a result, we’re all becoming more impatient than ever.
He describes patience as “nothing more than the willingness to live life at the speed at which it actually happens” and says that “impatience is always stabbing at the impossible”. And I can’t argue with him.
Think about the process we endure when feeling impatient: when we’re sitting through a boring work presentation we’re fretting about when it will be over; when we’re stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic we’re fuming that it is not moving faster; when we’re told a flight is delayed we get irritated with having to wait around.
These reactions remove us from facing our current reality and force us to focus on our expectations of how things should be.
All the stewing and worrying and fighting with our current situation does nothing to improve or change it. Getting angry with waiting doesn’t make the queue or the traffic move faster but sitting in that situation feeling disgruntled makes it rather unpleasant.
Why are we never taught how to be patient?
This concept of having unpleasant situations, because we choose to be impatient in those moments, has been eye-opening for me.
I don’t know about you, but I’d like as few unpleasant moments in life, especially if that’s a choice I can consciously make.
Given how life-changing this approach could be, why are we not taught how to be patient?
Buddhist teacher Duda Baldwin says it comes back to living in a world of “doing and having”.
“We are raised in a way where we learn and strengthen our focus on achieving – getting to the goal, getting our desires. Our society educates us (that) in order to be happy, we have to achieve certain things.
“This culture of expectations, with a certain deadline for all aspects of our lives, is contradictory to patience. We don’t learn patience in our society because it clashes with the Western world value system.”
How can we learn to be patient?
The good news is that patience can be learned.
Melbourne-based clinical psychologist Dr Lillian Nejad says while we are not born with patience (this is clear when you see a baby screaming for food when hungry), it is a skill that can be learned over time, to enable us to adapt to our environment.
Strengthening your patience skill requires practice, she says, and you can start by monitoring your impatient thoughts, feelings and behaviours.
“Ascertain the frequency of your impatient experiences by making a note of every time you feel frustrated. This information helps you understand your level of impatience and the specific situations in which you are most vulnerable,” she says.
Then, you need to make the decision to be patient in the moments where you lose your cool.
By making changes to how you respond in these situations, you can modify your thoughts and behaviours associated with them, Dr Nejad says.
“For physical responses: If you tend to clench your hands, notice this response and then purposefully unclench them; if you feel tightness in your chest, take a deep breath; if you grimace, try to smile. These physical actions are very effective at reducing levels of anger and frustration.
“For thoughts: Say to yourself, ‘It’s fine’, ‘It’s not the end of the world if this takes longer’, ‘I can cope with this’.
“For behaviours: Choose to behave opposite to how you would normally behave. For instance, instead of yelling or rolling your eyes, be extra polite and warm to the person who is causing you delay.”
And for those of us who truly want to kick impatience in the butt, Dr Nejad recommends seeking out opportunities to practice patience.
“Challenge yourself regularly by putting yourself in situations that would normally lead to impatient responses – wait in the longest line at the grocery store, drive behind a car with an L-plate, talk to your most long-winded friend. Before you know it, you will be a patience expert.”
Why is it important for us to learn patience?
You’re probably thinking: that’s all good and well learning to be patient, but what do we gain from being patient?
Thankfully, the outcomes are incredibly beneficial.
For one, you’ll be equipped with the ability to make challenging daily situations feel infinitely less awful.
Baldwin says when we are patient we remove ourselves from a place of fear and enter a place of more joy.
“We also gain clarity. When we remove rush from our mind, we get better ideas on what we truly want and what is the best solution to our desire or problem,” she says.
When we exercise patience, we experience more compassion and kindness for others and ourselves, Baldwin adds.
“We can be more present and not make a big fuss purely because we got ourselves into a state of nervousness and panic. We gain more energy because we are less tense, and we improve our relationships because people are drawn to us for our positivity.”
And wouldn’t we all love a little more of that? I know I certainly do.